I am a May baby, and I am also a jeweler. Accordingly I have a deep and true love of fine emeralds. The dark bluish green color coupled with a near fluorescent glow is truly captivating. I enjoy faceted emeralds when they are of top color and clarity, but I personally wear a cabochon Columbian emerald in my pinky ring that has an organic look to it. (Below are just a couple of the emerald rings we have made)
That being said I understand that many May babies do not like their often cloudy and dull birthstone. For those who want the traditional diamond-like sparkle in their jewelry emeralds can be disappointing. Furthermore, to purchase the top color and clarity in an emerald you have to be willing to pay astronomical prices that are beyond the reach of most of us, or be willing to settle for a man-made gem. This post is dedicated to the natural emerald alternatives that frequently outshine all but the finest emeralds.
In my opinion the best alternative is tsavorite garnet. Tsavorite, or green grossular garnet, is a relative newcomer to the jewelry world being discovered in the 1960s in Kenya. It was first purchased and marketed by Tiffany and Company, but has since been popularized by custom jewelers who have fallen in love with it. (PS- when Tiffany made the Seahawks’ Superbowl ring, they used tsavorite as the hawk eye)
The color ranges from a deep bluish green, nearly emerald in color, to a vivid Kelly green and down to a light yellowish or minty green (known as Meralani mint garnet). The most unique thing about tsavorite is not the color but the brilliance associated with it. Most of the gems we carry are eye-clean, with none of the inclusions that mar the beauty of most emeralds. Furthermore tsavorite has a high refractive index which means that the play of light is magnified in the gem, which causes it to have superior sparkle and shine. Tsavorite is definitely an up-and-coming gem, but it can still be found in top qualities for about 25% of the cost of a comparable fine emerald.(Below are a few tsavorite rings we have made)
My second choice for an emerald substitute would be green tourmaline, or verdelite. There is no other gem species that comes in as many colors as tourmaline and the variety in hue, shade, and tone is unending. Thus we can source green tourmalines that are nearly identical to emerald in color, but we can also find teals, mints, brownish greens, and even rare pure greens. It should be noted that for centuries fine green tourmalines were thought to be emeralds, and it wasn’t until the advent of modern gemology that the difference was known. (Below are a Brazilian and Nigerian tourmaline of different hues)
I would argue that the rare pure greens are the best emerald substitute. They are known as chrome tourmalines because they are colored by the same element that gives tsavorite and emerald their rich green looks. Chrome tourmalines are quite rare and are only found in minor deposits in East Africa, and rarely exceed 2cts in size. That being said they occur in a pure green that is nearly as good as tsavorite, and they are a little less expensive.
The above two options are really the only gems I would consider to be a worthy substitute for emerald. I am frequently asked about green sapphire and while they are a gorgeous stone, they never occur in a color rich enough to be like an emerald. Most green sapphires are medium to medium dark with an olive or forest green look, more of an earth tone than jewel tone. Likewise many people hear about chrome diopside and want to compare it to an emerald or Tsavorite. Again, there is really no comparison. Chrome diopside tends to be very dark and it always has a strong yellow or brown modifier that makes it earthy as opposed to a jewel color. It is also a soft gem that cannot be worn on a daily basis, so we consider it more of a collectors gem than an emerald substitute.