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Basic Ways to Identify Emeralds

Most emeralds people see are the faceted material that has been put into jewelry. This is the most difficult way to identify an emerald, though dealers can usually identify emeralds at a glance.

Basic Observations

Determining if an emerald is real or not starts with what is visible in front of you. There are lots of imitation emeralds in the form of assembled gems. The most common ones are made with two pieces of colorless material glued together at the girdle, as illustrated on the right. The glue is where the color comes from, while the cut is what makes the rest of the gem show that color. The one place where the color does not show is through the girdle, which is completely colorless like the host material, and an obvious give-away.

Another type of assembled stone is a foil-back, with colored foil on the pavilion to give the color. There are some settings where this is obscured, but the foil scratches off very easily, and scratches and holes in this can show colorless spots in the gem material.

There are many other types of assembled stones, but many share problems with forming gas bubbles in the host material and having borderlines between pieces. Those features are difficult to see with the naked eye and usually require basic 10x magnification. Most jewelry stores will be able to offer this magnification as a loupe, a pocket-sized magnifier.

Note: Natural emeralds can have gas bubbles too, but very often they are weirdly shaped and much more difficult to identify. They frequently show up in natural cavities inside the emerald.

Identifying Color

E1096 | play |left | medium | “Emerald ID: E1096 – Weight: 1.05 Carats – Origin: Zambia”Dealers pick up on assembled “emeralds” quickly because the color is not right. Emeralds are only green, and the green is very distinct. The green also produces a soft, shimmery effect that cameras hate. This is the primary factor that differentiates it from gems like peridot, which is always a yellowish green color versus an emerald’s more bluish hues. Peridot also lacks the shimmery green effect too.

Another difference between the emeralds and other gems is the type of inclusions they have and how many there are. Emeralds are almost always included, and treated for these inclusions with a type of oil. Sometimes they are a little sticky from the oil filling their cracks, and often show gas bubbles in these spaces under magnification.

This is different from the assembled stone because the gas bubbles are in different directions rather than sandwiched between just two pieces in one area.

Temperature

Most natural gems feel cold to the touch versus glass at room temperature. In order for this to work, the emerald must be room temperature, meaning it cannot already be warm from a spotlight or from being handled by another person.

Weight

Emeralds are much denser than glass, and will feel slightly heavier despite being the same size. The higher density also means they will have a higher luster than glass (in other words, emeralds are shinier). Luster in emeralds is not a great indicator since the vast majority of them are treated with oil, and can mess with how we see the luster.

Magnification

This has already been mentioned a few times, but one of the most definitive ways of identifying emeralds is through magnifying it. There are almost always inclusions present, which can make identification easier.

Common Things in Natural Emeralds

Three Phase Inclusion


There is a gas bubble and a natural crystal in a liquid. That crystal guarantees this emerald is natural, because synthetic emeralds do not have foreign elements when forming.

Crystal Inclusion

Fractures


Emeralds frequently have fractures. Above is a less-included example. The French term would be “Un petit jardin” or “A small garden”, with the fractures resembling a garden.

Magnification also makes the oiling more visible, even for an emerald in a setting. The oiling is often swirly and has gas bubbles flattened in the natural fractures. Glass imitations cannot tolerate the same eye-visible fractures without breaking and chipping very easily. Quench-crackled quartz with green dye in the fractures is a relatively common imitation, but the dye is visibly concentrated in the fractures, rather than being evenly distributed.


Emerald-Cut Peridot

There are a number of green gems that can be confused with emeralds like peridot and tsavorite garnets, but their greens do not look the same as an emerald’s. Additionally, these gems are much clearer and are never treated with oil. This is usually a huge tip-off about whether you are dealing with an emerald or something else.

Many green gems are easily confused with one another, but emeralds are distinct with many of their properties. Especially how their color shows in-person.

Clarity & Lab Certifications

Over 99% of emeralds are treated for clarity. If someone is offering an untreated emerald with stunning clarity, they should either provide certifications from a credible lab that you can verify or offer to send it to a lab for said certification. Emeralds are rarely untreated, and even more rarely are untreated and eye-clean.

An untreated emerald should come with an accompanying lab report. This lab report usually has a means of contacting the lab to verify the report. In this case, a QR code is available in the report along with a website to check.

E1557 | left | play | small

Emerald ID: E1557 – Weight: 4.17 Carats – Origin: Colombia

Synthetic Emeralds

The most common and difficult to identify fake emerald is a synthetic emerald. Not even dealers can distinguish between natural and synthetic ones without looking inside the emeralds. Synthetic ones have all the same chemical and visual properties of emeralds, and the only way to distinguish between them and natural emeralds without lab equipment is their inclusions. One guarantee of a natural emerald is if there are naturally included crystals of any type.

Synthetics only form in an ideal environment of the super-heated minerals that crystalize as emeralds, while natural ones form in a soup with various other elements around. This makes a natural included crystal an indication it is natural. It is also what enables labs to identify between synthetic and natural material relatively easily, and why most people will send their emeralds to the labs to check for this.

Not every emerald will be easy to identify based on inclusions alone, the gem labs usually rely on a laser to show a chemical profile that easily differentiates between natural and synthetic emeralds.

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