History's Missing Precious Gemstone
Traditional classification in the West…goes back to ancient Greeks with a distinction between precious and semi-precious; similar distinctions are made in other cultures. In modern usage the precious stones are diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald, with all other gemstones being semi-precious. Use of the terms 'precious' and 'semi-precious' in a commercial context is arguably misleading in that it deceptively implies certain stones are intrinsically more valuable than others, which is not necessarily the case.
Selection from the Wikipedia Entry: "Gemstone"
The 2.53 carat Thunderclap Diamond has small inclusions which create moving clouds of shadow, color and light which add to natural brilliance.
I do not find the word "Precious" to be deceptive in a general context, but since the perception of impropriety could potentially exist, I want to be clear about my meaning when I say, "The Red Emerald is the rarest Precious Gemstone in the world."
Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald are the "Big Four" of the gem and jewelry industry. They are known as the "precious gemstones" because each has a connection with humankind that stretches back far into the catalogue of everything ever written or even before the existence of our historic record, preceding our concept of time itself. Precious gemstones are not intrinsically more valuable, but the unrivaled length of our shared history makes these more highly regarded, because the ways in which one may consider them are deeper and more vast.
Although the Big Four are not necessarily more valuable, the Core Review of Gems and Semi-Precious Stones conducted through the Canadian government in the late 1990s by the Ministry of Energy and Mines in British Columbia determined "Red Beryl, Emerald, Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire are the most valuable gemstones."
A hint of zoning in this 3.48 carat unheated Australian Sapphire throws a PARTI for blue, green and yellow facets moving like the waters of the ocean.
"Gem species" considered precious in the modern day have defining aspects which set them apart from other stones. Everyone appreciates the brilliance in a Diamond, but scientists have marveled at Diamond's supreme, adamant hardness from the beginning. Above all others, Diamonds can be considered the Best in this way. The Greek word for the Best was Areté, and anything exhibiting this feature was to be revered.
The competition of scratching one stone against another to determine hardness was used as far back as 300 BC, as described by Theophrastus in his work On Stones. Theophrastus was the supposed lover of Aristotle's son, Nicomachus, who possessed a vast dactylioteca or Repository of Kings, Pliny the Elder's word choice to reference this gemstone collection. Historically, Philosophers were often Gem Dealers.
By 1812, the scratch test had developed more precisely into the Mohs Scale of Hardness, a fundamental measurement in physics which ranked Diamond as 10, Sapphire as 9 and Emerald as 8. In the Naturalis Historia written in 77 AD, Pliny refers to the scratch test as one of the first precious gemstone authentication processes; counterfeit gems could be marked by hardened steel while genuine ones could not be.
Diamond, Sapphire-Ruby and Emerald are three "gem species" which would be considered precious to the ancient Greeks, as these materials had the ability to be "authenticated" against a steel file. The certification methods of today are much less harsh than those of history!
Stones falling under the Greek definition of "Precious" possess near-immortality from a human perspective. Diamonds have not the exclusive claim on forever; while inclusions should be protected from blows, when treated with care, a Red Emerald has the ability to be treasured for thousands of years into the future.
The Spider Sapphire is an unheated, gem-quality Australian stone with a layer of transparent yet chatoyant inclusions reflecting a rainbow of blue.
As Diamonds are respected for hardness, Sapphire is admired for having the Best color. Although the name Sapphiros in Greek means Blue Stone, every shade in the Sapphire Rainbow has been known to mankind since prehistory, and only the names have been changed.
Before the end of the 19th century, when geologists realized that sapphires of all colors were the same mineral, terminology regarding the naming of the gem persisted from medieval times: Green Sapphire was called Oriental Peridot and Yellow Sapphire was called Oriental Topaz.
From the 2016 Smithsonian publication
Gem: The Definitive Visual Guide entry: "Sapphire"
Back in the Dark Ages of this industry, colors of Sapphire were called Peridot and Topaz! Calling one mineral species by the name of another was confusing, so professionals needed an accurate way to create an understanding and conception of a gemstone in another's mind. The logical solution was to name mineral color-variants after their most-similar gem variety in-species.
In the National Geographic television series "Mine Hunters", the 2016 episode Seven Sapphires follows a group of miners to Madagascar in search of a single location which can produce Sapphires of seven different colors. The very fact this is possible illustrates the palette possibilities which would have been immediately available in this "gem species" upon discovery. Diamonds of various shades are much more uncommon but have also been traded on the open market for centuries.
The Red Emerald is history’s missing precious gemstone.
While Diamond is considered to set the modern standard for gemstones, their popularity only began to increase in the 19th century. In 1568 AD, the famous goldsmith Benvenutto Cellini commented in his Trattato del Oreficeria that Emerald fetched four times the price of Diamond in the same weight, half the price of Ruby and forty times the price of Sapphire. While the proportions in price vary somewhat over time, the positions in terms of value (which correlate to respective rarity) have not.
Red is repeatedly the rarest shade in-species for the precious gemstone families, and because of its scarcity, the red variant of Sapphire has owned the honorific title Ruby since the dawn of civilization. Ruby has the greatest rarity, and therefore the highest value, of the Big Four.
Ruby is a single color-variety within a mineral species, just like the Red Emerald. However, an Emerald is rarer than a Sapphire, and the Red Emerald is far rarer than a Red Sapphire (Ruby). A Red Emerald is over 10,000 times more rare than Ruby.
Red and Green Emerald on White
All Photos by David Rozendaal
Emerald was traditionally only a single color-variety within the beryl species and has historically been the rarest variety in-species, although neither of these statements remain true today.
