A Glittering Visual History Of Emeralds

These gemstones are 20 times rarer than diamonds, so if you like it, then you should’ve put an emerald ring on it.

Emeralds, the magical building blocks of Oz’s great city, are 20 times rarer than diamonds, having only been found in fewer than 20 countries. Jewelry designers both ancient and modern have created some of the most stunning bling in history with these envy-green gemstones.


Now, hundreds of these glittering designs are gathered in one book: Emerald: Twenty One Centuries of Jeweled Opulence and Power, published by Thames and Hudson. Over 270 pages feature photographs of emerald jewelry worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Angelina Jolie, and Princess Diana. One 5,500-year-old creation is depicted in all its green glory, alongside works by modern jewelers like Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari, and Harry Winston.

The stories surrounding this jewel are as rich as those who wear it. “It takes poise and power to compete for attention with the fiery geometry of gemstones,” British fashion author Hettie Judah writes in the book’s introduction. “The women whose histories run through Emerald all exude power–be it political, sexual, financial, or social. Girls can wear pearls, but it takes a woman to wear serious emeralds.”

From Queen Soraya’s emerald tiara to the Catherine the Great Brooch to Anita Delgado’s crescent-shaped emerald necklace (originally designed to adorn a Maharajah’s prized elephant), emerald jewelry seems to possess a mystical ability to canonize its wearers.

Vanity Fairwriter Jonathan Self tells of his visit to the lost emerald mines of Cleopatra, who was famous for giving visiting dignitaries emeralds engraved with her likeness. In ancient Egypt, the sacred emerald represented the flooding of the Nile, fertility, immortality, and, above all, power. Self actually stumbled upon one of these mystical jewels in Cleopatra’s mines. “Pliny summed up how I feel about my emerald from Cleopatra’s lost mines when he wrote that some were considered ‘beyond any price, and even beyond human estimation, so that to many men the gem suffices for the contemplation of all nature,” Self writes.

In this glittering book, the emerald proves to be a protagonist as faceted and bewitching as any human character, whether it’s carved in the shape of a parrot, adorning a duchess’s diadem, or set in an art-deco bracelet owned by Andy Warhol. Emerald will be published on February 11th and is available for pre-order on Amazon for $81 here.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.