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.
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…