Yes, it’s May and the birthstone for this month is emerald and it’s time for me to do my customary post about emerald alternatives. Not that I have anything against emerald per se, I don’t want the Emerald Appreciation Society on my back, but I just think that there are many alternatives to emerald that are both cost-effective and just as beautiful, and less likely to break on setting, or in general use. I’m always surprised by emerald engagement rings, for example, as emerald is a brittle and often included stone, prone to breakage. Not a great ring stone. Why is it often so brittle and included? The jury is out; it could be that that is just how it grows; it could be an artefact of how it is mined, which is often using explosives. Because it is such an included stone, some 95% of emerald is routinely fracture-filled, either with oil or resin. It’s completely accepted by the trade, and it should be disclosed to the customer on purchase so if you are buying emerald, make sure you are clear about this.
Here’s a few alternatives, ranked according to my personal opinion! I’m not talking about imitations and synthetics here; simply what might you use if you want a green stone and want to get a bit more bang for your bucks.
It’s a bit too yellow to be a particularly convincing substitute, and it can have a bit of an oily lustre but it is the most affordable untreated green gem, and it has in the past been mistaken for emerald. It is speculated that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collection was in fact peridot. It isn’t particularly difficult to find clean quality up to around 6mm; after that it gets a bit harder to find clean quality and whilst its characteristic lily-pad inclusions are rather beautiful, you also often get small, black mineral inclusions which are less appealing. I have clean quality up to 6mm but my 8mm stones are sprinkled with these tiny black inclusions. It is possible to get clean quality at this size, but expect to pay around 5 times the price. Peridot looks particularly beautiful with gold, which draws out the warm, gold tones. It isn’t, however, a great ring stone as it is rather soft – 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale – and it doesn’t take much for facet edges to become abraded. It’s iron that causes its attractive yellowish-green tones and most of it comes from China and Arizona in the USA. You have to be a bit careful with it – plunging in cold water after soldering can crack it and ultrasonic cleaning can wreck it. Below you can see how the warm gold of the setting picks up and complements the warmth of the stones.
This will substitute for translucent emerald – the kind you often see in polki cuts and beads. The kind of emerald that is used for this is often very included and often has those blackish inclusions. The colour and lustre can be poor, so lovely chrysoprase can be a good option if you want a brighter colour and cleaner look. Chrysoprase means ‘golden apple’ in Greek, and indeed, its best colour is a zingy apple green with just a touch of yellow. This stone is coloured by nickel and makes fantastic earrings. Again, it is really complemented by yellow metal settings but it is also quite soft – 6-7 on the Mohs scale, so is best suited to earrings or pendants that don’t get a lot of rough treatment. These two earrings below are a perfect example of the kind of clean, opaque material with that lovely emerald-like blue-green shade.
3. Chrome Diopside
This is an excellent choice as it is a stone that is not routinely treated and tends to display much better clarity than emerald. A fantastic, saturated green with great sparkle, it is coloured by the same elements as emerald; chromium or vanadium. In some cases this may be too good, as it tends to look dark in larger sizes; it needs careful cutting to maintain a good, open colour. The flip side of this means that it retains good saturation even in small sizes. It is pretty soft – 5.5-6 on the Mohs scale and so is not really tough enough to make a good ring stone. This also means that facet edges will abrade over time. Below you can really see the density of colour even in the tiny studs on Isueszabo’s stud earrings.
Tourmaline comes in a dazzling array of colours, which makes it an excellent option. Although some green tourmaline shades quite yellow, the brighter grass greens are lively enough to make an excellent alternative. High quality chrome tourmaline certainly can rival emerald and tsavorite. Highly regarded as a stone in its own right, it is coloured by the elements iron and possibly titanium, and the brightest green stones contain traces of chromium and vanadium, like emerald. Measuring 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale, it’s the hardest so far of our potential substitutes and can be used with care in rings. Bot of the earrings below demonstrate the colour shade range that tourmaline can display and I love the arrangement of the different colours.
1. Tsavorite Garnet
In my view, the best option. Like tourmaline, garnet comes in an array of colours, although it’s possible that this is not quite so well known. For many, garnet refers to the dark and dusty jewellery belonging to your grandmother. The green versions of garnet are tsavorite and demantoid, and the most appropriate of these as an emerald alternative is tsavorite. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s vibrant green, it’s not hard to find in clean quality and as it is garnet, it also has great brilliance and fire. Yes, fire. Garnet is often so dark that you can’t see this, but with tsavorite you often can. Its colour is caused by the element vanadium, like emerald, and indeed the colour can often rival that of emerald. It’s one of my favourite stones and at 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale it can make a ring stone. You can see how beautiful it is both in the larger rings stone below left and in smaller stones on the right.
Click individual titles for links, or to view all my green stones, click here