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Why do emeralds have inclusions?

Emeralds are some of the most prized gems in history. Used in jewelry from ancient times, emeralds have long been symbols of wealth and prosperity. From the ancient Mogul emerald carvings to the emerald and diamond tiara of Marie-Thérèse of France, emeralds have always held a mysterious allure, and almost always contain inclusions.

What is an inclusion, you ask? 

Basically, inclusions are materials that are trapped inside a gemstone as it forms. They may be crystal, gas, or liquid, but can also be simple fractures. Researchers are constantly discovering new types of inclusions, so there is no definitive list of what inclusions might be made of. For emeralds in particular, inclusions are also sometimes referred to as “jardins” – French for “gardens”.

But why do even the finest emeralds, which sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars per carat, always have flaws?

The answer is three-fold, the first having to do with the formation of the gem within the earth. Emeralds are a variety of the mineral known as beryl, which is comprised of 4 main elements:

  • Beryllium
     
  • Aluminium
       
  • Silicon        
       
  • Oxygen

The emerald owes its rich green hues to the presence of chromium and vanadium, which actually replace the aluminium in the crystal structure. These two elements are only found in the deeper parts of the Earth’s crust where heavier rocks are formed, whereas beryllium itself–a primary element in emeralds–is a lighter material that tends to be found nearer to the surface of the crust.

Therefore, it takes massive amounts of pressure to move the heated fluids kilometres through the Earth’s crust so that beryllium can meet chromium or vanadium.

This pressure actually creates highly unstable conditions for gemstones to form. When gems do form under these conditions, it is under great pressure and the stones tend to be fractured and contain many inclusions.

The second factor that causes emeralds to be highly included in comparison to other gems is the chemical makeup of the gem itself.

Remember how chromium and vanadium replace aluminium as the emerald is forming? The molecules of these two elements are significantly larger than those of aluminium, and this is what almost guarantees that there will be deformities or inclusions in the gemstone.

To illustrate, think of a line of traffic in a traffic jam. If a car pulls out to overtake another, it leaves a car-sized space. But what if a bus tries to move into that space? Everyone has to move to allow it to fit. If the other vehicles don't move, they’ll get smashed, crushed, or bumped in order to make room.

This is essentially what is going on inside an emerald every time a chromium or vanadium molecule replaces an aluminium molecule. The whole structure becomes unstable and when the crystals form, they tend to be fractured and highly included.

Much like forcing a square peg into a round hole: it fits, but only with considerable stress.

The third factor that affects emerald production is the mining method used.

Emeralds have to be dug out of hard rock faces directly, so blasting and digging are the only ways to get the stones out of the ground. Large-scale operations can yield a large amount of gemstones fairly quickly, but tend to be highly destructive. Small-scale artisan miners, on the other hand, can take from days to weeks to locate and work a decent deposit.

The vibration caused by even simple hammering can cause any fragile crystal to break and develop deep cracks, and this is even more apparent when it comes to emerald.

Therefore, with the combination of the pressure needed to form them, the inherent instability of the molecule formation, and the mining methods needed to extract the stones, inclusions are almost always present in emeralds.

Additionally, the better the colour of emerald, the more inclusions it is likely to have. Finding a completely clear emerald is very unlikely because it is a minor miracle that has even formed at all.

In modern times, inclusions have become more widely accepted as part of the natural gem’s personality. Gems without inclusions can actually be highly suspect, due to the volume of synthetics that are now found on the market.

In the jewellery industry, emerald leads the way. We have appreciated emerald engagement rings and other jewellery pieces for hundreds of years. The main sources for emerald are Colombia, Zambia, and Brazil, though the Zambian stones tend to have less inclusions and are therefore highly sought-out for their clarity.

Colombian emeralds have long been the stuff of legends, and many of the most famous emeralds in custom jewellery come from Colombian mines.

Brazil has long been associated with lower quality commercial gems, but that has changed in recent years. According to one GIA report, some of the country’s gems have reached $30,000 per carat.

Determining quality and value becomes more difficult due to the highly included nature of emeralds. There are a number of treatments used to stabilize and enhance the colour of emeralds, the most traditional being oiling. This is why, with more advanced treatments, a gemological certificate is a must on high-value emeralds.

GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is a world-renowned laboratory that grades and evaluates tens of thousands of emeralds every year. Having their expertise gives any emerald an increased value due to the organization’s reputation for excellence in gemology.

With such a large number of synthetic and treatment emeralds that are currently available, it is always best to find an honest dealer to help you choose the right gem at the right price.

Here at Skyjems we have extensive knowledge of emeralds, among other gemstones. We offer a 100% guarantee on all emerald purchases, so you can be confident that you are getting a high-quality stone.

Emeralds may feature more inclusions than many other gems, but their green radiance will always be a popular choice for jewellery, including unique engagement rings. Please don’t hesitate to contact us about any of the beautiful emeralds featured in our catalog, or for more information about custom jewellery or special orders.


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