May birthstone: Emerald

The emerald, a symbol of rebirth, is believed to grant its wearer foresight, good fortune, and youth. The green gemstone has enchanted royalty for millennia, from Egyptian pharaohs to Incan emperors.


Nothing greens greener

Emerald’s name is derived from the word “smaragdus” which means “green” in Greek. Famed Roman author, Pliny the Elder, wrote in his encyclopaedic natural history that “nothing greens greener” than an emerald.

An Egyptian discovery

Emerald was first mined in Egypt as early as 330 BC, but some estimate that the oldest emeralds are 2.97 billion years old! Today, the gem is found all over the world, including Colombia, Brazil, Russia, Australia, Afghanistan, and Zambia.

The deeper or more green an emerald is, the more valuable it is. The rarest emerald gemstones have an intense green-blue colour. The availability of high-quality emerald is limited so treatments to improve clarity are performed regularly.

Legends of fortune-telling and truth-speaking

Like many gemstones, emeralds have a multitude of meanings stemming from different cultures and beliefs. In Roman mythology, emerald is the stone of the goddess Venus, resulting in the association of emeralds with love and passion.

Ancient Egyptians believed the stones supported rebirth and fertility, and could ease childbirth. Many mummies were buried with an emerald around their neck in hopes of bringing them eternal youth. It was also believed that emerald had the power to cure disease and protect against evil.

Other legend has it that placing an emerald under the tongue would allow one to see into the future. Some believed it made one an eloquent speaker and exposed lovers who made false promises.

Famed fans

Cleopatra was said to have had a passion for emerald jewellery. In fact, she claimed the first known emerald mine in Egypt as her own, taking it from the Greeks.

As well as using the stones for lavish jewellery, Cleopatra presented visiting dignitaries with her likeness carved into large emeralds.

Coincidentally, actress Elizabeth Taylor acquired some legendary emeralds while filming Cleopatra in Rome (her lover Richard Burton bought them for her at Bulgari).

Around the same time, the glamorous US first lady Jackie Kennedy wore an emerald and diamond engagement ring.

Today, Angelina Jolie may be the most famous advocate of emeralds, frequently wearing them on the red carpet. Other Hollywood stars, including Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, and Olivia Wilde wear gorgeous emerald engagement rings.

Caring for your emerald

Emerald is a 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is more susceptible to scratching than a diamond (10 on the scale).

Only use mild soap and warm water to clean emeralds, and not techniques involving steam, chemicals or high heat, because they can cause the gem to fracture. You should also avoid exposing your May birthstone to changes in air pressure, such as in an airplane cabin.

See how to care for your other gemstones.

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