May Birthstone – Emerald

3 May 2023

Emerald, that intense green gemstone usually cut into a rectangle, is the birthstone for May.  The word comes from the Greek smaragdos or the Roman esmeralda, each of which translates as “green gem”.  Pretty simple.  It is composed from beryl, a mineral, the same substance as an aquamarine.

One of the interesting facts is that green is not a primary color but a combination of yellow and blue.  So, it is also possible for a stone to be called an emerald even though it is not green.

The Roman, Pliny the Elder (died in 79 AD) thought that looking at an emerald would strengthen eyes.  You know what?  He was right!  Science has proven that green relieves eye strain.  It was also thought that if you placed the stone under your tongue, you had visions of the future, made you an orator, or could identify lies.  The jury is still out on those promises.

Today we connect emeralds with loyalty, peace, and security.  Those who work with crystals report that many mythologies and histories associate emeralds with gifts of good fortune and health.  They feel it provides energy for growth and creativity.

Columbia is the primary location for some of the finest emeralds.  There are several locations where you can find a range of colors of this gemstone but Muzo gives us the darker hues.  The deeper the intensity of the green, the greater its value.  They can also be discovered in Brazil, Afghanistan, and Zambia and were found in Egypt as early as 330 BCE.

Diamonds top the hardness scale at 10 and an emerald comes in at 7.5 to 8.  Despite this rating, they are brittle and are more prone to being damaged through scratching. They are often treated with dyes to improve clarity and are prone to inclusions or fractures.  A gemologist may fill the cracks with various substances like oils, waxes, and resins to disguise those imperfections.

Take some care with your emerald.  Avoid exposure to heat, harsh chemicals, and changes in air pressure, like in an airplane cabin.  Do not use ultrasonic cleaners.  If the stone is filled, hot water, like when hand washing dishes, can damage the filler.  The best way to clean them is a gentle scrub with a soft brush and only warm, soapy water.

Highly prized, Egyptians used emeralds in jewelry as well as part of their burial rituals, often including them as protection in the next world.  Cleopatra claimed ownership to all the emerald mines in Egypt during her reign.  Actress Elizabeth Taylor, who coincidentally portrayed Cleo in a 1963 film, owned an emerald pendant that sold for $6.5 million in 2011.

Myths and lore about emeralds include:

  • An emerald can differentiate between truth and falsehoods from a lover and could diminish lust, i.e. clear the air of infatuation.
  • Hindus offer emeralds to Krishna to receive knowledge.
  • In Peru about the time of the Spanish conquest, it was said the people worshipped the goddess Umina in the form of an emerald the size of an ostrich egg. It was thought that to worship Umina, the people should bring smaller emeralds, Umina’s daughters, to her.  It is thought the conquistadors smashed this gem.
  • In Exodus, Aaron, brother of Moses, was said to have worn a breastplate with gemstones, including one that was green in color. It is uncertain whether this was an emerald, feldspar, or other green stone
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