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Emerald is one of the most popular gemstones known to people for thousands of years. Persons who are not even interested in gemstones and minerals are familiar with the name emerald and know that it usually stands for lush green color. Fewer people know that mineralogically emerald is a variety of beryl group minerals.
Emerald is a vivid green variety of beryl. The main difference between emerald and green beryl is that emerald color is influenced by chromium and/or vanadium trace elements. The strong to vivid saturation and medium to the medium-dark tone of emerald distinguish it from light-green colored green beryl.
Beryl and emerald have the same chemical formula. Both chemically and structurally, they are the same material; however, the price for emerald and green beryl is dramatically different.
What makes beryl a precious emerald variety; and how to draw a distinct border between brothers is going to be thoroughly discussed further. After reading the article, you will never mix these two mineral species, for sure.
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Is Beryl the Same As Emerald?
Beryls and emeralds are closely related. Their similarities and differences are not always highlighted, so there are some misunderstandings. Beryl is a mineral with the defined chemical formula Be3Al2Si6O18.
However, minor contents of iron, chromium, vanadium, or manganese change the color of the mineral without changing the structure and chemical formula of the beryl mineral.
Beryl is a group of minerals, which include emerald, aquamarine, red beryl, and others. Every emerald is technically beryl, however not every beryl is emerald. The difference between green beryl and emerald is their color, tone, and saturation due to the presence of chromium and/or vanadium in emerald.
The most trustworthy gemological laboratory in the world make the next statement regarding emerald and green beryl boundary:
“To most gemologists, gemological laboratories, and colored stone dealers, it is more correct to call a stone green beryl when its color is too light for the stone to be classified as emerald. Even among that group, however, there’s a difference of opinion about what’s considered “too light.”
To find some more precise evaluation factor than just individual perception of color, the next characteristic exists. Generally, the higher the chromium or vanadium content, the more intense the green color.
At the same time, iron affects the amount of blue. When iron content is relatively high, the emerald has a bluish hue in its main green color. To sum up, the green color is purer when the iron content is relatively low.
How to Identify Beryl
Beryl is quite an important mineral and popular gemstone with the formula Be3Al2Si6O18.
Admixture of other chemical elements gives rise to several beryl varieties, which are aquamarine, maxixe, heliodor, goshenite, morganite, golden beryl, red beryl, and the most valuable one – emerald.
Beryl can be identified by light green, yellowish-green, greenish-blue colors. In comparison with emerald, beryl tone and saturation will be lighter. Also, beryl is usually less fractionated and less included. Beryl will not have traces of chromium and vanadium in its composition.
Most gem-quality beryl grows in pegmatites, where crystals can be of considerable size and purity. It’s often possible to cut large stones that are almost completely free of inclusions.
How to Identify Emerald
Emerald is truly a legendary stone. It was known to humans from Ancient Egyptian times. It is believed to be Cleopatra’s most favorite gemstone in times when there were no mineral formulas and trace elements.
Now gemology knows the beryl mineral group and can differentiate two closest brothers, by less than 1% amount of trace elements.
Emerald can be identified by bluish-green to green, with strong to vivid saturation and medium to medium-dark tone. The color is explained by chromium and vanadium trace elements’ presence. Emerald is usually highly included and fractured. Emerald will show red colors under the Chelsea filter because of Cr.
Until 1963 chromium was considered to be the only valid cause of emerald’s green color. However, the situation changed when a perfect emerald-colored green beryl from Brazil was discovered.
This beryl was not colored by chromium, as it was accepted previously, but by vanadium. This year the GIA Laboratory confirmed that Brazilian green beryl was indeed emerald.
Natural emeralds form when beryllium, aluminum, silicon, oxygen, and one or more of the trace elements that cause its characteristic green color (chromium, vanadium) come together in the correct geological environment.
Unlike beryls, which are mined from pegmatites, most emeralds are mined in regions with metamorphic-rock environments, where pegmatites intersect with ultrabasic rocks or schists (source of chromium).
An active metamorphic environment where emeralds are formed results in numerous inclusions or fractions in emeralds.
They are so common that it’s almost impossible to find a stone without any flaws. That is why it’s a common practice to infill emeralds with oils or resins to increase their virtual clarity.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
What Is the Difference Between Beryl and Emerald?
Beryl and emerald are closely related minerals. Mineralogically, every emerald is beryl; however, not every beryl is emerald.
