May Birthstone – Emerald
Prized for its brilliant and beautiful green colour, the emerald is often favoured by the rich and famous to wear as statement pieces for big events. But this beautiful gem is just at home in an unassuming pendant as it is in an ornate tiara. Learn more about May’s birthstone below!
As the birthstone for May, the emerald, a symbol of rebirth, is believed to grant the owner foresight, good fortune, and youth. Emerald, derived from the word “smaragdus,” means, quite literally, “green” in Greek.
Like aquamarine, emerald is a variety of beryl, a mineral that grows with six sides and up to a foot in length. Emerald colour can range from light green (though there is some argument whether these very light beryls are truly emeralds) to a deep, rich green. Emeralds are also like aquamarine in that the way the colour is presents itself in jewellery depends on a good cut by a skilled gemologist.
The deeper or more green an emerald, the more valuable it is. The rarest emeralds will appear to be an intense green-blue.
Emeralds are found all over the world, including Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia. The availability of high-quality emerald is limited; consequently, treatments to improve clarity are performed regularly.
The trace elements that cause emerald’s colour include chromium, vanadium and iron. As a general rule, the higher the chromium or vanadium content, the more intense the green colour. The more iron present, the greater the degree of blue.
Gemologists love the May birthstone for its inclusions. Emeralds from Colombia can have fascinating characteristic inclusions – called three-phase inclusions – that consist of tiny crystals of rock salt, a liquid and a bubble of gas.
The emerald was mined in Egypt as early as 330 BC, but some estimate that the oldest emeralds are 2.97 billion years old. The Egyptians used emeralds both in jewellery, and in their elaborate burials, often burying emeralds with monarchs as symbols of protection.
On the other side of the world, the Muzo Indians of Colombia had well-hidden and prized emerald mines. These mines were so hidden, it took the Spanish conquistadors nearly twenty years to find them.
Like other gemstones, the emerald was believed to have many mystical powers that accompanied its beauty. There were those who thought the emerald could cure stomach problems, control epilepsy and stop bleeding. Maybe due to its soothing green colour, it was also thought to be able to ward off panic and keep the wearer relaxed and serene.
Today it is a symbol of loyalty, new beginnings, peace and security, making it not only a beautiful gem to wear, but also a meaningful gift to be treasured by the receiver. Emerald is traditionally given for the 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
How to Buy Emerald
Like the diamond and other gemstones, emeralds can be judged according to the 4Cs: colour, cut, clarity and carat weight. These gems are highly prized and intensely coloured ones can be quite rare, so make sure that you visit a trusted jeweller who can help you make an informed investment.
Colour – Emeralds that are bluish green to green, with strong to vivid saturation and medium to medium-dark tone, are the most coveted. Emeralds that are highly transparent are especially valuable.
Most gemologists agree that it all comes down to colour when purchasing an emerald and that the olour should be evenly distributed and not too dark.
Clarity – Emeralds typically contain inclusions that are visible to the unaided eye. Because of this, jewellery professionals and some consumers understand and accept the presence of inclusions in emeralds. Eye-clean emeralds are especially valuable because they’re so rare. But when the quantity or nature of the inclusions has a negative effect on transparency and clarity, they also dramatically reduce value.
Cut – Emerald crystals are difficult to cut. Almost all rough emeralds have significant fractures (sometimes called fissures) and a gem cutter must work to minimise the effect of those fractures on the appearance of the finished stone. Many emeralds are cut into an emerald shape, which helps to make a bright stone with sparkle while minimising inclusions or fissures. The cut also helps protect against damage because the vulnerable corners are faceted and provide a comparatively safe place for prongs.
Carat Weight – Fashioned emeralds come in a wide range of sizes. There are emeralds in museums and private collections that weigh hundreds of carats. At the other extreme are tiny emeralds that weigh fractions of a carat.
Care & Cleaning
Emerald is a 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is more susceptible to scratching than a diamond, which ranks 10 on the scale. It’s also often treated to improve its colour and clarity. Common treatment methods include dying and fracture filling (with oils, waxed and artificial resins).
As a result Emerald’s require some special care; avoid exposure to heat, changes in air pressure (such as in an airline cabin) and harsh chemicals. Never put an emerald in an ultrasonic cleaner. Filled emeralds can also be damaged by exposure to hot water used for washing dishes.