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All About Emeralds, the May Birthstone

Alessa_top_t_w300_h300May is when spring has finally sprung and bright green leaves blanket landscapes, even in colder climates. So it’s fitting that vibrant green emerald is the May birthstone.

Emerald History

Emeralds have been prized for their beauty since antiquity—emerald mines existed in Egypt as early as 300 BC. Europeans were introduced to the beauty of emeralds in the 1500s when the Spanish invaded South America, where the Incas had prized emeralds for hundreds of years. During that same period, emeralds were cherished by the Mogul emperors of India, who believed that the gems were talismans that offered the protection of the gods.

Emerald Lore

Legend has it that wearing emeralds can give you the ability to foresee the future and see the truth. It has also been believed that emerald has the power to cure disease and protect against evil.

Emeralds 101

Emerald is part of the mineral family beryl, which also includes aquamarine. Emeralds are deep green or greenish blue and range in saturation from nearly opaque to very clear. When a green stone in this mineral family is too pale to qualify as an emerald it is called a “green beryl.”

Unlike diamonds, whose apparent clarity is evaluated using 10x magnification, emerald clarity is graded with the naked eye. These gems contain internal fractures called inclusions, but (unlike with diamonds) these inclusions don’t necessarily decrease an emerald’s value. In fact, if the internal fractures create an appealing pattern it can raise an emerald’s value. The term for an emerald’s internal pattern is jardin (garden in French) and, much like human fingerprints, every emerald’s jardin is unique.

Because of these internal inclusions, emeralds are not as durable as some other gemstones. They rank 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, behind sapphires (at 9) and diamonds (at 10, the highest number), making emeralds a bit more fragile than these other gemstones. That’s not to say that you can’t have a gorgeous green emerald engagement ring if that’s your heart’s desire, just that you should take a little extra care with it.
Elizabeth Taylor in Emeralds

Emeralds’ Famous Fans

Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald jewelry, as did Elizabeth Taylor, who acquired some legendary emerald jewelry while filming Cleopatra in Rome (lover Richard Burton bought it for her at Bulgari). Around the same time, glamorous first lady Jackie Kennedy wore an emerald and diamond engagement ring. Today, Angelina Jolie may be emeralds’ most famous advocate. She frequently wears these gorgeous green gems on the red carpet, and made them a focal point of a jewelry collection she designed (the proceeds of which benefit children who had been victims of conflict).  And recently a number of Hollywood stars have been adorning their third fingers with emerald engagement rings.

Caring for Emeralds

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. Emeralds are generally treated with cedar oil to minimize the appearance of their inclusions. When done right, this does not affect the way light interacts with the gem or change its color in any way.  Unless otherwise specified, all of Brilliant Earth’s emeralds are oil-treated, as is accepted industry practice. (Note: Some jewelers treat emeralds with resins, glass, and plastic polymers to make them more durable, and sometimes even use green polymers to affect a gem’s color. This is not standard industry practice, and Brilliant Earth does not carry emeralds that have been treated with colored oils or synthetic fillers.)
BE1003-EmeralDia Pendant-f_lg

Ethical Emeralds

All of Brilliant Earth’s emeralds are mined in the Muzo mine region in the Andes Mountains of Colombia. Although emeralds are mined in parts of Africa, Asia, and Brazil, emeralds from the Muzo region benefit from unique conditions that create intensely green emeralds with ideal tone and saturation, and no smoky overtones.

We guarantee that our emeralds are ethically sourced, with respect for both miners and the environment. Low-impact mining practices are used, without harsh chemicals. Our emeralds are imported by a gemologist who has developed lasting relationships with mines in the Muzo region, and strives to ensure that the mine workers are employed under fair labor practices. Each employee gets room and board, as well as a share of 10 percent of the profits from production. He has also funded a number of nonprofit organizations operating in Colombia and the United States that help at-risk youth.

Final Thoughts on May Birthstones

If you are a May birthday girl, are shopping for one, or just love emeralds, check out the ever-changing selection of loose emeralds in our Unique Colored Gemstone gallery. They can be set into one of our many ring settings, or can be the focal point of a custom design. Looking for something pre-set?  The Emerald Halo Diamond Pendant is a perfect gift for any occasion, and we frequently carry antique emerald rings and jewelry in our Vintage and Antique Collection.

Do you love emerald jewelry?  Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or in the comments section.



Taylor Says:
May 10th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

FAB post! Emeralds are my absolute favorite gemstone. Gorgeous picks!

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