top of page

What is a Red Emerald?

1.28 carat 7 mm Round Brilliant with hexagonal color zoning.

Emerald, Sapphire and Ruby have been considered precious from antiquity to the modern day, and these gem species have been treasured longer than the existence of a written historical record. Every precious gemstone has been found in every color. For instance, since the dawn of civilization, the red variant of sapphire has been commonly known by the honorific title ruby!

Red is repeatedly the rarest color in-species for the precious gemstone families, but the red version of an emerald was not located in gem quality until 1958. The family of emerald, known by the mineral name beryl, located all their color variants over a century ago…except for the red. The Red Emerald was and is the final shade in the precious stone spectrum to be discovered by mankind.

Even with X representing the classic definitions of the precious gemstones

on this table, one can easily see the chromatic diversity of each species.

Of all precious gemstones, the Red Emerald was most difficult to find, and it has been called the rarest gemstone in the world (National Jewelers Association - 2006). 20,000 carats of green emerald exist for every single carat of red, and red beryl is more expensive than a comparable green emerald. The Red Emerald is so rare, only one location in the world has ever produced crystals of gem quality: The Ruby-Violet claims in the Wah-Wah Mountains of Utah.

When can a red beryl be classified as a Red Emerald? To answer this question, one must know what makes a green beryl a traditional Emerald. There are many views on what makes an Emerald what it is. Some claim color is essential, others rely on the presence of trace elements and a few cling to origin as the deciding factor. Everyone has their own opinion about what really makes an emerald what it is.

Multiple definitions appear, because multiple etymological histories exist for the word Emerald, which can be traced back to both the Sanskrit and Semitic languages as Green or Lightning respectively. One word, two sentiments. The first refers to color, the second a quality of light. As with many names, one connotation does not possess exclusive precedence and multiple meanings coexist. Easton's Bible Dictionary translates Smaragdos, the Greek word for Emerald, as Live Coal, following again the Semitic path, which refers to the unique quality of an Emerald's light. This definition has no conflict with (and instead supports the idea of) a Red Emerald. I defend the right to see the world in whatever colors one chooses. All are free to believe such a thing could possibly be.

The perception a Red Emerald exists is shared by those in China. The characters which comprise the word Emerald in Chinese literally translate to Grandma Green, while those which signify the red beryl translate to Grandma Red. In the Far East, the reverence and respect given to the green emerald is automatically assigned to the red variety, as well, because there are fewer linguistic alternatives to think differently.

English speakers have had options since 1958. The same year red beryl was discovered in gem quality, the International Mineralogical Association assigned the name "red beryl" to the red variety of the mineral species beryl. However, as the online mineral database 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." Using the "color:mineral" naming convention indicates that prior to the existence of the IMA, the name of this variety would have been Red Emerald! In certain foreign languages and cultures, this is already the case.

The Purple Hulk is a large cabinet specimen measuring 14.5 cm by 14.0 cm.

Newly-discovered gemstones are commonly titled as color-variants of their most well-known gem relative in-species. Many varietals are referred to in this way to convey an accurate idea of the exact gemological nature of a stone considered for purchase. Some of the most valuable gemstones in the world are rare color-variants of their species. Describing them otherwise would reduce public understanding while suppressing real value.

Identifying varieties of sapphire by their color is not just a familiar practice, but the standard operating procedure for the industry. I inherited a pink sapphire ring, my grandma's favorite piece of jewelry. Knowing the traditional definition of sapphiros to be blue stone, am I supposed to call my sweet, departed grandmother a liar and say, "Sorry, grandma…that was actually a pink corundum!" Using a mineral name to market material in a precious gemstone family seems patently absurd. The name Red Emerald was not invented, but the label was instead used instinctively by lapidaries, gemologists and connoisseurs who observed this gemstone and rationally concluded they were looking at an Emerald.

There is a simple exercise to understand what a Red Emerald is:

Close your eyes, and think of a sapphire. Now imagine the color changes to green. If you open your eyes and search this world, you will be able to find that thing, and it is called a green sapphire. Close your eyes, and think of an emerald. Now imagine the color changes to red. If you open your eyes and search this world, you will be able to find that thing, and it should be called a Red Emerald.

The 3.31 carat Sunset Emerald is one of the largest and finest stones found.

What people think when they imagine a Red Emerald is what this gemstone factually is. The color of the finest Ruby trapped in the body of an Emerald. In defiance of any arguments against its existence, the Red version of an Emerald is actually real. This is not a topic about which we should argue, but one over which we should universally rejoice! This mineral is unanimously accepted as the red variety of an emerald, and the rarest varietal in any precious gemstone species.

Even the most optimistic reserve estimates conducted by the Kennecott Mining Company calculated at most a few million carats of faceted material which could ever exist, and only a fraction of a percent has been successfully pulled from the ground. When South African diamonds were first discovered in the late 1800s, they produced more than a million carats every twelve months…today, over 100 million carats are mined PER YEAR! The ridiculous rarity the Red Emerald possesses has ever been associated with the most treasured gemstones in history, whose scant supply made them available exclusively to elite clientele.

While all emeralds are beryl, not all beryl is emerald. Romans considered light-colored green beryl to be "unripe", believing an emerald darkens as it matures. An Emerald was not only green, but a color which was full, deep and lush. The argument an emerald may only be green is the argument an emerald is merely green, which ignores the fact there are more components to a color than just the hue.

The Gemological Institute of America defines all colors as having not only hue, but also saturation and tone. To obtain traditional status as an Emerald, a beryl had to exhibit an intensely-saturated color, and the green variety alone was capable of such a feat. Green was also the only beryl found with overly dark tones. Although the primary hues differ, the same secondary hues (blue and yellow) observed in green Emeralds are also present in the red (when these secondary hues are mixed with a red body color, they appear purple and orange). The Emerald has intense saturation, dark tones and hues ranging from blue to yellow. When the red varietal was discovered, the number of beryl with all these color-qualities rose to two.

