Cleopatra and Her Love of Emeralds

Cleopatra and Her Love of Emeralds 
By: Alexandra Tillson

Being in the middle of a historic global event seems like a fine time to escape to Ancient Egypt and immerse ourselves in the life of Cleopatra.  She may not have had champagne, but she was a Queen.  She was an unapologetic leader and, thanks in part to another jewelry lover Elizabeth Taylor, an icon.  She also had a passion for green gemstones, the most famous of the beryl family: the emerald.  

Cleopatra was the final ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty and was at the center of more than a few political and romantic scandals.  She embodied Laurel Thatcher’s famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”.  Cleopatra had a wicked sense of humor; she started a Drinking Club with Marcus Antonius her famous lover and partner, called the Inimitable Livers and they pulled pranks on the city residents while out and about on their escapades.  When not partying, she led a fleet of ships into a naval battle at Actium because, and I am paraphrasing, Cleopatra ruffled a few feathers by marrying Antony.  It angered his rival, Octavian who initiated things.  Cleopatra and Antony lost that battle, but they put up a good fight.  (Historians actually report that the battle was quite messy).  She spoke several languages, and was educated in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and charm.  Not only was she fearless and clever, her reputation may have been sullied by a smear job by the Romans.  Today, we might call her savvy and intelligent.  And perhaps a bit theatrical?  Cleopatra once smuggled herself into Caesar’s room via a rug.  I hope she was draped in jewels as the rug unfolded because that would have been an incredible unveiling.

What does this have to do with us, jewelry lovers?  Egypt was the main source of emeralds before Colombia was discovered in the 1500’s.  More recently, Colombian mines have produced some of the most spectacular and famous emeralds on the planet.  In fact, Katherine Jetter is honored to partner with Muzo Emeralds, a lovely selection of gemstones from the “Emerald Capital of the World” by incorporating them into her well-known designs.  They have such beautiful and bright colors.  It is just as well, since the Egyptian mines are no longer producing gemstones.  French naturalist Frederic Cailliaud already sought out those mines in the 1800’s during his famed travels to Egypt.  Explorers and rulers have been fascinated with emeralds for thousands of years.  Can you imagine using the phrase “the world through green colored glasses” instead of rose?  Nero used to watch Roman fights through emerald glasses because emeralds were believed to be soothing to the eye.  And I suppose he was right.  A truly beautiful emerald does have the power to whisk you away you to lush hills in Ireland or have us imagining the Emerald City in Oz with all its promises come true and glittery objects.  Cleopatra was a clever one.  She knew the stones had special meaning.  Emeralds are ancient to humans, but they are also relics of our Earth.  We’ve known that since antiquity, instinctively, and we assigned meanings to these beautiful gemstones.  So that we can have some respite in a very chaotic world.  A little bit of protection.  And a way to soothe our tired eyes from the Roman Forum of the world.  I invite you to set your eyes on one of our Muzo emerald pieces and have a moment of awe.  Cleopatra certainly knew what she was doing. 

Gemological Tidbits:

Emeralds are 6.5 – 7 on the Mohs scale so they do require a little extra love and care, and proper settings.  A diamond is a 10 for reference.


Further Reading: