This spectacular historic jewel was recently auctioned. It once belonged to Catherine the Great (1729-1796) one of Russia's most colorful rulers. (You can read the bejeweled mini-biography I wrote about her for more juicy details.)  Her emerald and diamond brooch sold for $1.65 million, well above the pre-auction estimate of $1- 1.5 million. A worthy price for one of the most outstanding gemstones in the world.

The brooch was a gift to Sophie Dorothea, Princess of Wurttemberg who married her detested only son (you should read that mini-bio! Talk about larger than life monarchs and dysfunctional families).  Her descendants owned the brooch until 1972 when it was purchased by a private American buyer.

The hexagonal-cut Colombian emerald weighs more than 60 carats and is surrounded by much smaller old mine diamonds.  Colombian emeralds were discovered in the early16th century - a spectacular large find far outclassing the poorer quality gemstones from Cleopatra's mines in Egypt which had just about petered out by then.

The conquistadors first found a treasure trove of emeralds in Peru. The locals were reluctant to divulge the source. The Spaniards applied extremely persuasive methods worthy of the Spanish Inquisition and found out where the emeralds were from - a mountain ridge 75 km from Bogota, Colombia's capital today. (The mines are still being worked and are controlled by emerald barons.)

The gems went straight to the Spanish royal family who wore them for prestige and sold them to finance wars. Emeralds became popular in virtually all European courts including Russia's. The emeralds also found their way to  Middle Eastern nations as well as the Mughal empire in India. These Islamic nations prized emeralds because green was the color of the Prophet Muhammed's cloak. By wearing emeralds, the powerful showed they had the protection of Allah.

For two centuries treasure fleets bearing Spain's plunder from South America would group in Cuba and sail for Europe. In 1622, 8 ships from one such treasure fleet sank off the coast of Florida in a hurricane. In 1985, treasure hunting divers found the wreck of one of the ships, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. There were many gems and gold from this incredible find including more than 6000 uncut emeralds as well as several beautiful emerald jewelry (see my past post Gems from the 1622 Spanish Treasure Fleet)

The one thing that made emeralds so prized long ago was their rarity. Also, natural emeralds are rarely flawless as you can see from this gorgeous 665 carat emerald bead and diamond necklace which recently sold for more than $422,000 at a Sotheby's Magnificient Jewels auction.

Today companies like Chatham and Tairus can create flawless emeralds in the lab which costs $550 a carat - 1/5 the price of a natural stone. There is no difference between the two - just where they are made. If you are interested in seeing the lab process, check out Tairus' video which shows you how they make emeralds.


Jewels: A Secret HistoryReference
Victoria Finlay  Jewels: A Secret History

For more tutorials check out my Jewelry Making Tips

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