• Antique Animal Jewelry

Emeralds in Antique Jewelry: Nothing Greens Greener

At times reserved only for the aristocracy and the clergy as a sacred gemstone, the emerald - the Jewel of Kings - is as green as they get. In fact, so perfectly deep and charming is the emerald's hue that it was proclaimed to have healing properties that could relieve stress and eye strain just from setting your gaze upon one. No wonder, then, that these greenest of green gems have been prized, carried, and flaunted in the form of jewelry for millennia across the world.

Gold ring, with a circular bezel set with emeralds in a cluster, with forked shoulders and each branch set with a leaf. Spain, c.1700-1800. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Brief History of Emeralds in Jewelry

Emeralds have been treasured and given a special place in stories and legends from the very beginning, with even the Holy Grail supposedly being carved from a large emerald - one that dropped from Satan's crown as he fell from Heaven and from grace.

The earliest ancient emeralds were mined in Egypt, in an area known to the Romans as 'Mons Smaragdus', meaning Emerald Mountain. These Egyptian mines were the most prolific source of emeralds for many centuries. It's believed that the ancient Egyptians may have been operating the mine as early as 330BC, but the main period of mining was under Roman rule around 30BC, and mining continued there well into the 15th and 16th centuries AD. The Romans were known for their love of gemstones, especially emeralds and pearls, and emeralds were also popular in classical Greece, often being associated with Venus, goddess of love and hope (Aphrodite in Greek Mythology).

Gold, emerald, amethyst, and pearl earrings, 1st-3rd century, Roman

From the Helen Tanzer collection, via Archaeological Museum

Gold and emerald necklace of 21 emerald beads in natural hexagonal crystalline form, alternating with flat quatre-foil gold links probably intended to evoke a stylized knot of Hercules. 2nd-3rd century, Roman. Emerald necklaces appear in portraits dated 2nd century and often would have been worn as part of an ensemble of necklaces, the others plainer to maximize the impact of the emeralds. Gold and emerald necklaces remained in fashion throughout the Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A gold finger-ring with an angular and fluted hoop and an oval bezel set with an emerald engraved in intaglio with a fish; at the back of the ring is a second bezel engraved in intaglio with a bird upon a tree; inscribed. 3rd-4th century, Roman. - © The Trustees of the British Museum

To the ancient Egyptians, green was a sacred color that represented the fertility of the land of Egypt and therefore symbolized fertility and immortality. They were attributed talismanic properties, such as bringing prosperity, revealing the truth, protecting against evil, and even offering the ability to see the future when placed under the tongue. Shrouded as they were in legends of power, in early times only Pharaohs were allowed to wear emeralds, but soon this became anyone of high status. During Cleopatra's reign, she laid claim to all emerald mines in Egypt, decorating herself and her palace with emeralds and giving them as gifts to foreign dignitaries.

Egypt was the major source of emeralds until the discovery of better quality emeralds in even greater numbers in the New World, in present-day Colombia. With the Spanish conquest, there came a huge influx of emeralds into Europe. Initially, these were reserved for Spanish royalty, but soon all of the European courts were craving these deep green gems. From 1500 to 1700 Spanish jewelers often made lavish use of emeralds.

“Father Joseph de Acosta tells us that when he returned from America in 1587 there were on his ship ‘two chests of emeralds; every one weighing at the least foure arrobas” (that equals two chests of emeralds weighing around half a million carats or about 200 pounds)”

Interestingly, the emeralds in present-day Colombia were known about from legends and stories long before the conquistadors actually found the emerald mines. The Muzo Indians of Colombia had hidden them so well that it took the conquistadors nearly 20 years to find them. It's also believed that around the time of the Spanish conquest, the people of the Peruvian city of Manta were found to be worshipping an emerald the size of an ostrich egg, which they referred to as goddess 'Umina'. According to the goddess' 'priests', her followers could best worship 'the mother emerald' by bringing her 'daughters' (other, smaller emeralds) to her. When the Spaniards seized the town, they took with them the huge wealth of emeralds stored in the city, though they never found Umina, who had been well hidden.

A gold finger-ring with quatrefoil shoulders with projections to right and left and a large bezel with an emerald, the petals at the side elaborately chased with scrolls, once enameled. 16th century.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A 16th-century large table-cut hexagonal emerald supposedly associated with Elizabeth I, set and backed in gold; in a later frame with white, black, blue, green, and red champlevé enamel cartouches with rosettes alternating with six table-cut diamonds. From a large red and blue enamel suspension loop and a small red enamel loop at the bottom is suspended a lozenge-shaped pendant set with four table-cut diamonds. Inscribed with a facsimile of Elizabeth I's signature, probably c.1860-70.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A gold and enamel brooch in the form of a salamander with splayed limbs, raised head, gaping mouth, and a tightly curled tail. The sinuous body is fashioned from ten cabochon emeralds from Columbia flanked by 30 tiny table-cut diamonds from either Burma or India. It is highly detailed, with little flecks of darker enamel representing teeth and scales on the underside if viewed very closely. Late 16th - early 17th century. - From the Cheapside Hoard, © Museum of London

An elaborate timepiece (probably Genevan) set into a single large Colombian emerald the size of an apple, of skillfully cut hexagonal form with a hinged lid, enameled in translucent green, c.1600-1610. Emerald is a hard and brittle gemstone, so cutting it without cracking the crystal was very difficult. According to scholars, there is nothing existing from this time to rival this piece, and it would have had to have belonged to someone of extraordinary wealth. Who that was, we don't know.

