Emeralds require the unusual association of typically compatible elements (Cr, V), with incompatible Be to form, and occur in complex tectonic settings associated with sediments (type IIB; Colombia) or, more commonly, with magmatism and regional metamorphism (IA). Precise rare earth element (REE) and incompatible trace element abundances are reported for a global suite of emeralds, enabling the identification of the environments in which they formed. Type IIB emeralds have nearly flat continental crust normalized REE patterns (La/YbCC
= ~2), consistent with a sedimentary source origin. Type IA emerald REE patterns have upturns in the heavy REE (La/YbCC
= ~0.3), a feature also shared with South African emeralds occurring in Archaean host rocks. Modeling of type IA emerald compositions indicates that they form from magmatic fluids of sedimentary (S)-type granite melts interacting with Cr, V-rich mafic–ultramafic crustal protoliths. This geochemical signature links emerald formation with continental suture zones. Diamonds, rubies, and sapphires have been considered as ‘plate tectonic gemstones’ based on mineral inclusions within them, or associations with plate tectonic indicators. Emeralds are distinct plate tectonic gemstones, recording geochemical evidence for origin within their mineral structure, and indicating that plate tectonic processes have led to emerald deposit formation since at least the Archaean.
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