Sto­ried Past

Hong Kong Tatler - - Trends -

To fully grasp the rar­ity of an emer­ald, it’s nec­es­sary to look a lit­tle closer at its com­po­si­tion. In its purest form, beryl is colour­less; an emer­ald is a beryl, but of a dif­fer­ent sort. Colour oc­curs only when traces of other el­e­ments are added; in the case of emer­alds, the much-de­sired green colour is thanks to chromium and vanadium. Here’s the rub: these el­e­ments don’t usu­ally ex­ist in the same place, but through in­ten­sive tec­tonic pro­cesses, they come to­gether and crys­tallise to make an emer­ald. It takes a tremen­dous amount of ten­sion and pres­sure to pro­duce emer­alds, which would ex­plain the amount of fis­sures usu­ally found in these gems. Very sel­dom will one come across an emer­ald of a good size, colour and clar­ity, which makes such rare finds all the more valu­able.

There have been at­tempts to min­imise the ap­pear­ance of these nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in­clu­sions—the most pop­u­lar meth­ods in­clude in­ject­ing resin to fill in the cracks or ap­ply­ing oil to the stone. Truth be told, most man­u­fac­tured emer­alds go through some level of treat­ment; it’s an open se­cret in the in­dus­try that’s not nec­es­sar­ily broad­cast, but not re­pu­di­ated ei­ther. Many ar­gue that these treat­ments are le­git­i­mate and a widely ac­cepted trade prac­tice. But as it goes in the world of pre­cious stones, treat­ments are still treat­ments, and the mere men­tion gets any con­sumer anx­ious. This is­sue ex­ploded in the 1990s, but has since blown over— and emer­alds are once again be­ing re­garded for the right rea­sons.

Apart from their rare nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence and unique phys­i­cal prop­er­ties, emer­alds are highly val­ued be­cause of the level of skill and ex­per­tise needed to cut and pol­ish them, given the fre­quent in­clu­sions and raw crys­tals. It’s also for this rea­son that the emer­ald cut was de­vel­oped—with its bev­elled corners, the process is sup­posed to high­light the beauty of this stone. Of course emer­alds can also be sub­ject to other more clas­si­cal cuts, such as cabo­chons or beads. Phys­i­cal at­tributes aside, these di­vine greens also have quite a past. There have been nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to emer­alds through­out history— Cleopa­tra’s sheer love for the stone led the Ro­mans to name a num­ber of emer­ald mines af­ter her. An­cient In­cas and Aztecs, mean­while, re­ferred to emer­alds as a “holy gem­stone,” while the Vedas, the old­est-known Hindu texts, cite the heal­ing prop­er­ties of emer­alds. Of course there’s also the widely em­braced leg­end of King Solomon; it’s been said that an emer­ald was one of the four pre­cious stones be­stowed to him, giv­ing him power over all of cre­ation.

The Mogul Mughal emer­ald is per­haps the largest-known pol­ished emer­ald to­day. It’s a rec­tan­gu­lar-cut emer­ald dis­cov­ered in 1695, weigh­ing an as­tound­ing 217.80 carats and stand­ing at 10cm; one side is en­graved with prayers in the Naskh script and the other carved with flo­ral or­na­ments. Widely be­lieved to have come from Colom­bia, the stone was even­tu­ally sold in In­dia, where emer­alds were much de­sired by the then-rul­ing Mughal Em­pire. The cap­ti­vat­ing Mogul Mughal, which was auc­tioned in 2001 for more than US$2.2 mil­lion, is just one of the fa­mous emer­alds that now sit in mu­se­ums, na­tional trea­suries and pri­vate col­lec­tions. There’s also the Pa­tri­cia emer­ald at the New York Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History, weigh­ing a mind-bog­gling 632 carats, mak­ing it one of the largest emer­ald crys­tals ever mined in Colom­bia; and the 75.47-carat Hooker emer­ald worn by Ab­dul Hamid II, the last sultan of the Ot­toman Em­pire, which is dis­played to­day at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History in Washington, DC. Another no­table col­lec­tion sits in the Top­kapi Palace in Is­tan­bul, fea­tur­ing jew­ellery items, dag­gers and writ­ing in­stru­ments owned by the Turk­ish Sul­tanate, many

adorned with emer­alds.

From left: Snake bracelet-watch with emer­alds in yel­low gold by Bul­gari, circa 1965; Flo­ral emer­ald and diamond ring by Butani


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