In this blog’s ongoing series on gemstones, this post will be about the emerald, which is a silicate mineral classified as a beryl and generally a green color that can range from medium to dark. The emerald was thought to have healing powers to sooth a soul and relieve stress.
In recorded history, the Ancient Egyptians had the earliest known emerald mines, it has been said that Cleopatra wore emeralds. Much later emeralds were also found in countries such as Brazil and Zambia but the largest producer of emeralds is Colombia with mines located in the Andes mountain range. In the United States emeralds can be found in states such as North Carolina and South Carolina and most recently emeralds were discovered in the Yukon area of Canada.
Special Note: Traditionally the emerald is the birthstone of May and a great gift idea for a bride born in that month would be a ring, earrings or a pendant that she could wear on her wedding day.
In this post I will discuss six of the most famous emeralds, including a tiara once worn by a British Queen. So, let’s get started …
The Chalk Emerald
One of the most famous emeralds in the world is the Chalk Emerald; originally the Colombian emerald weighed 38.4 carats. Due to the emerald’s exceptional clarity and the rich green color it is considered one of the finest emeralds ever discovered. It has been said that the Chalk Emerald was once set into an emerald and diamond necklace that belonged to a Maharani in India.
Eventually the Chalk emerald was recut (now measuring 37.8 carats) and set into a platinum and gold ring designed by Harry Winston with 60 pear shaped diamonds totaling 15 carats. In 1872 the Chalk Emerald ring was donated to the Smithsonian by Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk (hence the name of the emerald!) and is currently on display in the Gem Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History located in Washington, D.C.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Bulgari emerald and diamond pendant/brooch
Elizabeth Taylor was known for her amazing jewelry collection with many pieces given to her by Richard Burton. In the early 1960s the two began a scandalous affair during the filming of the movie Cleopatra in Rome. It was during this time that the Bulgari emerald and diamond pendant/brooch was bought by Burton for Taylor as an engagement present in 1962, when the couple married in March 1964 she wore it as a brooch on her wedding day.
The Bulgari pendant /brooch features an 18 carat Columbian emerald surround by pear shaped diamonds and set in platinum. The piece was versatile to be wore as either a brooch or a pendant, occasionally Taylor would wear it suspended as a pendant from an emerald and diamond necklace that was another gift from Burton. After Taylor’s death many of the pieces of her personal jewelry collection was auctioned off through Christie’s in New York City and on December 2011 the Bulgari emerald and diamond pendant/brooch sold for $6.6 million.
Catherine the Great’s Emerald Necklace
Catherine the Great was known to have an impressive jewelry collection, she was the longest ruling Empress of Russia and reigned for 34 years from 1762 to 1796. One of the gemstones she owned was a massive rectangular shaped emerald originally weighing 107 carats. It remained in the Russian Imperial collection for more than 100 years and had an amazing history as it passed through the Russian Royal family.
After her death in 1796 the emerald went to her eldest son who became Emperor Paul I of Russia. After his assignation in 1801 the emerald went to his son Tsar Nicholas and then to his son Tsar Alexander II. Tsar Alexander gifted the emerald as a wedding present to the Duchess Marie when she married his son the Grand Duke Vladimir in 1874.
In 1917 during the Russian Revolution Duchess Marie fled Russia and over 200 pieces of her jewelry collection, including the emerald of Catherine the Great, were smuggled out by a personal friend. Eventually the Duchess relocated to France where she died in 1920, the emerald was bequeathed to her son Grand Duke Boris.
Throughout the following years the emerald was sold to various collectors, including Pierre Cartier. Catherine the Great Emerald was recut, now weighing 75 carats, and set into a lovely diamond necklace by the Whitney family. In 1930, the emerald and diamond necklace was sold to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Then in 1971 the necklace was sold to a private buyer and eventually offered in auction by Christie’s in 2019 when it sold for $4.3 million.
The Rockefeller Emerald
The Rockefeller Emerald is an 18 carat octagonal step cut Columbian emerald which was purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr in 1930 for his wife Abby Aldridge Rockefeller. The emerald was set into a brooch with other small emeralds and was said to have been designed by Van Cleef & Arpels. After her death the brooch was deconstructed and the individual gemstones were given to the Rockefeller children.
The center emerald (the Rockefeller Emerald) was given to their youngest son, David and he commissioned Raymond Yard to design a beautiful platinum ring with the large emerald flanked with diamonds. In 2017, the ring was sold for over $5 million to the famed jeweler Harry Winston and thus became known as the Rockefeller-Winston Emerald
The Taj Mahal Emerald
The Taj Mahal Emerald is a hexagonal shaped Columbian emerald weighing 141.13 carats; it is very different than the other emeralds mentioned in this post. It was a carved gemstone that featured chrysanthemums, lotuses and poppies. The Taj Mahal Emerald was later named because the carvings were reminiscent of the architectural features of the grand Taj Mahal in India. The emerald was sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City in 2009 for almost $800,000.
The Fife Emerald and Diamond Tiara
The Fife Emerald and Diamond Tiara was once owned by Queen Victoria and it has a very interesting history. Prince Albert commissioned this beautiful emerald and diamond tiara in 1845 and it was made by the Royal jeweler Joseph Kitching.
The Fife Emerald and Diamond Tiara is set with cushion shaped diamonds and step cut emeralds and surmounted with 19 inverted pear shaped emeralds in graduating size with the large emerald in the center weighing 15 carats.
Queen Victoria wore the tiara for various occasions during the earliest years of her reign, inclucding several Franz Xavier Winterhalter portraits and the 1855 State Visit to France.
Queen Victoria gave the tiara to her daughter, Princess Louise the Duchess of Argyll, in 1893. Then the Princess left the tiara to her daughter, Princess Louise the Duchess of Fife. The tiara eventually went to Caroline the 3rd Duchess of Fife who wore it in 1960 to the State Opening of Parliament.
In 2018, on the occasion marking the 200th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, the Fife Emerald and Diamond Tiara was displayed at a special exhibition at Kensington Palace.
For more information about other pieces in British Royal emerald collection, please click on the link to the Cambridge Emeralds.