Emerald; More Than Just a Birthstone

May 1, 2019

Early civilization as far back as the Assyrians (1400 BC) invested rare and beautiful gemstones with magical properties. Some minerals were thought to contain a force or possess certain values and powers. For instance, amethyst was said to prevent intoxication. Tradition associates a gem with each sign of the zodiac based on a color system. Color was thought to unleash the power attributed to the birthstone. In time, birthstones became associated with calendar months rather than the zodiac. And people began to select birthstones in colors other than the original.

The idea that certain birthstones were associated with certain months goes back at least to the 1st century CE. Oddly enough, the idea of wearing one's birthstone - that is, wearing a piece of jewelry containing the gemstone associated with the month one was born in - appears to be much more recent. George Frederick Kunz, in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, states that the custom began in Poland during the 18th century. The wearing of one's birthstone is traditionally thought to be lucky. Thus, if someone was born in the month of May, and he or she wears an emerald (one's "birthstone"), one should attract good fortune.

Emerald is the birthstone for May; but it is so much more than a birthstone! Emerald is the most valuable type of beryl. It is colored by minute traces of chromium and vanadium. The beryl family of gemstones also includes morganite and aquamarine.

The history of the emerald is as fascinating as it is voluminous.

Ancient people prized it as the symbol of love, rebirth and eternal youth. Because the rich green color of emerald reminds of spring, it has been treasured for at least the past 4,000 years by different cultures all around the world.

The first emerald mines recorded in history are the famous Cleopatra mines rediscovered in 1818 in Northern Egypt. These ancient mines were exhausted long ago.
The emerald mines in Colombia have a history somewhat similar to those in Egypt. When the Spaniards conquered the Incas, they saw emeralds in their possession, but even under torture, these never revealed their source. Years later, one mine in the Chivor area in Colombia was discovered quite by accident

Pliny the Elder wrote, "nothing is more intense than the green of emerald" and "sight is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone". Following his advise, Roman emperor Nero wore emerald sunglasses to watch the gladiators. Science today agrees with Pliny. Chalk boards in schools are often green because it is an easy color on the eyes.

Emerald is said to give a supernatural ability to foretell future events. A surprising variety of virtues have been ascribed to emerald. Among these, emerald was thought to improve its owner’s memory and eloquence, and was also said to quicken intelligence. In a particular instance of emerald’s use, as a measure against ills, women wearing the stone were believed to be immune from epilepsy. Science does not back up these claims.

The Moguls of India loved emeralds so much that they inscribed them with sacred texts and wore them as talismans. This led to the flourishing Jaipur cutting industry.

Although many people consider Colombia to be the source of the best emeralds, the country of origin is never a guarantee of quality. Brazil , Zambia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Russia are also producers of fine quality stones.

The extreme rarity of transparent emerald is why inclusions in emeralds are tolerated.
These inclusions are like a fingerprint, giving each emerald a distinct personality. They are called garden from the French « jardin ».

Fissures and fractures that are characteristic of emerald are traditionally filled with oil to minimize their visual impact. Cleaning emerald with an ultrasonic cleaner can remove or damage the oil, thus making the fissures more visible.

Emerald can be a beautiful gemstone but it should be remembered that it is a relatively fragile gem and should be worn with care. Also be aware of protecting the mounting. Household chemicals may discolor or damage the mounting. Chlorine (pools and hot tubs) are something to be cautious of while wearing any jewelry.


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