May’s Birthstone, Another Option: Understanding Lab-Grown Emeralds

Emeralds are some of the most beloved gemstones in the world–especially by those whose birthdays are in May. However, richly colored, unflawed or lightly flawed emeralds are difficult to find and very expensive when they are found. So it was only natural that someone would try to do better than Mother Nature. In the 1930s, Carroll Chatham succeeded. Other growers soon followed.

ABOVE: Chatham-created emerald clusters are almost as beautiful as the gemstones cut from them. All photos courtesy Chatham.

As they grow in the earth, emeralds are subject to temperature changes, intense pressure, and impinging hot liquids that can burn, melt, crush, or corrode the stones. Violent mining methods don’t help. As a result, many mined stones come from the ground with a number of inclusions and fractures that can not only dull their beauty; they can also weaken the stones. In fact, emeralds can be notoriously difficult to cut and set if they are badly included.

The swirl of diamonds in white gold emphasize the unusual, horizontal orientation of this long, narrow Chatham-created emerald. Photo courtesy Chatham.

The swirl of diamonds in white gold emphasize the unusual, horizontal orientation of this long, narrow Chatham-created emerald. Photo courtesy Chatham.

Grown in a controlled environment–with constant pressures, temperatures, and a steady supply of the right chemicals–man-made or lab-grown emeralds are much less included and more brilliant than natural ones. Because there is less “stuff” in them, they are also more durable than many natural emeralds with their eccentricities.

And, as a bonus, lab-grown stones are less expensive than their natural counterparts. They are priced at hundreds of dollars a carat, as opposed to tens of thousands of dollars a carat.

Emerald's bright green looks good in yellow or white gold, as seen in this diamond and Chatham-created emerald and white gold ring. Photo courtesy Chatham.

Emerald’s bright green looks good in yellow or white gold, as seen in this diamond and Chatham-created emerald and white gold ring. Photo courtesy Chatham.

The thing to remember about lab-grown stones, such as Chatham-created emeralds, is that they really are emeralds. They have the same optical, chemical, and physical properties as an emerald that grows in the earth. They can make an excellent choice for a May-born (or any) emerald lover.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.


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