Today we’re going to teach you how to identify an emerald. It is one of the most popular gemstones in the world. It’s one of the “big three” colored gemstones, along with Ruby and Sapphire, which means it is often imitated or synthesized. Today, I’m going to take you through some of the characteristics of natural emeralds, as well as some of the characteristics of their imitators. The ability to identify an emerald empowers us to make informed decisions when purchasing or valuing these gemstones, ensuring that we can appreciate and enjoy their timeless elegance for years to come.
What Is An Emerald?
So, what is an emerald?
It is a green member of the beryl family. It has undertones of blue or yellow, but the primary color is, of course, always green. The color of the emerald is primarily what gives it its value.
So, the greener it is, the more valuable it is. If it’s not quite green enough or if it’s just colored by iron as opposed to the chromium or vanadium present in emerald, then it’ll probably just be referred to as a green beryl and not be quite as valuable.
Chelsea Color Filter
It would be wrong of us to talk about identifying emeralds and not mentioning the Chelsea color filter. This filter was designed specifically to pick out emeralds from parcels of other green gemstones.
The filter, when passed over an emerald, will make the emerald appear bright red if it’s high in chromium content. However, other green stones like Chrome diopside have chromium content, and not all emeralds have a lot of chromium. Plus, synthetic emeralds are designed to imitate the finest emeralds and will flash a super bright red under the Chelsea filter.
Aside from color, the most defining characteristic of emerald is its myriad inclusions. Emerald is always chock full of other stuff, whether it’s cracks and fissures or other minerals like pyrite or mica or tourmaline, or rutile. It’s always got other stuff going on inside of it, so often and so commonly, in fact, that the inclusions found in emerald are given their own name: a Jardin, which is French for garden.
What’s also interesting about emerald is that certain inclusions occur commonly in certain localities. So, depending on what you find inside your emerald, it can tell you a lot about where it may have been mined.
Certain emerald inclusions can actually be diagnostic and provide a strong clue as to where in the world they were mined.
For example, in Siberia, it’s not uncommon to find inclusions bamboo in appearance and shape, needle-like inclusions of actinolite, which can look silky, and these guys just go willy-nilly in no particular order or orientation, just all across the stone in every which direction, and they kind of look like a nice big pile of cut grass.
The jardin in Pakistan, you can get two-phase inclusions, which is a really cool phenomenon. Imagine a cavity within a gemstone. It’s full of liquid, one phase of matter. It’s also got a gas bubble trapped in it. That’s two phases of matter. And what’s really cool is when you take the crystal and rotate it, that bubble will slide up or slide back down the gemstone like a nature’s naturally made level.
In Colombia, you can have three-phase inclusions, which is liquid state of matter, gas state of matter, and a solid state of matter. You can have a crystal inside the emerald, you’ll have a gas, liquid, and a solid. That can be calcite, it could be pyrite, it could be really any material that is forming alongside the emerald.
So, you’ve got three-phase inclusions common in Colombia. You’ve got two-phase inclusions often diagnostic of Pakistani emerald, and Siberian emerald, which holds those needle-like inclusions of actinolite.
Emerald vs Aventurine Quartz
So now that we’ve talked about some of the characteristics of emerald and its inclusions, let’s talk about some other green gemstones that we sometimes try to pass off as emerald.
We’ll start with aventurine quartz. This is a quartzite. The body color of aventurine quartz is not actually green. Its green appearance is given to it by mica inclusions inside the stone. So, aventurine quartz is usually kind of like a milky white, sort of off-gray body color, but it is littered with green mica inclusions that make it look completely green.
But when you scrutinize it, and when you look at it, especially with a 10x loop, you realize, “Oh, this isn’t a green stone. It’s just full of green mineral inclusions.”
Emerald vs YAG
The next stone we’ll talk about is YAG. That’s an acronym that stands for yttrium aluminum garnet. It is a synthetic stone. It is man-made in a lab, which means that it’s almost always going to be pretty clean and free of inclusions.
As we just mentioned with natural emerald, it’s always got junk inside of it. It’s always got that jardin going on. So, if someone’s trying to pass off a completely clean green gemstone and calling it emerald, it’s probably not an emerald. At best, it’s a synthetic emerald, and it might even be YAG.
Emerald vs Glass
Another common imitator is glass. And like the other imitators, it just doesn’t have the jardin going on. On top of that, it’s relatively soft and inexpensive.
So, you might have some facet edges that don’t quite line up, the points won’t quite meet how they’re supposed to. You can have rounded facet edges, and you can even have chipping on your facet edges. Whereas with a faceted emerald, the facet edges are going to be much sharper, cleaner, and more precise because it’s a more valuable material.
Emerald vs Soudé Emerald
Now that we’ve talked about some green gemstones that are imitators, let’s talk about composites. A composite gemstone is basically a couple of different materials, sort of Frankenstein together, made to look like a different material. In this case, emerald.
So first, we’re going to talk about one of the more common imitators, the suede emerald.
The history of the suede emerald goes back pretty far. Originally, the suede emerald was a colorless top and a colorless base, glass, colorless quartz, or even synthetic spinel. And in between the base and the top is what once used to be a green adhesive made to look like emerald.
And when viewed from the top, it makes the whole stone look green. Nowadays, they still glue a top and a bottom together, but the middle layer is actually emerald. It’s just a very, very, very thin slice that sort of lends the whole stone, when viewed from the top, that classic green color.
How do you identify it, though? Because it can be tricky. That middle layer where the adhesive is can sometimes contain little gas bubbles that were trapped as the two layers were smooshed together. So, if you use your 10x loop and look right at the girdle of one of these suede emeralds, you might find some gas bubbles.
One thing that you can do to identify a suede emerald is a little bit of a trick. You can take your stone, loose or mounted, and submerge it in water. Use like a Styrofoam cup or something like that that allows diffused light to pass through the bottom of it. So, you set your little cup on top of this guy, you look down in, and the inner green layer will be a lot more obvious.
Emerald vs Garnet Topped Doublet
A less common but still used composite is the garnet-topped doublet. So, this one works in kind of mysterious ways.
You take a slice of red almondine garnet, and that’s your top. Your base is glass, and it’s whatever color you want it to be because it will give the appearance of that color to the whole stone regardless of the red top. It’s really crazy. So, a garnet-topped doublet with a green glass base will appear completely green when viewed from the top, so it can be very tricky.
But there are some ways to identify it. First of all, just using your loop or even your naked eye, you can look at the luster of the garnet top versus the glass base. The garnet will have a higher luster than the glass, and sometimes you can just see a hard split right along the side where the two materials meet: higher luster, lower luster.
Like we said before about glass, it might not have very sharp facet edges, but garnet should indeed have sharp facet edges. Also, the glass might be chipped, and the garnet probably shouldn’t be.
If you take the stone and place it table down on a piece of white paper under bright light, that red rim of the garnet top should be a lot more visible than viewed from the top down. Lastly, garnet is inert under shortwave ultraviolet light. It doesn’t do anything, whereas glass has a chance to fluoresce pretty brightly. So, if you hit a garnet top doublet with shortwave ultraviolet light, the glass half could glow, and the garnet half won’t do anything.
Conclusion On How To Identify An Emerald
We hope you learned something today. Learning how to identify an emerald is a valuable skill for gem enthusiasts, jewelry lovers, and industry professionals alike.