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May Birthstone: Emerald Origins and Gift Ideas

May's birthstone emerald set in a beautiful ring with 'May' in the backdropEmerald Symbolism and Meaning

The emerald has long been associated with youth, rebirth, longevity, even immortality, and many cultures have venerated it for many of those aspects. The ancient Egyptians, for example, used the gemstones for their burial rituals, sending their pharaoh-gods into the next life with a hoard of precious emeralds as protection.

The green gemstone is also a symbol of vision and truth. It could give the owner the power to see into the future or foretell danger by changing colors. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the emerald was believed to reveal whether the oath taken between lovers was true or false. In a more literal sense, emeralds were used as a way to improve one’s vision by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Many familiar legends invoke the emerald as a stone of power. For instance, the Grail of Arthurian legend was reputed to be a cup made from a single emerald, with the power to prolong life and preserve chastity. The common thread through many of these stories is that the emerald is a stone for those seeking truth, meaning and long life.

Emerald Color

Like aquamarine, the birthstone of May is from the beryl mineral family. It gets its color from trace amounts of chromium, whereas iron is responsible for the blue or blue-green hues found in aquamarine.

Emerald ranges from light green to a vibrant, dark, forest green. The latter are more rare and valuable. The rarest may even appear blue-green. Another rare type of emerald is a trapiche emerald that features a six-pointed pattern like a star burst.

It falls between 7.5 and 8.0 on the Mohs hardness scale. Emeralds can contain many inclusions or other materials trapped in the gem, which can make them somewhat brittle.

Emerald ranked on the mohs scale of hardness compared to diamonds

Emerald Origins

The Egyptians are thought to be the first people to mine emeralds, perhaps as far back as 5,000 years ago. Cleopatra was reputedly obsessed over the green gem, and staked claim to all the emerald mines in Egypt, which eventually took on the name of Cleopatra’s Mines.

The Incas and Aztecs of South America also valued the stone, and today the best green gems (including the trapiche) come from the continent, specifically Colombia. Other emerald regions include Zambia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Russia and the United States.

The origins of the word “emerald” reach us from the Greek word smaragdos that literally translates to “green gem.”

Fun Facts

  • Celebrities from Jackie O to Elizabeth Taylor have favored the emerald among their jewelry collections. The former First Lady’s engagement ring from the dashing JFK featured a tapered baguette 2.84-carat emerald alongside a 2.88-carat diamond in a diamond open-halo setting.
  • In 1962, actor Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor a 23.46-carat emerald brooch with gems sourced from Colombia. It was later auctioned by Christie’s for nearly $6.6 million.
  • Emerald is the official wedding anniversary gemstone for celebrating the 20th and 35th year of marriage.
  • The world’s largest emerald is the Bahia Emerald, an 840 pound stone discovered in Bahia, Brazil, in 2001. It reputedly contains more than 180,000 carats of emeralds.

May Birthstones

If your birthday is in May then you have the pleasure of enjoying the heart of Spring and the emerald happens to be the perfect accoutrement for this joyous season. Emeralds also make great statement pieces, especially when worn as jewelry. May birthstone jewelry is sure to make a wonderful gift for anyone for any occasion.

From stunning engagement rings, a birthstone necklace for Mother’s Day, or even emerald children’s jewelry, there is something for everyone, and it will make a thoughtful and personal gift for the spring season.

How to Buy an Emerald

Just as you would buy a diamond, you will also want to focus on the 4 C’s (color, cut, clarity, and carat weight) when it comes to choosing the best emeralds. Since it is rare to find brilliantly and vibrantly colored emeralds, you will want to make sure that you are getting something of immense value.

When purchasing an emerald, you will primarily focus on the color of the gemstone. The color should be evenly distributed throughout the gem and should not appear to be too dark. Lighter colored emerald gemstones are the most common to find and will carry more affordable price tags.

Inclusions on emerald gemstones typically don’t carry much weight because they don’t do much to detract from the color and look of the gemstone. Instead, you will be more focused on the emerald gemstones hue and saturation, rather than small inclusions.

When determining which cut to purchase, you will want a cut that emphasizes the deep and rich color of the emerald. The right cut will also provide you with a brighter stone, and many of those inclusions will become effectively hidden.

With emeralds, you will see a vast difference in price tags when you begin to look at smaller emeralds compared to the larger emeralds. Be sure to know what your budget is before you begin to make your own comparisons.

Finally, you can find emeralds in a number of jewelry settings for a May birthstone. From necklaces, simple pendants, engagement rings, wedding rings, bracelets, and earrings, the possibilities are endless when you are in the market for the perfect birthstone jewelry options.

Natural vs. Lab-Created Emeralds

Emeralds for May birthstones carry qualities of love and loyalty and offers the recipient a softer gemstone with vibrant coloring. However, a naturally occurring emerald gemstone can become quite pricey along the way.

The green color of emeralds comes from elements such as chromium, vanadium, and iron and since the value of an emerald rests so much on its color and saturation, the final decision on the emerald comes down to the eye of the beholder.

Emeralds are graded on a scale of B to AAA. The latter being the most valuable emerald available. When determining the value, after considering the hue and hardness, you will typically look into whether the gemstone was naturally occurring, or if it is a lab-created emerald which can also have an immense impact on the price tag and value.

A natural emerald will have a few more inclusions due to the minerals that created it. A natural emerald will be more unique in appearance. A lab-created emerald will have no inclusions, and the color will be different than that of a natural emerald because the composition will be different.

If you are looking for emeralds within a more affordable price range, then a lab-created emerald, although not authentic, is still a real emerald even though they were created in a lab rather than nature.

Gift Ideas

For your own green stone of immortality, start with this oval emerald and diamond ring in platinum from Blue Nile. Or triple your powers of soothsaying with this three-stone emerald and diamond halo ring from Blue Nile.

Emeralds also pair well with diamonds on these pendants, like on this pear-shaped stone from Blue Nile surrounded by pavé-set diamonds or an oval-shaped stone from Blue Nile of similar design.

Of course, emeralds are stunning enough to go solo as well. Take these stud earrings in 18K white gold from Blue Nile or solitaire pendant like this one from Blue Nile.

Finally, we return to the winning combination of emeralds and diamonds with these two halo bracelets in 18K gold, one showcasing 5.39-carats of emeralds and the other set in 18K white and yellow gold.

About the author
Michael Fried
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more.
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