Choosing an Emerald Engagement Ring Stone
If you like green, you’ll love an emerald engagement ring. However, judging emerald quality is complicated. Learn how to find the best gem for your budget.
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Four Top Tips for an Emerald Engagement Ring
Before we get into the details, keep in mind these four tips for a beautiful emerald engagement ring.
Tip #1: See Before you Buy
The absolute most important factor when you're buying an emerald is that you like it! When you're shopping, make sure you can see the individual stone you're buying. Color, clarity, and cut all vary from one emerald to the next, and it's impossible to tell the quality of an emerald without seeing it. Keep in mind that one vendor's "AAA" quality is another's "AA." In other words, there's no industry standard to describe emerald quality.
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This article is also a part of our Emerald Specialist Mini Course, in the unit How to Choose an Emerald.
Determining emerald quality from a photo can be difficult, too. Traces of chromium, which create the green color in most emeralds, make emerald color notoriously difficult to capture on camera. Thus, it's difficult to buy emeralds online. That's why we recommend working with a highly rated custom jeweler like CustomMade. Their experts can help you choose the right stone for your budget and create the perfect ring for you and your sweetheart.
Tip #2: Consider Lab-Made Gems or Alternatives
Do you want an emerald — or just a bright pop of green? There are plenty of reasons to opt for synthetic or lab-made gems, but it's an especially tempting option for emeralds. Natural or mined emeralds have a lot of imperfections, making them vulnerable to breaking. For a ring you're wearing every day, it can get risky. Lab-made emeralds are less expensive and often have better quality than mined stones. That makes them not only beautiful but also easier to replace if something goes wrong.
If your heart is set on "green" but not on "emerald," check out these alternatives. These beautiful green gems are less likely to break than emeralds, making them more practical choices for a ring.
Of course, if your heart is set on an Earth-made emerald, then nothing else will do. Just remember that no emerald is perfect. You may have to compromise on one or more of the Four Cs to find the best stone for your budget. Ask the jeweler about durability and care to keep your gem looking perfect for years to come.
Tip #3: Go for the Best Color
Ultimately, if you're buying an emerald, you want a green stone. So, make sure you find a green you like! If you focus on choosing the best color, you might forgive a stone for poor clarity or small size.
When it comes to emerald, many people expect a deep, dark green. But often, the stone they fall in love with is much lighter! Lighter gems reflect more light, making them livelier, and most people prefer them to a darker green with less brilliance.
Tip #4: Ask About Enhancements
Just about every emerald has received oil enhancement to fill surface-reaching cracks. This widespread and accepted treatment makes the emerald look better.
On the other hand, heat treatment can permanently improve emerald color, but emeralds rarely receive this enhancement because the stone might break in the process. (The change in color isn't very dramatic).
Most importantly, make sure to ask about dyes. Some dealers use dyed oil to fill fractures in emeralds, which improves color only temporarily. Since the oil comes out of the stone over time, the dye will, too. As a result, you'll have an emerald with a different color than when you bought it. Cleaning or re-oiling a dyed stone will also change its color.
Before buying an emerald, ask for a laboratory report that can tell you whether the stone contains any dye.
Are All Emeralds Green?
"Emerald" has been synonymous with "green" for centuries. Indeed, emeralds are always green. Emeralds are defined as the green variety of the mineral beryl containing chromium or vanadium. Green beryls without chromium or vanadium are simply "green beryl" and usually have very light colors.
Beryl, however, comes in many colors, such as popular blue aquamarine, peach-pink morganite, and yellow heliodor. It can also be colorless (goshenite) or, very rarely, red. Sometimes, goshenite is called "white aquamarine" and red beryl is called "red emerald," but these are misnomers.
The Meaning Behind an Emerald Engagement Ring
Many myths and legends have grown around the go-to green gemstone. Aside from being the May birthstone and an alternative birthstone for Cancers, emeralds were Cleopatra's favorite gemstones. Indeed, her conspicuous displays of emeralds turned this gem into a mark of royalty.
