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It’s May and Here’s Why Emerald is Your Birthstone

By: Shmukler Design

Enchanting to royalty, both ancient and of the Hollywood variety, the spellbinding emerald is your birthstone if you are born in May. This gem is thought to represent:

  • Fertility
  • Growth
  • Intelligence
  • Liveliness
  • Quick Wit
  • Rebirth

History of the Emerald

The world’s most ancient emeralds, found in South Africa, are estimated to be about 2.97 billion years old, while the name “emerald”comes from smaragdos — the ancient Greek term for a green gem. Roman author and gem enthusiast Pliny the Elder (born Gaius Plinius Secundus in 23 AD – d. 79 AD) once wrote that “nothing greens greener” than an emerald.

While the emerald has existed in nature for billions of years, the first known emerald mines weren’t in operation until around 330 BC in Egypt, where they existed until the 1700s.

Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra (b. 69 BC – 30 BC), whose likeness is one of the most recognizable in the world, was known to have a passion for emeralds, and was said to have used them in her royal adornments. Legend has it that Cleopatra would gift emeralds to visiting dignitaries with her likeness carved into them. More practically, the ancient Egyptians believed emeralds could be used to treat eye diseases yet buried them with their dead to symbolize eternal youth.

Spanish royalty cherished emeralds as well. The Crown of the Andes, one of the most incredible surviving pieces of metalwork from colonial South America, is encrusted with close to 450 emeralds — including a 24-carat gemstone known as the “Atahualpa Emerald.” The history behind that stone is that the conquistador Francisco Pizarro (b. 1471 – d. 1541) stole it from the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa (b. 1502 – d. 1533). The Incas had already been using emeralds in their religious ceremonies and jewelry for more than 500 years before the Spanish explorers invaded in the 16th century.

Most recently, Colombia — which was the site of former Inca empires — has been the site for the best emeralds in the world for more than 500 years. Colombian emeralds set the standard for the rest of the emeralds of the world to live up to. Brazil, Namibia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently major providers of emeralds as well.

Legendary Powers

There were many reasons for royalty to covet emeralds. Mythology surrounding the gem is vast, including the belief that emeralds could cure diseases such as malaria and cholera, as well as vision problems. Not only did people once believe emeralds could help repair damaged vision, they also believed that when placed under the tongue, an emerald could give the personthe ability to see the future. Wearing an emerald was also said to reveal the truth, make someone more eloquent and protect them against evil spells.

One of those myths may, in fact, have been true. Theophrastus — a Greek native of Lesbos who was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school — noted that the emerald — when placed in water — colors it, and plays a role in the “resting of the eyes,” which is something Pliny the Elder was fond of repeating:

“(gem cutter) have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude.”

Theophrastus wasn’t wrong; Color theorists generally agree that green is calming and does in fact help relieve stress and strain on the eyes.

Famous Emeralds

Just like the woman she famously portrayed in the film “Cleopatra,” actress Elizabeth Taylor also had a penchant for emeralds. She owned many pieces from Bulgari, made of emeralds and diamonds, given to her by Richard Burton when she was filming the 1963 classic. Her collection included a floral design brooch, a large pair of pear-shaped earrings, a bracelet, a ring, and a necklace with a detachable pendant. In 2011, the pendant alone sold for $6.57 million at auction. The necklace sold for just a bit less at $6.13 million. At that auction, a collection of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry sold for a jaw-dropping total of $115.9 million, with all the money going to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which raises funds and awareness to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Rockefeller family once possessed a spectacular emerald as well. John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased an emerald brooch originally made by Van Cleef & Arpels for his wife Abby in 1930. When she passed away 18 years later, he had New York jeweler Raymond Yard disassemble the brooch and distribute the resulting gems amongst his children. The largest emerald from the center of the brooch, which weighed 18.04 carats, was given to David Rockefeller. He had Raymond Yard mount it on a ring, which sold at auction for $5.51million decades later in 2017.

Emeralds and The Zodiac

A person born in May is either a Taurus or a Gemini. As we mentioned in our April post about Diamonds, there are many legends regarding why certain months have certain birthstones, and there is no confirmation that the official 1912 list of birthstones is connected to zodiac signs. However, the attributes given to Taurus and Gemini people do alignwith emeralds. For example:

  • Taurus is an earth sign, which makes it a grounded sign. Emeralds are associated with growth and fertility, especially when it comes to the land and plant life —think of the description of Ireland as the “Emerald Isle,” due to its lush landscapes.
  • Geminis, who are air signs, are thought to be social, intelligent, quick-witted and communicative, which are similar to some of the powers emerald wearers were once believed to have.

Care and Cleaning

The May birthstone requires special care. Emeralds may be damaged if exposed to extreme heat, massive changes in air pressure (much more than is presented by commercial airplanes), and harsh chemicals. Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner for your emeralds, because the vibrations and heat can cause fractures. Emeralds can also be damaged by hot water, so do not wash them with hot water.

Emerald Earrings

Here at Shmukler Design, a Southern California-based custom jeweler, we believe the safest and best way to clean emeralds properly is to gently scrub them with a soft cloth and lukewarm, soapy water. Then buff the gems dry with a soft cloth after washing.

For more information about emeralds — or how to create a setting that makes them stand out and sparkle — call us at (949) 870-9915, or use the online contact form on the Shmukler Design website.

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  1. […] to our good friend and master gemologist, Pliny the Elder, who was featured in our May 2019 post, It’s May and Here’s Why Emerald is Your Birthstone. He once wrote that moonstone’s shimmery appearance “shifted with the phases of the […]

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