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Friday, May 11, 2012

May Birthstone: Origin, History, and Powers of the Emerald

By Melody Jones


  • The word emerald derives from the Latin term "smaragdus", meaning green gem.
  • Columbian emerald mines have been in production for hundreds of years.
  • Emeralds are symbols of love, fertility, and rebirth.
Emerald is the birthstone for May. Ranging in color from light to deep green, emeralds were Cleopatra's favorite gemstones. Her admiration was so deep, she claimed the ancient Egyptian emerald mines as her own.
The word emerald derives from the Latin term "smaragdus", simply meaning green gem. Emeralds are from the beryl family of minerals that includes aquamarine, the March birthstone. Their color comes from small quantities of chromium.
Red emeralds are the most rare of this gemstone. They are so difficult to locate and cut, that jewelry containing red emeralds is prohibitively expensive.
May Birthstone: Origin of Birthstones
How certain stones came to be connected to specific months is cloudy. Some speculate the birthstone originates from Biblical times when a priest's breastplate was adorned with twelve different colored gems. Over time, the number twelve became connected to months of the year and to the zodiac.
People began wearing a different gem each month as a sort of talisman, believing each stone held certain powers. Gradually, specific gems became attached to specific months and zodiac signs. People then wore the gem associated with their birth month all year long.
Fast-forward hundreds of years to 1912 in Kansas City, Missouri. The American National Association of Jewelers created a birthstone list, assigning different stones to each month. The birthstone list was controversial because people thought it was developed purely for commercial purposes. Even so, it is accepted worldwide today as the definitive list of birthstones.
May Birthstone: History
Ancient Egyptians established emerald mines before Cleopatra's birth. Tools were discovered in the mines dating back to Ramses II, around 1300 B.C. Worn by Egyptian royalty, emeralds were also buried with the dead. Though beautiful, Egyptian emeralds were found to be lower quality once the Spanish discovered Columbian gems.
In the region now known as Columbia, ancient Muzo Indians established successful emerald mining operations possibly as early as 500 A.D. These mines were so well hidden, that it took invading Spanish Conquistadors twenty years to find the mines. It was another thirty years before the invaders conquered the fierce Indian tribe, forcing the natives to work in the very emerald mines they had used for hundreds of years. Since then, Columbian emerald mining operations have continued nearly uninterrupted.
May Birthstone: Beliefs and Healing Powers
Ancient Romans associated emeralds with the goddess of love, Venus, and believed the gems embodied fertility, faith and goodness. Ancient Greeks wore emeralds to honor Aphrodite, their own goddess of love, fertility, and beauty.
Considered to have healing properties, some believed that merely gazing upon an emerald could soothe one's eyes. It is said that the Emperor Nero had eyeglasses made of emerald so that he could watch gladiator games and maintain the health of his eyes.
Some believe emeralds can help stop bleeding, prevent epileptic seizures, protect from panic, and reduce a fever. It is said that emeralds can restore peace, clear the mind, and enhance one's clairvoyance.
May Birthstone: Characteristics and Geography
Nearly all emeralds have imperfections such as inclusions and small fractures. This is not seen negatively, but rather as part of the character of an emerald. To diminish these flaws, most emeralds are treated with an oil, sometimes tinted green.
Emeralds are fragile and can be easily chipped. To reduce this tendency and cause less stress, a special rectangular cut was developed called the "emerald cut".
Columbia is still a top emerald producer. Other emerald sources include Russia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Madagascar. North Carolina is the only significant emerald source in the United States.
May Birthstone: Care and Cleaning
Emeralds can easily be damaged, so remove jewelry when cleaning or doing chores. Do not expose to salt water or sudden temperature changes. Carefully clean emerald jewelry with a soft brush and warm water. Do not use steam cleaners or ultra-sonic devices, as these will remove oil coatings.
Emeralds, the May birthstone, are indeed soothing and beautiful to gaze upon. Historically associated with love, fertility, and rebirth, emeralds are a perfect choice for the springtime month of May.