The May birthstone, emerald, was a favorite of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Its rich green color has made it a sought-after gem for jewelry, and for centuries it has been thought to possess healing powers and reduce stress. Learn all about the emerald’s history, meaning, and symbolism!
Perhaps you recall The Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz,” named for the vibrant, scintillating greens of this popular gem.
Emeralds can range in color from light green with blue or yellow tones to deep, rich green. The finest emeralds have a deep green color, sometimes touched with a hint of blue and offering translucence, depth, and clarity. The green color comes from impurities of chromium, vanadium, or a combination of both. Iron will also affect the color, creating bluish tones.
Known for its inclusions, which are foreign materials trapped within the gem, emeralds are a unique stone. Some say that under a microscope, the inclusions can look like mossy plant-life. The inclusions can also be an indication of a gem’s origin.
The emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl, which forms with six sides. March’s birthstone, aquamarine, is also a type of beryl.
Emerald Meanings, Symbolism, and Folklore
Emerald’s English name is borrowed from Old French esmeraude, which itself stems from smaragdos, the Ancient Greek word for this gem.
Pliny the Elder once said that “nothing greens greener” than an emerald.
Hindu teaching associated emeralds with the planet Mercury, while western traditions connected the stone with Venus.
According to legend, emeralds were one of four stones given by God to Israelite King Solomon.
It has been linked to producing a calming effect and loving energy. Ancient civilizations considered it a symbol of fertility and immortality.
Over the years, emeralds have been associated with inspiration and patience, rebirth and renewal. It has also been thought to make those who wear it more intelligent, quick-witted, and passionate speakers.
At one time, it was believed to help relieve issues with the muscles, spine, and chest area. The emerald was also once thought to cure diseases such as cholera and malaria.
It has long been associated with the eyes, from helping to reduce eye strain to opening a window to the future for those who placed it under their tongue.
Today, emeralds symbolize loyalty, new beginnings, peace, and security. The gem is also believed to relieve stress.
The emerald is the gem given to celebrate 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
History of the Emerald
The earliest recorded mining of emeralds occurred in 330 B.C. in Egypt, although it’s estimated that the oldest gems are close to 3 billion years old.
Cleopatra was quite fond of the emerald and used the gem is her royal jewels and to adorn her palace. During her reign, Cleopatra also laid to claim to all the emerald mines in Egypt.
The Egyptians as a whole were enamored with the gem, using it both in jewelry and in burials, burying the stones with monarchs as a sign of protection.
The Emerald Buddha, which is actually made from a form of jasper, is housed in The Temple of the Emerald Buddha on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.
In L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy follows the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to find the wizard.
In the 1980s, Seattle, Washington, became nicknamed ”The Emerald City.”
An emerald pendant owned by Elizabeth Taylor sold for more than $6 million in 2011.
Where are Emeralds Found?
Egypt is the most ancient source of emeralds and remained the only significant source for hundreds of years
In the 16th century, deposits found in Colombia expanded the locations for mining the gem to South America. It continues to be a major source for emeralds, along with mines in Brazil and Africa, most notably Zambia.
Emeralds are also found in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while North Carolina is home to the largest deposits of the stone in the United States.
Emeralds in Jewelry
With a Mohs Hardness rating of 7.5 to 8, emerald gems are often used in rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
It’s important to take special care of emeralds, using warm, soapy water to clean. Avoid exposing gems to hot water, heat, and harsh chemicals, as well as storing it close to harder gems like diamonds, which can cause scratching.