If diamond is the daddy of the gemstone world, then emerald is surely the diva. With its intense greens, this is a stone that wants to be noticed and, throughout the ages, everyone from royalty to Hollywood’s elite have been happy to oblige.
Indeed, May’s birthstone is beloved by the rich and famous for its statement-making brilliance. Both Jackie Kennedy and Wallis Simpson wore emerald-encrusted engagement rings and Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry and Zoe Saldana are all fans. In 2011, Elizabeth Taylor’s famous emerald pendant sold for a cool $6.5 million.
Roman author and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder said of emerald: “… nothing greens greener” and said that early gem cutters “have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green colour comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude.” Even today, the colour green is known to relieve stress and eye strain.
But the biggest emerald enthusiast of them all was Cleopatra. As Pharaoh, Cleopatra owned all of Egypt’s mines and is said to have adorned her palaces – as well as herself – with the gem, and frequently handed them out to foreign dignitaries in a show of wealth and power. Indeed, Egypt was mining emeralds as far back at 330 BC, although the oldest stones ever found are almost 3 billion years old and come from South Africa. Egyptians mummies were often buried with emeralds to symbolise eternal youth.
In mythology, the emerald was associated with the goddess Venus, so it’s no surprise that it’s considered a symbol of passion and rebirth and thought to aid fertility. What’s more, it was believed to bestow foresight, good fortune and youth on its wearer and said to lift depression, cure insomnia, detoxify blood, and cure ailments of the heart, eyes, pancreas, backbone, lymph nodes, intestines, kidneys and thymus. In its time it has been used to treat poisoning, infection and dysentery and many believed it could protect against demons, cut through spells, and reveal the truth or lie of a lover’s promise.
Europeans acquired a taste for emeralds in the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadores arrived in South America, although it is said that the Muzo Indians of Colombia hid their emerald mines so well that it took the interlopers 20 years to discover them. In India, Mogul emperors were partial to the gemstone, believing it offered the protection of the gods. The stone was also thought to cure stomach problems, control epilepsy, stop bleeding and ward off panic.
Today it is associated with loyalty, new beginnings and peace.
Like aquamarine, emerald is a type of beryl, and the intensity of an emerald’s colour hints at its value, with the rarest appearing as an intense green-blue. That intensity depends on the other elements found within it.
Photo by آیناز تدین (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Chalk Emerald (above) is ranked among the world’s finest Colombian emeralds. Originally weighing 38.4 carats, it was re-cut and set in a ring designed by Harry Winston, where it found itself surrounded by 60 pear-shaped diamonds totaling 15 carats. It was donated to the National Gem Collection by Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk in 1972.
Colombian emeralds generally contain traces of chromium, giving them an intensely green hue. For this reason Colombian emeralds tend to be the most expensive on the market. Brazilian emeralds contain vanadium and Zambian emeralds, iron. The way the gem is cut can intensify the colour and it is often crafted into an emerald shape to maximise sparkle.
Emerald is also given on the occasion of a 20th or 35th wedding anniversary and in 2013 it was named Pantone’s colour of the year. It is a beautiful stone that looks especially lovely when set with diamonds.
So, if your May baby likes to make an entrance, emerald jewellery is a must.