Secondary hues cause a range of color as wide as those seen in the green.

See if you can identify which secondary hues are orange versus purple.

Colors in gemstones are caused by chromophores: trace metal impurities present during formation which remain in the final chemical makeup. The presence of multiple hues in Emerald means no single chromophore is responsible for the entire color perceived. The primary tone of a Colombian Emerald is created by the chromophore chromium or vanadium, but the wide range of greens is due to those secondary hues of blue and yellow, which are typically caused by the additional presence of nickel and iron, respectively.

To determine the cause of secondary hues in Red Emerald gemstones, Kennecott commissioned an analysis from Chemex Labs in 1996 which identified traces of iron and chromium in red beryl samples. Chromium levels in those tests averaged 55 ppm, but were measured as high as 98 ppm. Some Red Emerald stones contain higher chromium levels than certain Colombian Emeralds!

In any case, we can conclude the appearance of manganese in American Emerald is far more rare than beryl formation in the presence of chromium, because there is only one place on Earth where we have found the red to occur in gem quality!

Understanding the presence of these natural features is tied to formation, the GIA gave both green and red beryls the extraordinary Type III designation in their clarity classification system, which means the quality of a gem is not judged strenuously by flawlessness, but rather by the overall beauty in a stone. The dispersive effect inclusions have on light produces an Emerald's famous "glow". As the lone Type III beryls, red and green are the sole family members capable of generating the diffused brilliance requisite for Emerald classification; the quality of light for which they are well-known.

The famous Emerald glow belongs to both the green and the red.

Although inclusions are acceptable, an Emerald must be primarily crystalline in nature, free from a high degree of impurities. As the prolific Rock & Gem author Bob Jones once pointed out, "Not all green beryl is an emerald. Of the tons of mineral mined for beryllium from New England's pegmatite deposits, none could be considered emerald…beryl crystals lacking any semblance of gem quality are simply called common beryl."

This quote illustrates why tying the "common" name beryl to such an uncommonly-occurring gem quality stone is insulting to the inherent value of a Red Emerald. Since 90% of material recovered is not gem grade, many are unaware high-quality merchandise exists. The vast majority of professionals within the industry would never encounter a facet-grade Red Emerald in their professional life without seeking one, and even the intention to find one can be satisfied only with great difficulty.

The gemological properties which differentiate emeralds from the other beryls are found in the red variety as well as the green. The profuse amount of material enclosed within the standard green emerald produces a mossy appearance of diffused light. This characteristic was dubbed the jardin or garden by French artisans, who designed the Emerald Cut faceting style to act as a picture frame which captures the best presentation of these traits.

The same fields of inclusions admired in the green are also present in the red; one can observe hourglass color zoning, parallel crystal formation, rehealed fractures and comparable growth disturbances in the jardins and crystal structures of both. These natural features are so infrequent they belonged to only a single beryl variety in the past, yet now they are shared by these two together.

The X-Factor is a 1.81 carat Emerald cut stone with a phenomenal jardin.

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. Emeralds contain specific kinds of inclusions that produce a unique look to the gemstone. Whether two-phase inclusions, luminous fiber-optic chatoyant needles or light-bending reflections from interior fissures, all Emeralds contain something breathtaking to witness.

The non-emerald beryls have fewer inclusions which can be burned out by heating to a high temperature for a long period of time, which often improves color, as well. The Emerald form of beryl is impervious to fire; inclusions are not burned out, and color does not improve. The way a natural Emerald comes out of the ground is exactly how it remains in enhanced form. This is again true for only two beryl varieties.

As another difference from the other beryls, enhancements applied to the red are the same as those given to the green. Liquid enhancement flows into any open fissures or fractures present on an Emerald's surface, masking their appearance. Traditional methods used impermanent Cedarwood Oil, but today more enduring solutions exist.

When a jeweler works with these gems, they must be aware they are attempting to set a stone with the gemological characteristics of an Emerald and not the traits of other beryl, such as an Aquamarine. Emeralds are brittle, while beryls are measurably less so, which must be considered when setting a gemstone into jewelry. Speaking the name alone establishes how a Red Emerald should be handled, which could potentially prevent damage to one of the rarest jewels on Earth.

The Color-Drop showcases a 5.16 ct gem cab in a necklace with the finest Red Emerald pear pairs which exist, for a total weight over 20 carats.

The Red Emerald is not only one of our National Treasures, but a jewel cherished by cultures all around the world. As one of the very few gems produced only by America, failure to perceive this stone in the domestic market as foreign countries already do has limited the number of examples retained in the United States. As of 2017, over 80% of all production has been sold in overseas markets.

W. E. Wilson, author for the Mineralogical Record, witnessed red beryl specimens at the 1991 Denver show and claimed “to see these in the bright Colorado sunlight is almost a religious experience.” I have dedicated my professional life to providing that same exhilarating feeling to everyone, by presenting unparalleled Red Emerald jewelry in sizes and of quality never before achieved by the combined mass of humanity who are my contemporaries and predecessors, in an attempt to demonstrate the true glory of this precious gemstone.

I am humbled at the opportunity to create art from this jewel, aware this will be one of humanity's few chances to do so. I am motivated by a duty to honor this irreplaceable material, an undeniable gift from God. This sacred responsibility obligates me to be good and bring citizens across the planet my very best. My sincerest hope is that you appreciate this stone, love it as I do and MARVEL at one of the remarkable modern-day wonders still ready to amaze in our world, ever-changing through discovery.


bottom of page