Emeralds are also purported to reveal truths and give the wearer a sharp wit and improved memory. The color green is also associated with wealth, abundance, and springtime.
Emerald's association with springtime greenery makes it a popular choice for nature-themed wedding sets. Photos by CustomMade. Used with permission.
Although emerald is an uncommon choice for an engagement ring, some celebrities have opted for this gemstone. Halle Berry received an emerald and diamond ring from Olivier Martinez. Beyoncé and Angelina Jolie also flaunt this green stone, though not for their engagements. Perhaps the most famous emerald engagement ring is Jacqueline Kennedy's two-stone ring.
What Difference Does an Emerald's Source Make?
When shopping for emeralds, you'll find they come from many different countries. While many locales produce fine stones, some are better known for high-quality emeralds and command premium prices.
Since the 1500s, Colombia has been the premier source of the world's emeralds. As the most famous source, Colombian emeralds might sell for 30% more than similar gems from other locales.
Emeralds from recent finds in Ethiopia have become popular. These stones can also receive a slight premium on the market.
Other sources, including Brazil and Zambia, produce slightly less expensive stones.
Unless an emerald's origin holds a special meaning to you, it's best to focus on the quality of the stone, rather than its source.
How to Pick an Emerald Engagement Ring Stone
What should you look for in an emerald? How do you pick the right one for your engagement ring? If you've heard of the Four Cs of diamond quality (color, clarity, cut, and carat), all you need to do is apply them to an emerald.
In emerald, the most important "C" is color. If you're getting an emerald, you want a fantastic green. But, there are many different shades of green.
Gemologists grade color based on hue, tone, and saturation. For any colored gemstone, a pure hue with the highest saturation will command the highest prices. So, if you prefer a slightly different green than a bright grass green, you'll save some money.
In fact, slight nuances in hue can have a big impact on price. Slightly yellowish greens are more affordable than slightly bluish greens.
Similarly, tones lighter or darker than about 75% darkness will also be more affordable. While most people think darker is better, darker emeralds are typically less attractive and show less sparkle.
In addition to the gem's main color, there are a few things to look for when shopping for an emerald.
Look for zones of lighter and darker color. Because of how crystals develop, they often contain growth bands of alternating deeply colored and less colored areas. In many cases, this is only visible on the microscopic level. If you can see color zoning in a stone with your bare eyes from six inches away, you'll probably notice it in a ring, too. However, if not visible to the naked eye, color zoning won't have a big impact on price.
Many emeralds receive low-quality native cuts at their source mine. When the emerald receives a shallow cut, it will show a window, a color lighter in the center of the gem than around the edges. This is different from color zoning, which occurs in the crystal itself. If the window is small, it's not much of a concern. However, a window that takes up a large portion of the gemstone is less desirable.
To check for a window, place a piece of paper with text behind your emerald. If you can see the text, the gem has a window.
Similarly, extinction is another aspect of poor cut quality that can impact the gem's face-up color. Extinction creates dark areas where the facet angles don't allow light to reflect back to your eye. These areas are permanently dark and will make your gem less sparkly and attractive. If extinction covers more than 25% of your stone, try to find another.
Try a white paper test to check for extinction in your gem.
With emeralds, clarity will be a compromise. Few emeralds have good clarity, and even fewer have good clarity and good color. Since every emerald will have some clarity issues, you'll have to search for a gem that looks good in spite of its clarity.
In some gems, inclusions are well-placed near the edges. These are less noticeable than imperfections in the center. Dark inclusions are more noticeable than lighter ones, so lighter inclusions are usually preferable to darker ones.
Oil and Resin Enhancements
Nearly every emerald undergoes clarity enhancement. Soaking the emerald in oil or resin fills the surface-reaching fractures, which gives the gemstone a more even, clean look.
Traditionally, jewelers use cedar oil for this. Over time, the oil will yellow and wear out of the stone. So, every few years your emerald will need to be re-oiled. Although it requires maintenance, this treatment is routine and widely accepted.
