May 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.
Emeralds have been prized for their beauty since antiquity—emerald mines existed in Egypt as early as 300 BC, and these gorgeous green gems were worn as jewelry in ancient Greece and Rome. 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.
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.
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.
Emeralds’ Famous Fans
Cleopatra had a passion for emerald jewelry, as did Elizabeth Taylor, who acquired some legendary emeralds 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. And an emerald engagement ring was at the center of the twentieth century’s most legendary love story, when in 1936 King Edward VIII of England proposed to his divorced American love Wallis Simpson with a nineteen carat emerald ring engraved with the message “We are ours now.” The ensuing scandal caused him to abdicate the thrown, making the couple the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
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 some very stylish Hollywood stars, including Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, and Olivia Wilde wear gorgeous 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.)
Brilliant Earth’s mined emeralds come from Zambia, in southern Africa, and from the Andes Mountains of Colombia. The emeralds from these regions 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 Zambian emeralds are sourced from a remote region of farms, forests, and grasslands. These emeralds are exceptionally beautiful because of the even distribution of their color and their relative lack of flaws, or inclusions, compared with most emeralds. The mine that produces our emeralds is a leader in socially responsible gemstone mining because it provides good, safe jobs to about 500 people, gives back to the community, and employs eco-friendly mining techniques.
Our Colombian 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.
In addition to these ethically mined emeralds, we offer lab-created emerald accents as an option on our sought after Willow Engagement Ring. These marquise-shaped emeralds add vibrant color to the nature-inspired design, and are a very ethical option since they require no new mining.
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 Earrings make a perfect gift for any occasion, and we carry stunning antique emerald rings and jewelry.