unknown emerald origins
unknown emerald origins

Emerald Origins: History and Identification


Emeralds from different sources can vary in quality. Learn how to identify emerald origins by analyzing the optical and physical properties of these gems.

20 Minute Read

Historic Emerald Origins

People have treasured emeralds throughout human history. Indeed, emerald exploitation and trade have influenced wars and conquests. Of course, the premier sources of emeralds have changed over time.

Egyptian Emeralds

Before the start of mining at the now-classic Colombian sources, most emeralds came out of Egypt. Deep in the desert, people began intermittently mining the Egyptian emerald deposit around 500 BCE. Later, during Cleopatra’s reign (51 BCE-21 BCE), mining became a more regular activity. She especially favored emeralds and took every occasion to flaunt her wealth in emeralds. As a result of increased demand, a town was built near the mines around 30 BCE to provide protection and cater to the miners’ needs.

Although these emeralds were often either opaque or translucent and generally pale in color, Egypt became the premier source for these gems. They also became highly prized jewelry stones in the Roman Empire. Most emeralds were left in their original hexagonal crystalline shape, often with a hole drilled through along their length for use as a bead, but some were polished into rounded beads or cabochons.

Cleopatra’s emerald mines have long since run dry. Although they were re-discovered in the 1800s, further efforts...


Addison Rice

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.


International Gem Society

Never Stop Learning

When you join the IGS community, you get trusted diamond & gemstone information when you need it.

Become a Member

Get Gemology Insights

Get started with the International Gem Society’s free guide to gemstone identification. Join our weekly newsletter & get a free copy of the Gem ID Checklist!