From the Cheapside Hoard, © Museum of London

The Helyar Jewel: An exceptionally fine memorial jewel for Charles I, whose portrait is concealed by a hinged cover in the floral enamel back. Gold pendant mounted with a cabochon emerald on the front and a pendant pearl. The back is painted in enamel with polychrome flowers, including tulips and forget-me-nots, arranged symmetrically around a central flower, on a white ground with black scrolls and black circles of diminishing size (a vestige of peapod ornament). England, c.1650-70.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Late 17th century Spanish diamond-set gold pendant with emerald drops

From @peterszuhay via Instagram

Iberian emerald jewelry c.1680-1700 from @peterszuhay, shared by @beneaththeloupe via Instagram

Pendant, the scrolling gold openwork is in the form of a bow surmounted by a crown. From the lower edge hangs a spreading triangular segment hung with an emerald drop. Spain, c.1680-1700.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Georgian-Era Emerald Jewelry

Enameled gold pendant set with Colombian emeralds and table-cut diamonds, made in Spain, c.1700-1715.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Portuguese c.1700 gold flower brooch set with emeralds and diamonds.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram

c.1740 Portuguese gold brooch of the bleeding heart, set with emeralds rubies and diamonds.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram

Two slides in the form of a bow with a pendant cross. Left: Slide and pendant with table-cut emeralds set in gold openwork. Spanish, probably Cordoba, c.1750. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: Necklace element or slide, gold set with emeralds, with filigree wire decoration and a small flower spray pendant engraved on the reverse. Spanish, 18th century. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ornate Iberian bow baroque lavalier necklace in 18k yellow gold, typical of 18th century Spanish jewelry. The bow top and pear-shaped bottom can be worn individually.

From @21stfinds via Instagram.

Giardinetti rings, meaning 'little garden', were designed as a spray of flowers and became very popular in the second half of the 18th century. These Spanish examples from San Sebastian use only emeralds, since Spain had access to emeralds in abundance from their colonies.

( 1 | 2 ) - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

For comparison, here is are some English giardinetti rings. Left: set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, and emeralds in silver collets, c.1730-60. Right: a mourning ring set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, emeralds and amethysts. England, c.1787, inscribed 'Cease thy tears, religion points on high/ CS ob.25 Jan 1787 aet 70/ IS ob. 18 Sep 1792 aet 72'. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Beautiful Georgian component ring in the shape of a leaf featuring diamonds, emeralds, blue sapphires and rubies set in silver with a 9k gold band - From @colonialdame via Instagram.

A gold openwork pendant set with emeralds and a blue paste, the pin is a later addition, made in Spain, 18th century. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Two stunning emerald Iberian jewels, the jewel on the left is 18th century, the jewel on the right is early 19th century, and they are both featured together in the middle photo.

From @colonialdame via Instagram

Hair-pin ornament in the form of an open flower. Silver with a trembler center and closed-back. The petals are of emeralds, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and topazes and the large central emerald is bordered with diamonds and sapphires. France, c.1770. - © The Trustees of the British Museum

18th-century gold ring with table-cut emeralds, Spain, c.1770.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram

A Georgian emerald and old-cut diamond cluster ring, 18-carat gold shank with scrolled split shoulders. The emerald in a cut-down pinched collet gold setting, the old-cut diamonds set in silver.

Antique Animal Jewelry

Georgian Colombian emerald five-stone ring mounted in 18ct yellow gold. English, c.1780. The emeralds are set in traditional closed-back rub-over settings and split gold shoulders.

From Flaxman Fine Jewellery

A Georgian emerald and diamond cluster ring, the oval faceted emerald cutdown and collet-set in yellow gold and surrounded by ten old-cut diamonds, all silver cutdown collet-set to a yellow gold closed-backed mount, to a tapered fluted shank with ornately scrolled pierced shoulders, c.1800.

From Bentley & Skinner

c.1800 gold and silver ring with diamonds and an emerald

From @peterszuhay via Instagram

A stunning early 19th century emerald key with chain and pendants

Antique Animal Jewelry

This necklace and earrings are part of a larger set or parure of jewelry believed to have been given to Stéphanie de Beauharnais by Napoleon Bonaparte and his consort Joséphine upon her arranged marriage to the heir of the Grand Duke of Baden in 1806. The necklace features faceted table-cut emeralds in borders of brilliant-cut diamonds with briolette emerald drops; open-set in gold and silver. Probably made by Nitot & Fils, jewelers to Napoleon, France, c.1806.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A variegated gold ring, cast with rose gold and silver roses on a matted ground. The top set with large emerald, flanked by a foliate motif set with small diamonds. Memorial inscription engraved inside the hoop, 'Meinem lieben Sohn Albert zur Erinerung des 11t und 12t April 1835.' (My dear son Albert in memory of 11th and 12th April 1835), Gifted to Albert, Prince Consort, by his father in memory of his confirmation. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Queen Victoria's very first ring, owned by her while still Princess. A very small, thin gold ring surmounted by a flower set with five emeralds around single ruby.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

And a small selection of Antique Animal Jewelry's Victorian emerald pieces...

An antique early Victorian emerald and diamond anchor symbolizing Hope.

Antique Animal Jewelry

A Victorian 'HOPE' bracelet, the O and decorative touches picked out in emeralds, and an extremely rare Victorian 15 carat gold lizard/salamander bracelet, c.1860, which is set with diamonds and diamond-shaped emeralds along the spine. - Antique Animal Jewelry

Victorian diamond and emerald horseshoe ring. 18-carat gold.

Antique Animal Jewelry

A charming Victorian double stickpin with chain and hand holding a doublet emerald, modeled in 15-carat gold. - Antique Animal Jewelry

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.