Resin fillings like Opticon are newer and more controversial. They don't wear out of the stone over time, so resin-treated gems need less maintenance than cedar-oiled gems. Although Opticon can be removed, this requires soaking the stone in a solvent.
Unless the emerald is of extremely high-quality, the difference between resin and cedar oil won't impact price. Although this clarity treatment is stable, high-end collectors dislike it. However, for an emerald engagement ring, Opticon treatment makes a great option.
Grading Terms for Oil Enhancements
On a gemstone grading report, you may see the terms "minor," "moderate," or "significant" to describe the extent that oil aids an emerald's appearance. Minor oil has a minimal effect on appearance, while moderate and significant oil will require re-oiling to keep the gemstone looking great. Moderately and significantly oiled gems will also come at a discount compared to those with only minor oil.
Although transparency isn't a part of gemstone clarity, poor clarity can make a stone more opaque. Opaque emeralds are always less expensive than transparent gems. If opaque emeralds are the only ones that fit you budget, consider a lab-made gem or an alternative gemstone.
Next, consider the quality of the emerald's cut. Most emeralds receive low-quality native cuts that often feature windows or poor proportions. Gem cutters must choose carefully between having better cut quality or retaining more weight. To get the most out of the stone, they often cut it for weight.
Because of the shape of rough emeralds (usually long, hexagonal crystals), the most economical cut is the classic emerald cut, which features broad steps of facets. This gives the stone an entirely different look than brilliant cuts, which are known for their scintillation. Other cuts waste more of the rough stone, so their prices are higher.
While judging cut quality is best left to the experts, what matters most is the outcome: is the emerald beautiful? Here are a few things to look for when evaluating the cut.
First, make sure your emerald has a symmetrical shape. This is the most obvious factor in cut quality and will greatly impact how your ring looks once it's complete.
Avoid a round-cut emerald with flat areas or bulges.
In addition, look at the stone's shape and make sure it appeals to you. If a shape looks a bit off, even if you can't pinpoint why, it's just not the right emerald for your engagement ring.
The rounded parts of ovals, pears, and hearts should be well-shaped, without bulges or flat areas.
The points on pears, hearts, and marquise gems should be sharp and well-defined.
Look at the side of the stone and make sure it doesn't look too deep or shallow. This would likely result in extinction and windowing, respectively, and emeralds with poor proportions don't make for great center stones.
For elongated shapes, consider the length-to-width ratio. For example, while some like shorter, fatter ovals, others prefer them more elongated.
In general, we recommend that you avoid ambiguous shapes, such as shapes that aren't quite round but not elongated enough to be an oval, or just a little off-square.
If you're buying an emerald in a standard size to match a pre-made ring, make sure it's the right size. Getting a stone that's too big or too small for the setting will result in an expensive headache.
On the other hand, designing a custom ring will allow you to choose an emerald based first and foremost on its quality rather than a predetermined size. CustomMade is our top choice for designing a unique emerald engagement ring.
While carat, or weight, doesn't affect emerald quality, it makes a huge difference in price. Fine emeralds are rare in any size, and larger emeralds can command extremely high prices. Fortunately, emeralds are less dense than diamonds, making them noticeably larger for the same carat weight.
Emerald pricing per carat jumps at one, two, three, five, eight, and ten carats. Although very large emeralds do occur, these stones rarely show gem quality. Consult an emerald expert if you're looking for a large stone.
What's the Best Way to Save on an Emerald Engagement Ring Stone?
Emeralds can be expensive. So, how can you get an amazing emerald without blowing your budget? Here are some ways to save on an emerald engagement ring.
Opt for a Cabochon
Instead of a faceted stone, you could get a cabochon emerald. While a cabochon doesn't have the sparkle that many jewelry enthusiasts enjoy, it will still have great color. Gem cutters make cabochons when the rough stone has too many clarity imperfections to properly facet. Thus, a cabochon will be cheaper than a faceted stone of the same weight. A well-cut cabochon will seem to emit a beautiful, even color from within.