Gem-quality examples for every color variety of Emerald have been known over 100 years…except for the Red Emerald, which was not found in gem-quality until 1958. The baby of the beryl family, the Red Emerald is also the youngest precious gemstone in human history. Existing for millions of years, yet located mere decades ago, the Red Emerald is the final primary hue discovered in Earth’s precious gemstone color spectrum.
The Greek word for Emerald, smaragdos, can be traced back to both the Sanskrit and Semitic languages as Green or Lightning respectively. The amalgamation of these two words is usually etymologically summarized as Green Stone.
Aquamarine and Emerald were the only colors of beryl known during the Greco-Roman period, so both use a Greek word tied to appearance as the name of their variety.
Aquamarine is Greek for Water of the Sea and has always been a model of the semiprecious stone. Far easier to find than Emerald, Aquamarine is the archetypical non-emerald beryl in terms of gems produced. Aquamarine is commonly found with few inclusions, as with any beryl categorized as Type I under the Gemological Institute of America's clarity classification system.
Geological and Gemological Differences of Emerald Beryls
When a deposit of gem-quality colorless beryl was located in Goshen, Massachusetts, this material was marketed as Goshenite, in honor of the town nearest to the discovery. Referring to one of the thirteen original colonies every time a colorless beryl is dug up anywhere in the world makes about as much sense as calling any electric sea foam gemstone a Paraiba! The respectable village of Goshen is undoubtedly worthy of such an honor, but it is not worth breaking with convention to bestow such a title. If one can imagine the Red Emerald so wantonly named, the scarlet stone would be unfortunately referred to as Milfordite, Beaverite or Deltaite!
The designation for orange-pink beryl was stolen by money as Morganite, co-opted in a shameless act of self-aggrandizement only devised by a villain like J.P. Morgan. The general justification for naming a variety in such a significant species after a man lies in the preposterous proposition he was an "avid supporter of the hobby".
What J.P. Morgan actually accomplished was little more than the selfish acquisition of as many high-wealth assets as possible into his personal possession -- gemstones included. If we are to assume a human deserves to have a variety in a precious gemstone family linked to their name forever, would we not also be correct in assuming there are humans throughout history far more worthy of this honor than someone as commonplace as a thief or a banker?
Collecting gemstones is the oldest hobby of humankind, and their appreciation, ownership and trade is a shared part of our social experience across the planet and throughout time. No single person should even be considered as the moniker by which a gemstone is truly known.
The discovery of Heliodor returned beryl names to a Greek-rooted standard, and translates as Gift of the Sun. Some believe only certain yellow beryl can be Heliodor, and most material is merely golden beryl. When Zambian Emeralds were first found, an effort was made to label African material "green beryl". Corporations create barriers to entry in order to obstruct competition in the marketplace. Denigrating this gemstone as "merely a beryl" was intended to falsely convey these Emeralds were inherently less valuable than competing Colombian material…even though Cleopatra's Emeralds were undoubtedly African!
Two years after a red beryl was discovered, Dr. Alfred Eppler named the mineral Bixbite to honor the man who found it, Maynard Bixby. In the same area, Maynard also described a new, black, cubic-forming mineral similar to pyrite…this was titled after him, as well, and subsequently dubbed Bixbyite. Growth for both in the same locality and similarity between the names Bixbite and Bixbyite created so much confusion the mineral name "Bixbite" has been depreciated in favor of "Red Beryl" by the World Jewelry Confederation (CIJBO) and the International Mineralogical Association (IMA).
Only gem-quality beryl can be called an Emerald. If poor quality material is heavily-included, the rough will simply be called green beryl. Maynard Bixby discovered red beryl in 1904; no facet-grade crystals were located until 1958, making that year the first in which Red Emeralds could be seen or known, although many years would pass before the Red Emerald was actually seen and known. At the same moment gem quality minerals were first being discovered, the IMA designated "Red Beryl" as the mineral name of the Red variety of Emerald's species, Beryl.
As the online mineral database mindat.org noted, "Emerald has priority over beryl as a mineral name...Emerald and beryl were essentially the same chemical compound and...Emerald continued to be listed as the preferred species name for many decades."
This means that using the IMA's "color:species" naming convention, prior to their own existence and still in the minds of many, the name of this variety would reasonably be Red Emerald! Even if an authority insisted a gemstone be referred to by mineral terms, Emerald has priority over Beryl as a mineral name.
1893 saw the publication of Easton's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, where the importance of following the Lightning meaning in the Semitic linguistic path for Emerald is noted. Biblical Greek refers again to Emerald's unique quality of glowing light, translating Smaragdos as Live Coal. Bob Jones, the former senior editor of Rock & Gem Magazine, urged his readers to consider, "Think about that. A live coal is certainly not green -- it is red!"
Emeralds have intense color saturation, while the blue Aquamarine gems
above have low saturation compared to dark stones like Sapphires.
This Live Coal definition returns the Red Emerald to a storied tradition of Greek names tied to appearance. Gem-quality red beryl does not produce jewels which look like red aquamarine or appear as red heliodor…the expressed essence which distinguishes an Emerald from the other beryls and all other gems exists in the Red as it does in the Green. The manner by which the Green Emerald has presented itself throughout history is the same style showcased in the Red.
The Emerald features we have long drank in wonder can now be experienced in an entirely new range of color. One cannot have a knowledge and appreciation of the Red Emerald without a knowledge and appreciation of the Green, and those of you with a knowledge and appreciation of the Green Emerald are going to want to know about the Red, because:
As with all Precious Gemstones, the Appreciation of Red Emerald is Timeless.