Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but if you have a fondness for colour and unconventionality, emeralds are the gems for you. Lauded for their rarity and colour, the gemstones are fiercely sought after by collectors and jewellers worldwide. The birthstone for the month of May, the emerald is associated with intelligence and clairvoyance and is believed to channel love and financial success.
The history of emeralds and our fascination with them runs deep, with the earliest sources going as far back as 1500 BC in Ancient Egypt. To the early Egyptians, green was a sacred colour that represented fertile land and prosperity. As symbols of immortality and regeneration, emeralds were buried with pharaohs so they could be taken into the afterlife. Most famously, they were a favourite of Queen Cleopatra, who was known to adorn herself in emerald jewellery and gift them to foreign dignitaries as a reminder of her wealth and power.
Emeralds and jade were often used by the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and other indigenous communities in hallowed rituals and celebrations, and were incorporated into offerings to honour and placate their fearsome gods. When the Spanish set out to conquer the New World, hordes of riches were shipped back to Spain and the rest of Europe. As the jewel trade between South America and Europe developed, these gems came to embellish the regalia of nobility and the wealthy, and many pieces are still worn and displayed today.
One such treasure was Catherine the Great’s staggering 107.67-carat rectangular emerald that was passed down through generations of the Russian imperial family. The stone came into the possession of Cartier in the early 20th century and was recut into a pear shape before being mounted on a diamond necklace. In 2019, it was auctioned off by Christie’s to a private collector for £3.37 million.
Emeralds have also lent their beauty to the finery of the British monarchy. The Vladimir Tiara, believed to have been the late Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite diadem, can be worn in three settings to display different jewels. The most known and depicted features 15 cabochon drops from the Cambridge emerald collection. Many will also be familiar with Queen Mary’s Emerald Choker, an art deco style piece famously worn by Princess Diana as a headband while on a royal visit to Australia in 1985.
Other iconic emerald pieces include a flamboyant necklace featuring emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds designed by Cartier in 1936 for French socialite and heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, Daisy Fellowes; The Taj Mahal Emerald, an ornately engraved hexagonal gem that was fashioned into a brooch by Cartier in the early 2000s that is also worn as the centerpiece on a tiara; and Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald and diamond pendant brooch, part of her Bulgari emerald suite that, at just over US$6 million, holds the record for the most expensive piece of emerald jewellery sold at auction.
Unfortunately, despite our attachment to them, perfect emerald specimens are incredibly rare. Even with a score of 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale, most naturally come with surface-breaking inclusions that compromise their durability and clearness. While it can be argued that these irregularities add character and uniqueness, unclouded emeralds offer a nonpareil radiance. Ones that boast size, colour and clarity are exceedingly hard to come by.
So, when Tiffany & Co announced early this month that the house had added an exceptional emerald (pictured above) to its lustrous collection of rare and phenomenal gemstones, history was made. Weighing over 10 carats, the stone comes in a saturated green shade, made even more vivid by an absence of inclusions or fissures.
This procurement marks “a continuation of Tiffany’s long-standing heritage of acquiring the most coveted gemstones that Mother Nature has to offer”, says chief gemologist Victoria Reynolds.
The emerald hails from the famed Muzo mines, just 60 miles northwest of Bogotá. Situated along the Colombian Andes, the mines do more than produce gems as verdant as the surrounding dense forestation. Miners receive thorough training and their families and communities are provided with food and healthcare stability. Women are given equal opportunities, and aggressive mining by use of detonation techniques are prohibited to protect the environment.
A standout in an industry known for unethical and dangerous working conditions, these mines align with Tiffany & Co’s own mission to uphold sustainable and responsible business practices. Together, they make the newly attained stone’s title, the Tiffany Muzo Emerald, one to be proud of.
The house is set to debut the gem with the fall presentation of its annual high jewellery collection, Blue Book 2023: Out of the Blue.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum, Kansas farm girl Dorothy and her faithful dog Toto journey down the Yellow Brick Road towards the Emerald City to employ the services of the magnificent Wizard of Oz. In most versions of the children’s novel, the city is written as a glorious capital constructed from brilliant emeralds, precious jewels and shimmering green glass. From afar, it resembles an emerald cluster, a true spectacle to behold.
The Emerald City is just one of many examples of how the centuries-old obsession with the viridescent stone, and nature’s other sensations, has seeped into our culture, fashion and art forms. Our love of emeralds is unlikely to ever fade, especially with the demand for vintage-inspired, avant-garde jewellery on the rise. The Tiffany Muzo Emerald sets the benchmark for collectors and maisons everywhere, affirming that the quality of a jewel is determined by more than what meets the eye.
This article first appeared on July 24, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.