May Birthstone - Emerald

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Tammy Williams


May’s birthstone is the Emerald – the stone traditionally associated with fertility, love and rebirth. Besides being May’s birthstone, it is also considered the anniversary stone for years 20, 35 and 55.

May’s birthstone, the emerald, is a type of beryl, a six-sided crystal (beryllium aluminum silicate). Beryl consists of four elements: beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen, with the color derived by chromium and sometimes by trace amounts of vanadium.  The beryl family of minerals include aquamarine (one of March’s birthstones), heliodor, and morganite. Emeralds vary in color from light to deep green, but can lose its color when heated. Emeralds are frequently found inside a form of shale, which is a fine-grained sedimentary rock. The type of shale where Emeralds are found has undergone some recrystallization that’s caused by changes in pressure and temperature.  In the 1960s, the American jewelry industry changed the definition of emeralds to include the green-vanadium bearing emeralds, and as such some emeralds purchased in the United States is not recognized in the United Kingdom or Europe.  The “new’ vanadium emeralds are sometimes termed as “Columbian Emeralds”, which can be confusing. 

Colombia produces the largest and highest quality emeralds, with Zambia second. In antiquity they were mined in Egypt since before 1500 BCE. They were also discovered, and subsequently mined, in the Ural Mountains of Russia around 1830. In the United States, emeralds can be found in North Carolina, South Carolina, Nevada, Connecticut, Montana and Nevada. Around the world, they also occur in Brazil, Pakistan, Norway, Austria, India, Madagascar, and Australia. Large quantities of emeralds were taken from the Peruvians by the conquistadors during their invasion of South America, but the source of the emeralds was not discovered. In 1537, the Spaniards found Chivor in Colombia, now the location of an important emerald mine. They also took over the Muzo mine following the defeat of the Muzo Indians. Mining operations at Muzo have continued almost uninterrupted since the Spanish invasion, and is said to produce the world’s best emeralds and is probably the most famous emerald mine in Colombia.

Emeralds are relatively hard; beryls generally have a hardness that ranges between 7.5 – 8 on the Moh’s scale of hardness.  Although they are generally hard, Emeralds typically have lots of inclusions (pieces or pockets of other minerals), which make them more susceptible to breakage.  Finding emeralds with a high level of clarity or few inclusions is much rarer than diamonds, which is why they are so highly prized, and unlike diamonds emerald clarity is graded by the eye alone. If it has no visible inclusions, then it is considered flawless. Perfect emeralds are among the rarest of gemstones.  Most emeralds are oiled in the post-lapidary process to improve the clarity and stability of the stone, but makes the emerald worth much less than if it was untreated.  If purchasing an expensive emerald, you might do well to insist upon a treatment report from a reputable laboratory.

Manufacture of synthetic emeralds was first achieved before World War II by German chemists. Shortly after that in 1946, the Unite States began growing synthetic stones of fine quality. There are also excellent imitation emeralds on the market made of colored cut glass. If you see stones or jewelry with emeralds that are clear and of a cheap or reasonable price, it is likely cut glass or synthetic at best.

Several famous historical artifacts were made of emeralds. Among them is the Crown of the Andes, said to be made from emeralds worn by Atahualpa, the last Inca (king) of Peru. The crown is set with about 450 emeralds, collectively weighing 10 ounces (1523 carats).

The word "emerald" is derived (via Old French: esmeraude and Middle English: emeraude), from Vulgar Latin: esmaralda/esmaraldus, a variant of Latin smaragdus, which originated in Greek: σμάραγδος (smaragdos; "green gem"), a term applied to several kinds of green stones. The history of emeralds can be traced back many years. They were worn by royalty in Babylon and Egypt. Tools dating back to 1300 B.C., during the reign of Rameses II, have been found in emerald mines in Egypt. Queen Cleopatra’s emeralds were believed to originate from mines in Southern Egypt, near the Red Sea.

There are many myths associated with the emerald.  Its magnificent green color was said to rest and relieve the eye. Some thought it would heal any disease of the eye. They would put the stone in water overnight, then pour the water over the eye (I can tell you that doesn’t work. Stupid I know – but thought worth a try to reduce the cost of glasses). The stone was once believed to prevent epilepsy, stop bleeding, cure dysentery and fever, and protect the wearer from panic. I didn’t try these yet.  To the ancient Romans, emeralds were dedicated to the goddess Venus because the green emerald symbolized the reproductive forces of nature, and they also felt that the soul of an individual was restored by wearing emeralds. Early Christians saw it as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, and was considered to represent faith and hope. In the Middle Ages, emeralds were believed to hold the power to foretell the future.



Harper, Douglas. "emerald". Online Etymology Dictionary.



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