Green with envy: Why emeralds make some of us mad with desire

Updated 1:52 PM ET, Wed December 4, 2013
Gina Lollobrigida jewel sale Gina Lollobrigida jewel sale
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Emeralds have adorned wrists and necks of the rich and the famous for thousands of years, from Cleopatra to modern-day royalty and stars of the big screen. Recently, their value has started to balloon, reaching many times their estimates at auctions. The gems modeled in this picture once belonged to the world-famous Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida. Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The intricate emerald and diamond earrings were made by the Italian jeweler Bulgari in 1964, and were auctioned by Sotheby's in May. Courtesy Bulgari Archives, Rome
The value of emeralds stems, in part, from their scarcity - they are over 20 times rarer than diamonds. Today they are mainly mined in Colombia, where this deposit is from, as well as Brazil and Zambia. The raw stones are then sent to Jaipur, the emerald capital of the world, where they are cut and polished.
Historically, jewelers set the emeralds in yellow gold, which was thought to be the purest form of metal and the closest thing to Godliness. Emeralds on this funerary mask from Lambayeke, Peru, are meant to represent eyes. Courtesy Joaquin Rubio
This necklace is believed to have been made of emeralds Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, gave to the second Earl of Buckinghamshire who was the British ambassador to her court. The two were rumored to have had a love affair (the earrings were made from different stones).
Courtesy Albion Art
The Maharajas often commissioned valuable emerald jewelry for both themselves and their wives from top Paris jewelry houses. In this picture The Maharani of Kapurthala (born Anita Delgado) wears an emerald harem of the crescent in London in 1912. Courtesy of Elisa Vázquez de Gey, author of "The Princess of Kapurthala" Editorial Planeta, Barcelona 2008
The head-piece that the Maharani wore was later adapted as a brooch. Apart from using the stones for jewelry, the Maharajas often asked for verses of the Koran to be carved into the stones, giving them a divine aspect. Courtesy Christie's
Indian artisans did not just craft jewelry but also made objects out of emeralds, such as this seven emerald cup made of three separate emerald sections with a 408.5 carat bowl consisting of six fish-scale patterned sides. ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Hollywood actress Merle Oberon, pictured here at her home in the 1950s, commissioned a valuable Cartier necklace that she is wearing in the picture, in 1938. Photographer unknown; image courtesy Tony Duquette, Inc
Cartier emerald necklace commissioned in 1938 by Merle Oberon. Flexible chain in round-cut diamonds with 29 graduated emerald cabochons, tipped with diamonds, suspended from it. Cartier Archives © Cartier
Emeralds continued to be popular with the jet-set well into the 20th century. Here, one of the greatest fashion icons of her time Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is wearing her Van Cleef & Arpels emerald necklace, in a photo with her husband Aristotle Onassis in 1971. Courtesy Rex Features/Frank Rollitz
Jacqueline Onassis' Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and brooch. Much of the emerald's allure comes from its color - in normal lighting the human eye responds most strongly to yellowish-green light. Courtesy Sotheby's
Van Cleef & Arpels was a high-society favorite. Princess Faiza of Egypt is pictured here with her own emerald and diamond necklace made by the brand. Courtesy Gemfields/Denis Hayoun Diode SA Geneva
Elizabeth Taylor was famous for wearing flamboyant jewelry, and her collection featured some extremely valuable pieces. Here she is wearing an elaborate headdress of pearls and fake flowers, but her emerald necklace still stands out. AFP/Getty Images
The green gem continues to be popular with the young Hollywood set, such as actress Mila Kunis pictured here wearing ethically-sourced emeralds on the red carpet. Their ever-increasing prices show that diamonds may be forever, but emeralds are also here to stay. Courtesy Gemfields