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May Birthstone is Emerald

They say the birthstone for May—emerald—derives from the Greek word smaragdus, which means green. How you get EMERALD from SMARAGDUS is a mystery to us. On the other hand, emeralds are a symbol of rebirth, hence the tie-in to May and Spring and birds bursting into song, which makes perfect sense.

Emeralds’ lush green has soothed souls and excited imaginations since antiquity. Rome’s Pliny the Elder described emerald in his Natural History, published in the first century AD: “…nothing greens greener” was his verdict. He described the use of of this gemstone by early lapidaries, who “have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude.” Even today, the color green is known to relieve stress and eye strain.

There are other green gems, like tourmaline and peridot, but emerald is the one that’s always associated with the lushest landscapes and the richest greens. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. Seattle, in the US state of Washington, is the Emerald City. Thailand’s most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha, even though it’s carved from green jadeite.

The first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emeralds, and used them in her royal adornments.

Emeralds from what is now Colombia were part of the plunder when sixteenth-century Spanish explorers invaded the New World. The Incas had already been using emeralds in their jewelry and religious ceremonies for 500 years. The Spanish, who treasured gold and silver far more than gems, traded emeralds for precious metals. Their trades opened the eyes of European and Asian royalty to emerald’s majesty. Emeralds are the most famous member of the beryl family. Legends endowed the wearer with the ability to foresee the future when emerald was placed under the tongue, as well as to reveal truth and be protected against evil spells. They were once also believed to cure diseases like cholera and malaria. Wearing this precious gem was believed to reveal the truth or falseness of a lover’s oath as well as make one an eloquent speaker.

Emeralds were also believed to grant their owners foresight, good fortune, and youth…. uh, hey, Mike. Remember that big emerald we got in last week that you said rolled under the couch? You ever put that back?…

Thanks to the Gemological Institute of America for the history of this gemstone.

Categories: Birthstones, Emerald, This month's birth stone