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Birthstone of May: the Emerald

May 4, 2017/ BY Frank van Poorten

May’s birthstone is the first green stone in our monthly series: the emerald. The emerald is one of the oldest and most famous gemstones. The history of this stone dates back to thousands of years before Christ. That is why the emerald is also called the “King of the gems”.

The color of emerald

Every emerald is green, but the intensity and hue of the green can differ a lot between different stones. The deepest dark green is considered the most luxurious and expensive emerald. Due to its green color and its colorful appearance, the gem is also known as the stone of spring.

Why an emerald?

According to multiple beliefs, the emerald is a calming stone that helps against restless disorders such as stress and insomnia. In addition, it has healing powers for eye problems and activates the heart chakra which represents love. In Western astrology, this green gemstone is associated with the zodiac signs Aries, Gemini and Cancer.

emerald ring on green velour

The emerald stands for

  • Eternal youth
  • Spring
  • Life wisdom: growth in spiritual sense and patience
  • Love and loyalty to love
  • Feeling peacefully
  • Vision
  • Positive effect on relationships in the broadest sense of the word

The meaning and origin of the name emerald

The name emerald goes way back from the Latin and Greek language to an ancient Semitic language. The original name was Marakata, which literally translated means something like ‘green growing things’. During the Ancient Greece, the word has shifted to Smaragdus. Much later, Smaragdus turned due French influences into Esmaraldus which is where the current word Emerald stems from. The meaning of emerald hasn’t really changed over the years and still means (luxurious) green stone.

raw pieces of emerald

The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was a crazy about emeralds. Centuries before she was born, the Egyptians were already looking for emeralds. However, under her rule, the search was strengthened and all mines were put in her name. In her almost obsessive search for emeralds, she sent the miners on life-threatening trips to discover the mines.

Cleopatra, however, was not the only one captivated by the emerald’s beauty. The Incas and Aztecs already regarded the stone as sacred and the Native Americans attributed healing powers to this gemstone. If you were to put it under your tongue, you would be able to see the future. 

The properties of emerald

The emerald is a type of beryl and is considered one of the noblest of gems. The colorant substance in the beryl is usually chromium and sometimes also vanadium. Just like a diamond, an emerald also can have inclusions. For this stone, it also applies: the clearer the stone, the more valuable. In America, the green gemstones that formed from vanadium are also allowed to be called an emerald. In Europe and Asia those are not considered to be real emeralds and they are referred to as “Colombian Emeralds”.

emerald captured in rocks

The origin, history and finding locations of the emerald

Emerald is created by the rising of magma from the earth’s crust. When the magma gets to the crust, it quickly cools down into rocks. Emeralds can almost only be found in these kinds of rocks.

The main finding places of emeralds ae currently Columbia, Brazil, the United States and Russia. In ancient times, the stones were mainly found in Egypt where they were minded by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. After the demise of these great empires, the Egyptian mines fell into oblivion. It was not until the 19th century that they were discovered again. Some of the world’s most famous diamonds derive from these mines. For example, the emeralds of the Turkish Sultans and the famous lenticular emerald that Emperor Nero used as glasses to look at the gladiator fights. Another historic finding place is the Habach Valley in Austria. Here, emeralds were also already found during the Roman times.

The processing of emeralds

Emeralds can be cut in all thinkable shapes. The ‘emerald cut’ is named after this gemstone, because this was the original grinding form for this green stone. The emerald cut is a staircase cut with a large table and a high visibility into the stone. Therefore, only the finest emeralds with the highest quality, color and purity are cut in this shape today. High-quality emeralds are also often cut into a brilliant shape. Less beautiful emeralds are often carved in half a sphere or tumbled. Emeralds are fragile and sensitive to bumps, pressure and heat. At temperatures over 700 °C they lose their color. Strangely enough, these fairly porous stones are not sensitive to acids.

emerald oval cut between tweezers

Emerald jewelry

Emeralds are often used as solitaire stones in various settings or along with diamonds. This can create beautiful combinations. Emeralds are often set in yellow gold settings because of the stunning contrast with the green color. Unlike in diamonds, impurities in emeralds are not regarded as flaws – as long as there are not too many. Minor imperfections are a proof of authenticity compared to forgeries.

Fake emeralds

There are two types of imitation emeralds. The first variant consists of imitation and fake stones. The second one consists of synthetic emeralds. Forgeries are artificially fabricated to look like emeralds. These are easily recognizable by a craftsman. The synthetic variant is a man-made stone. In terms of physical and chemical properties, it is almost impossible to distinguish a synthetic and a real natural emerald. Nevertheless, there are some minor differences, such as specific kinds of inclusions from the manufacturing process. Only a skilled craftsman can see the difference between a synthetic and a natural emerald.

Would you like to see May’s birthstone in jewelry? We have some amazing green emeralds in our colored stones collection.

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