The Colour of Paradise

From The Telegraph:

Emeralds-m_1616096f For Muslims, green is the emblematic colour of Islam; traditionally, only descendants of the Prophet Mohammed were allowed to wear green turbans and green robes. So it is not surprising that when Muslim potentates amassed hoards of jewels, they prized emeralds above all. Some had verses from the Koran carved into the faces of large emeralds, which were sewn into their ceremonial robes as talismans and amulets. The hunger of some rulers for these vivid green gemstones was almost insatiable. The first East India Company merchant to visit the Mughal court at Agra (in 1610) noted that the Emperor Jahangir’s emeralds weighed a total of 412 pounds – whereas his collection of diamonds weighed little more than a quarter of that, even though India was then the world’s leading diamond producer.

Where had those emeralds come from? The Mughals and Persian Shahs had a three-fold classification: the very best were said to be from Egypt, the next category came from 'old mines’ in Asia and the lowest quality came from 'new mines’ in the Americas. But this was a fiction. Just 10 years ago, a team of mineralogists analysed the oxygen isotopes in a number of famous Mughal emeralds, and found that almost all of them were from the Americas. To be more precise, they were from the highlands of Colombia; this analysis was in fact able to identify the specific outcrops from which they had been extracted.

More here.