Emerald, the Birthstone of May

May’s birthstone is the emerald.  The emerald belongs to the beryl family of minerals.  Beryl is a six-sided symmetrical crystal.  Beryl contains beryllium, aluminum, silicon and oxygen.

Crown of the Andes
Crown of the Andes

Several historical artifacts were made of emeralds.  The crown of the Andes is set with about 450 emeralds.

Emeralds are one of the rarest gemstones and are typically mined in Columbia, Brazil, Afghanistand and Zambia.

Emeralds by nature have a high incidence of inclusions.  Flawless emeralds are extremely rare and valuable.  Many emeralds are treated with oil to enhance their color and clarity.

Emeralds can vary in color from light to deep green.  It is thought that an emeralds color comes from the presence of chromium and/or vanadium replacing some of the aluminum in the crystals structure.  Emeralds can also lose its color when heated.

The familiar emerald-green color is the most popular for emerald jewelry.  The color of the emerald,  significantly determines the value.  The most expensive are those with a warm green color.  Emeralds that are too dark or have yellow of blue undertones are less valuable.  Emeralds with a blue-green hue are rare and generally command a higher prices.

Emeralds can be cut in a variety of shapes to show off their brilliance and bright color.  Emeralds alone have a gemstone cut named after them.  The emerald cut is a rectangular or square shape with step-cut facets.  The emerald cut uses a large percentage of the original gemstones, so it makes it a great choice for valuable gems.

The emeralds name is indirectly derived from the Greek word “smargdos” a term applied to several kinds of green stones.  They were worn by royalty in Babylon and Egypt.  Queen Cleopatra’s emeralds were believed to have come from the mines in Southern Egypt, near the red sea.  Cleopatra’s mines are still in operation, but high quality emeralds are rarely found there.

When the conquistadors first arrived in South America from Spain, they saw indigenous rulers wearing emeralds.  They took large quantities from them but couldn’t find the source.  Then in 1537, the Spaniards found Chivor in Columbia, which now is a location of an important emerald mine.  They also took over the Muzo mine.  Mining operations at Muzo have continued uninterrupted since the Spanish invasion.  It is probably the most famous emerald mine in Columbia and is said to produce the worlds best emeralds.

Chalk Emerald
Chalk Emerald

There are many myths associated with the emerald.  The stone was once believed to prevent epilepsy, stop bleeding, cure dysentery and fever, and to protect the wearer from panic.  Its green color was said to rest and relieve the eyes.  Early Christians saw it as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ.  In the middle ages it was believed to have the power to foretell the future.

Agate and chrysoprase are also accepted May birthstones.  Agate comes in many colors, including, white, grey, green and blue.  Chrysoprase is typically an apple-green color sometimes have the appearance of jade.  Both agate and chrysoprase come from the chalcedony family.

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