The main difference between beryl and emerald, which is a vivid green variety of beryl, is their color tone and saturation, explained by the presence of chromium and vanadium in emerald. Emerald is formed in a bit different geological environment and usually more fractured and included than beryl.
Here is a table with characteristic features for green beryl and emerald, which help you to differentiate two gemstones easily.
|Color, tone, saturation||Strongly bluish-green, bluish-green, very slightly bluish green, green, slightly yellowish-green, yellowish-green, or strongly yellowish-green color; mild saturation, light tone.||Bluish-green to green color, with strong to vivid saturation and medium to medium-dark tone.|
|The chemical element which creates the color||Iron (Fe3+ and Fe2+)||Chromium (Cr3+) or/and vanadium (V3+).|
|A geological environment of gemstone formation||Granitic pegmatites.||Granitic pegmatites in contact with ultrabasic rocks or shists + metasomatic/metamorphic reaction.|
|Sources of gemstone||Brazil, Zimbabwe, and Australia.||Columbia, Brazil, Zambia.|
|Inclusions||Gem-quality species are free from any inclusions or fractures.||Highly included and fractured.|
|Refractive index||1.577 to 1.583||Slightly higher (1.565-1.599).|
|Chelsea filter test||Inert to filter. Staying green.||Emeralds containing chromium will turn red under the Chelsea filter.|
TIP: South Carolina is a great state for finding beryl minerals! Check out the best rockhounding location in the South Carolina in article below:
Rockhounding in South Carolina: Where to Go & What to Find
Green Beryl vs Emerald
When beryl is green but not intense enough in color to be called emerald, it is simply called green beryl. The various shades of green beryl can range from light green to yellowish or bluish-green and are due to impurities of iron.
Green beryl and emerald may seem the same, but green beryl will have yellowish or bluish hues along with the main green color and are typically lighter in saturation. Green beryl color is explained by the presence of iron, however emerald’s famous green color is caused by chromium and vanadium.
Red Beryl vs Emerald
Red beryl was discovered in 1897 by Maynard Bixby. Sometime after, it was called bixbite in honor of the scientist. Now this name is discredited, as it is so similar to bixbyte (an opaque black mineral discovered by the same scientist).
Red beryl and emerald belong to one mineral group, which is beryl. Trace concentrations of manganese produce red color in red beryl, while chromium and vanadium produce vibrant green in emerald. Also, sometimes red beryl can be called red emerald; however, this name is considered misleading and outdated.
Red beryl is the rarest beryl. It also belongs to one of the rarest gemstones, because it’s found in only one place — the Wah Wah Mountains in the US state of Utah.
Red beryl is often a highly saturated, pure red color that’s sometimes called raspberry red. The color depends on the concentration and valence state of manganese Mn3+ and other trace elements within the gem’s crystal structure.
TIP: Mountains are great location for finding beryls and other rocks and minerals. Find out what the most common rocks and minerals you can find in the mountains are in the article below:
14 Most Common Rocks and Minerals You Can Find in Mountains
Emerald and beryl are not synonyms. Emerald is vivid green, highly saturated, chromium and/or vanadium bearing a variety of beryl. Every emerald is beryl, not every beryl is emerald.
The most important characteristics which can help to distinguish these two gemstones are:
- color, tone, and saturation (emerald is bluish-green to green, with strong to vivid saturation and medium to medium-dark tone, green beryl bluish-green, yellowish-green, light-saturated, and pale tone);
- presence of chromium and/or vanadium (Cr3+ and/or V3+ trace elements fro emerald, Fe3+, Fe2+ for green beryl);
- a geological environment of gemstone formation (metamorphic environment on the contact of pegmatite and shist for emerald, granitic pegmatites for green beryl);
- source country (emerald originates from Colombia, Brazil, and Zambia, green beryl comes from Brazil, Zimbabwe, and Australia);
- refractive index (emerald sometimes have a slightly higher RI 1.565-1.599, than green beryl 1.577 to 1.583);
- inclusions (because of formation environment emeralds are heavingly fractured and included, while green beryl are far less fractured);
- Chelsea filter test (emerald appears red under a Chelsea filter, while green beryl remains green).
TIP: Hardness testing is on of the basic ways how to identify rocks or minerals. A lot of useful tools are available on the market but not all of them a worth of money. Check out the best Mohs scalte test kits in the article below:
3 Best Mohs Scale Test Kits: Test Hardness of Your Gemstones