April showers bring May…you know the saying. With blooming flowers and lush greenery, spring is a beautiful time for renewal. If you’re starting a new chapter with your love, why not celebrate with a gorgeous emerald that’s as green as your surroundings? Learn more about the striking May birthstone!
What is an Emerald?
Emeralds are technically cousins with aquamarine (March’s birthstone), as both gems are members of the beryl mineral family. While aquamarine is the pure and soothing blue-green version of beryl, emeralds display the ideal, rich shade of green. Stones with a deeper green tone will be more valuable, but the rarest emeralds give off an intense green-blue hue.
Much like diamonds, emeralds are evaluated based on the 4 C’s: color, cut, clarity and carat weight. In addition to color, cut is another key characteristic for these stones. You might notice that most emeralds feature a rectangular shape with small, rounded edges, step cuts and a large, flat surface at the top of the gem (aka an emerald cut). That’s because emerald crystals grow in hexagon-shaped columns with flat tops, and this type of cut enhances its breathtaking color.
But first and foremost, gem experts encourage shoppers to focus on that bold, green color. Choose emeralds with an evenly-distributed tone and steer clear of stones that appear too dark!
*Pro Tip: Shop for emeralds with a keen eye. Some retailers label all green beryl gems as emeralds, but they’re not all emeralds! Most experts agree that light green beryl stones are simply green beryl gems vs. emeralds. Therefore, gravitate toward that stunning, deep green shade, if you’re seeking an authentic emerald.
Image courtesy of GIA
History of the Emerald
Emeralds get their name from the ancient Greek term for “green.” In fact, Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher who wrote one of the first encyclopedias of the Common Era, described the stone as the greenest item in existence.
The oldest emerald mines were documented in Egypt around 330 BCE and were used into the 1700s. Emeralds made fashionable pieces of jewelry, and they were even buried with Egyptian rulers in hopes of protecting them from danger. Once the gems were discovered in South America, Colombia became the most important emerald supplier for more than 500 years. Some of the finest emeralds are found here, and all other stones are compared to their quality.
Three Colombian towns are particularly notable when it comes to emerald production. Muzo is responsible for darker, pure green gems; Chivor is known for generating stones with lighter and bluish-green hues; and Coscuez is typically associated with gems that have a yellowish-green tint. Other substantial emerald producers include Brazil, Zambia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Throughout history, people have believed that the stones would make them more intelligent, quick-witted and eloquent speakers. And according to legend, placing an emerald under your tongue could help you predict the future. But today, these green gems represent qualities like loyalty, security, peace and new beginnings.
Fun Emerald Facts
Emeralds are the official stones for celebrating 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries!
In their natural form, certain emerald crystals can grow to be a foot long!
Some of the world’s oldest emeralds reportedly formed in South Africa nearly 3 billion years ago!
These stones score between 7.5 and 8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale – a scale that ranks the durability of diamonds, gemstones and other minerals. That means emeralds are a fairly durable gem. However, they’re more likely to scratch than diamonds, so take extra care if you wear them daily!
Egyptian queen Cleopatra was apparently fond of emeralds and often wore them as accessories. She even reportedly took control of all Egyptian mines that yielded the stones.
The Crown of the Andes, which is considered among colonial South America’s most significant gold creations, was crafted to decorate an image of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception in what’s now known as Colombia. The intricate piece features more than 440 emeralds, including the 24-carat “Atahualpa emerald.” According to legend, the impressive stone once belonged to Incan Emperor Atahualpa.
When emeralds have fractures that reach the surface of a stone, the cracks are sometimes filled with oils, waxes and artificial resins to improve clarity (aka fracture fillings). If your emerald has a fracture filling, avoid washing your hands or dishes in hot water, as this could damage your gem!
The Emerald Buddha, a religious statue in Thailand that depicts a meditating Gautama Buddha, is actually made of a form of jade vs. emerald!
Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Taylor and members of the British monarchy are just some celebrities who have made emerald jewelry a fashion statement. In fact, Taylor’s emerald and diamond necklace, which she received as a wedding present from actor Richard Burton in 1964, sold for more than $6.5 million in 2011!
The historic Hooker Emerald, a bluish-green stone weighing 75.47 carats, was reportedly a piece in the Ottoman Empire’s crown jewels. It’s said that Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last ruler of the empire, wore the gem on his belt buckle. The piece was later purchased by Tiffany & Co. and eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where it has been on display since 2010.
Photo by Chip Clark, courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History.
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