One doesn’t normally associate beautiful jewelry with the time of the Spanish Inquisition. But in the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of gems, there is an exquisite necklace of diamonds and emeralds.
It is a spectacular double row of diamonds and emeralds ending in a chandelier of emeralds. There is unfortunately very little information about the provenance of this necklace. The large diamonds and Columbian emeralds were most likely cut in India in the 17th century. This would make them one of the earliest examples of cut gemstones in the Smithsonian’s Collection. There are really only legends surrounding this necklace. They indicate that it was worn at times by Spanish and French royalty. In the early 20th century, it was purchased by the Maharajah of Indore, whose son sold the necklace in 1947 to Harry Winston. Winston subsequently sold the necklace to Mrs. Cora Hubbard Williams of Pittsburgh. She bequeathed it to the Smithsonian in 1972.
Emeralds are a form of crystal known as beryls. Beryls are normally clear crystals, but when infused with chromium or vanadium, they attain various gradations of green. The purest green are the rarest emeralds and many people actually prefer an emerald that has a blue-green tint.
Before the 16th century, the only known emerald deposits were in Cleopatra’s Egyptian mines. But after emeralds were discovered in Columbia, those became the “gold standard” in emeralds. Columbian emeralds have been discovered by archaeologists among artifacts of such tribes as the Inca, Maya, Aztec, Toltec and the lesser-known Chibcha Indians. Emeralds are among the rarest of gemstones and can be more expensive per carat than even the finest diamonds! They are a hard mineral, with a Moh’s hardness scale of 7 or 8 (compared to a diamond’s 10). While most emeralds are found in Africa, Russia and Africa, there have been discoveries of emerald deposits in North Carolina!