Mystical Emerald: The May Birthstone

greek orthodox crossMay’s birthstone is the emerald! Just as April showers precede May flowers, the shimmery, raindrop-esque diamonds of the April birthstone give way to the spring-y greens of the May emeralds.

Celebrating a May birthday or anniversary and see another piece you like that is not set with an emerald? Not a problem! Give us a call at 800-798-6173 or e-mail us at info@gallerybyzantium. We’d be happy to customize one of our pieces for you!

Emerald History and Lore


Gold and emerald necklace. 1st–2nd century A.D. Roman. Gold and Emerald. Via

As May tends to be the height of the spring season, it seems only natural that its birthstone should reflect the fauna and greenery we see in nature.

The word “emerald” derives from the French world “esmeralde” which gets its roots from the Greek word “smaragdos,” meaning “green stone.”

Emeralds have been coveted for their bluish-green beauty for thousands of years.  The earliest mines were located in Egypt, dating around 300 BC (although, “some estimate that the oldest emeralds are 2.97 billion years old.”).  The Egyptians used the ethereal stones for jewelry as well as in burials, “often burying emeralds with monarchs as symbols of protection.”  Cleopatra, especially, cherished the gemstone, taking ownership of all emerald mines in Egypt and amassing an impressive collection (which, as we discovered in an earlier blog, may have actually been peridots).

In India, emeralds were believed to be talismans which offered the protection of the gods.  This relation between emeralds and deities extended to the Incas and Aztects who believed the stone to be a holy gemstone.

“In mythology, emerald is the stone of the goddess Venus, resulting in the association of emeralds with romance. Emeralds are said to bring passion, bliss, and unconditional love.”  Perhaps this is why, in addition to being the official birthstone of May, they are also used to commemorate the 20th and 35th anniversaries.

One of the “Precious Four”

Earring. 3rd century. Ostrogothic. Gold, green glass or emerald. Via

Emeralds are a variety of beryl, “a mineral that grows with six sides and up to a foot in length.”  They are closely related to aquamarines, another member of the beryl family.  Pure beryl is white and, while aquamarines get their color from traces of iron, emerald gets its hue from chromium inclusions in the stone.

Not all green beryl is necessarily emerald, however.  If the coloring was derived from vanadium inclusions, the stone is not an emerald, but, simply, a “green beryl.”

As one of the “precious four” gemstones (which includes sapphire, diamond, and ruby), emeralds are highly coveted.

While the highest-quality of emeralds tend to be found in Colombia (and are coveted for their deep blue/green color), the stones are found all over the world.  Brazilian emeralds have excellent clarity and a yellow/green color while Zambian stones have very few flaws.  It is interesting to note, however, that the term “Colombian Emeralds” is used to describe any emerald with a vivid bluish-green hue, regardless of where it’s mined (much like the “Afghan” or “Chilean” lapis).  “Brazilian Emerald” is used to describe lighter stones.

Be wary of “Chatham Emeralds,” however, if you are searching for a natural stone.  This name is often given to lab-grown emeralds.

Perhaps most rare is the “Trapiche Emerald,” found in Colombia’s Boyaca mining district.  These stones are greatly valued for the bluish, star-like rays that emanate from the center of the stone.  The stones are commonly cut into cabochons (“regular” stones are typically given the “emerald cut,” a rectangular step-cut which “maximizes the beauty and color of the stone, whilst protecting it from mechanical strain and internal stress.”).

While emerald is a hard stone, it is also brittle.  Internal flaws are common and the stone will further crack if banged hard or under extreme temperature change.  Because of these flaws, emeralds are often treated with cedar oil to help conceal the appearance of any inclusions.

Cleaning this precious stone may be somewhat difficult due to this treatment.  Emeralds should never be cleaned ultrasonically. Mild soap and water can be used to clean emeralds, but may also clean away the oil treatment.  Should this happen, a jeweler will be able to re-oil the gem to return its color and luster.

Main photo via
May Birthstone –
Do you know that Meaning Behind May’s Beautiful Birthstone? –
The Precious Gemstone Emerald –
Emerald Gemstone Information –
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