The emerald is iconic, instantly recognisable for its beautiful green colour and the birthstone for May. Formed from the Beryl mineral, the stone historically is very popular – the ruler Cleopatra had her own emerald mines in Egypt. Harder than quartz and difficult to work, emeralds are quite brittle. The good news is that small scratches are less devastating to the value of an emerald than a diamond, as quality is determined by eye, not by a magnifier.
Not as old as some on this list, the Atocha Star is still 400 years old. In 1622, it was on board a journey to Spain on the Atocha, the largest Spanish treasure galleon in a 28-ship fleet. The Atocha sank in a hurricane with seven others. In 1985, Mel and Deo Fisher discovered the ship after 16 years of searching. They found “Emerald City” about 30 meters from the site, 13,5000 carats of emeralds originating from Colombia. Originally more than 25.8 carats, the stone was then cut into 12.7 carats between the claws of the Golden Eagle. In 18-carat white gold and 14-carat yellow gold, its head covered in 763 diamonds, its purpose was to raise money for breast cancer research as a centrepiece in The World’s Greatest Treasurehunt. It remains missing, stolen before the auction could take place.
Originally from Muzo, Colombia, the chalk emerald is 37.82 carats. It was once in an emerald and diamond necklace as the centrepiece, worn by the Maharani Saheba. Recut from its original 38.4 carats in the 20th Century, Harry Winston designed a new setting in a ring, surrounded by sixty pear-shaped diamonds. The ring is now in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, donated by Mr and Mrs O. Roy Chalk in 1972.
One of the most valuable emeralds in the world, the Gachalá Emerald was discovered in 1967, in the Vega de San Juan mine in Gachalá, Columbia. It’s rare to find a stone of such size and colour, rarer remaining uncut at 858 carats. The New York City jeweller, Harry Winston donated it to the Smithsonian in 1969.
Mined in the same place as the Chalk Emerald, the Mackay necklace is the largest cut emerald in the National Gem Collection in the Smithsonian, at 169.97 carats. It was a wedding gift in 1931 from Clarence Mackay to his wife, Anna Case. She was a prima donna of the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1909 to 1920. Cartier designed the Art Deco pendant, the stone set in platinum with 35 emeralds and 2,191 colourless round and step cut diamonds. Mrs Anna Case Mackay left the necklace to the Smithsonian in her will in 1984.
This emerald in all its intricately-carved glory, bears the date 1107 A.H. (1695-1696 AD). On one side, an inscription contains a Shi’a prayer. The reverse side features carved poppy flowers and scrolling foliage. It probably belonged to one of the sixth emperor’s courtiers or officers, as the inscription is Shi’a, not Sunni. In 2001, Christie’s auctioned it for £1.5m. From 2008 onwards, the emerald is in the Museum of Islamic Art, in Qatar.
Recently sold for £4.3 million, the 18.04 carat emerald was once owned by the Rockefeller family, originally set in a brooch owned by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. After her death in 1948, the stones were divided among her five children. The emerald passed to David Rockefeller. He had Raymond Yard set the Columbian stone in a gorgeous platinum ring with diamonds.