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Emeralds as Heirlooms

An heirloom diamond and emerald jewelry set with large emeralds and intricate design. Photo credit: Sotheby’s.

Emeralds were one of the first gemstones to be mined and traded.  An antique emerald has traveled through a history of exotic lands, ancient civilizations, and mighty empires.  Across, emeralds have been used as amulets and talismans, religious symbols, astrological stones, magical stones, and healing stones.  Emeralds have a long history associated with courtship, love, and fidelity, and are considered a life-affirming stone to the practitioners of New Age Metaphysics.  

Iconic Owners

For centuries, emeralds have provided inspiration for poets, playwrights and historians. Cleopatra used them to impress her regal stature upon both her people and foreign dignitaries, laying claim to the original emerald mines (and a few other green gems too). At the more contemporary end of iconic individuals, Elizabeth Taylor received an emerald brooch as one of the earliest gifts Richard Burton gave to her upon the beginning of their relationship. This was followed up by a bracelet, ring, earring, and a necklace to create one of the most expensive emerald jewelry sets of all time.

Despite being able to attract the attention of such iconic individuals, emeralds remain a rarity as an heirloom. This is due to their rarity and relative fragility in comparison to other gemstones such as diamond, sapphire, and ruby.

Choosing Emeralds EJ92 | medium | play| left | “Emerald Jewelry ID: EJ92 – Emerald Weight: 1.10 Carats – Emerald Origin: Zambia”

Emeralds are quite durable, though there are three parts to their durability; hardness, toughness, and stability. Emeralds have a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale, which means they resist scratching.  However, emeralds are not as tough as they are hard. They can be brittle if they are heavily included. For an emerald to be enjoyed for multiple generations, they must be a high clarity stone with limited fractures.


While uncommon, emeralds can exhibit imperfect cleavage, natural breaks. Some jewelers believe that emeralds are too rare and valuable to be worn on a daily basis, or in a way that will expose them to considerable wear. More cautious jewelers may suggest that you select a pendant if you want a piece that lasts for generations.  Emerald rings may not be capable of enduring several lifetimes of daily wear—especially if they need frequent cleaning to maintain their brilliance and sparkle.

Once the possible problems are understood, emerald makes an excellent choice for a family heirloom. The rarity and enduring value of emeralds can also make them a sound investment.  To illustrate the point, let’s compare emeralds and diamonds. The price of diamond is maintained by controlling releases from huge reserves accumulated over decades. Emeralds on the other hand have no reserves, part of the reason it remains valuable is because the Earth yields so very little of it.

An heirloom emerald necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels from 1936.

Individual Characteristics

Emeralds are also highly individualized gems. Because they are often included with other crystals and fractures, the inclusions are arranged in different ways for each one. It is possible to identify emeralds based on the type and locations of inclusions. Many gem labs identify specific emeralds and other gems based on their inclusion profile. Certain inclusions can increase their value like the ones that cause a trapiche shape, or a cat’s eye phenomena .

Besides the inclusions, the color and specific details of the cut are unique to each one. This is because they need to be cut differently in order to bring out the best appearance for each stone.

This all means that emerald shoppers can select a unique gem that reflects their individual taste and style. The unique quality of each emerald also means that jewelry made with them holds deep sentimental value. Gifts as rare as an emerald is a gesture of deep devotion.

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