Unlike rubies and sapphires, emeralds don't receive routine heat treatments. The multitude of imperfections in emeralds make them likely to fracture during heating. However, a few emeralds do undergo heat treatment and are available at a lower cost.
Dealers will heat emeralds with good clarity but poor color in order to lessen yellow tints. Gentle heating mimics what happens naturally for other emeralds. After heating, the emeralds will have a more attractive color but still cost less than unheated stones.
This treatment is permanent and stable, which means that your emerald will retain its color forever. Plus, no one will ever know it's heat treated unless you tell them! Only advanced lab equipment can detect this treatment in emeralds.
Of course, if you don't mind lab-made stones, these offer immense savings while achieving a better color and clarity than most natural emeralds.
Most importantly, lab-made emeralds are real emeralds. They have the same chemical composition and crystal structure. Only a trained eye with a good microscope can see the difference between a lab-made and a mined stone.
If you just can't get over the clarity issues in emerald, or if you're worried about breaking the stone, there are some Earth-made alternatives that make more durable, cheaper, and often sparklier green center stones.
First, consider tourmaline, especially chrome tourmaline. Tourmaline comes in all colors, but green is among the most common. Green tourmaline, or verdelite, is usually eye-clean and often receives an emerald cut, making it a great emerald lookalike. Chrome tourmalines are a little more expensive than standard verdelites but can have fantastic color. Check out our chrome tourmaline buying guide.
If you're looking for something with more sparkle but not necessarily a huge center stone, consider a tsavorite garnet. These green stones are a favorite among jewelers. Although harder to find than tourmalines, tsavorites sparkle like crazy and have great green hues. Take a look at our garnet buying guide for more information on this stone.
Ring Settings for Emeralds
Because of their poor durability, it's best to use protective ring settings for an emerald engagement ring. Many jewelers employ bezel settings to avoid chips and fractures. In this type of setting, a rim of metal covers the entire girdle of the stone, which is most susceptible to damage. Some jewelers like to add decorative raised prongs to a bezel setting. This makes it look like a prong setting, but with the protection of a bezel.
Other jewelers use settings that are close to the finger or set low in a halo. Settings with many prongs around the stone can also provide extra protection. When you accidentally knock your ring against something, you're more likely to hit a prong than the emerald.
In this ring, the emerald sits low in a diamond halo. Having the halo surround the stone's girdle keeps it protected. © Kat Florence. Used with permission.
Emerald Ring Styles
Using a bezel setting doesn't mean you have to miss out on your favorite ring style. Traditional solitaires or diamond side stones are popular choices for emerald engagement rings, but trendy halo styles can look great, too.
Many couples opt for nature-inspired rings to complement mossy green emeralds.
Emeralds look beautiful in any metal color. Most choose to pair a bluish emerald with yellow gold or a yellowish emerald with white gold or platinum. These pairings make the emerald appear a more pure green. Rose gold is a great option, too. Since red and green are opposed on the color wheel, the red hues of the metal will make your green gem pop.
Whether you prefer yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, your emerald will look fantastic. © Emeralds International. Used with permission.
Caring for your Emerald Engagement Ring
Any engagement ring needs some care to keep it looking great. For emeralds, though, it's important to be gentle. Never use an ultrasonic cleaner for emerald jewelry. Because of its flaws, the emerald can fracture. Instead, use a soft brush, warm water, and detergent.
If your emerald is oil-treated, it will need re-oiling every few years to keep it looking its best. Take your ring to a trusted jeweler to make sure this is done properly. If the emerald has a resin treatment instead of the traditional oil, it won't need re-oiling. These resins will only come out of the stone through soaking in solvents.
In addition, white gold and platinum settings usually have rhodium plating to give them a brighter appearance. This can wear off over time, but any jeweler will be able to re-plate your ring.
Although emeralds have their issues, with proper care, an emerald ring will make a stunning and unique way to celebrate your engagement.
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison’s interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth’s geological processes began in her elementary school’s environmental club. When she isn’t writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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