May’s birthstone is emerald, a green gemstone that heralds the lush landscape of spring. May is a month in which flowers blossom, grass unfolds, and everything seems new again. Emerald is a stone that capture’s all spring’s verdant splendor, ranging in color between a bluish jungle green to chartreuse. The stone and the month are a perfect pairing.
Yet, for all of its exotic allure, emerald stones are simply a green variety of beryl. Aquamarine, another type of colored beryl, is the sister stone to May’s birthstone. But unlike aquamarine, emeralds are notorious for their flaws.
Though emerald clocks in at a respectable 7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, its frequent flaws and inclusions make it less durable than many birthstones; emeralds are more prone to cracking than similar stones of the same size. To disguise the flaws and enhance the appearance of the stone, most emeralds are treated today with colorless oils and resins. Unfortunately, this means that they cannot be cleaned in an ultrasonic bath and you have to be careful even washing your hands if you’re wearing an emerald birthstone ring.
May’s birthstone has a rich history and lore that spans the globe. Emerald once betokened power and rule in ancient Egypt and Babylonia. Cleopatra famously mined them in Egypt, and rulers from India to Persia and beyond rushed to buy them. The ancient Roman writer Pliny once famously observed of emerald that “Nothing greens greener.”
But emerald’s history isn’t just limited to the cradle of civilization. The discovery of the new world revealed that emeralds were prized in the Americas as well. In 1532, Conquistador Pizzaro captured the Inca King of Peru who named among his treasures an emerald crown. Cortez also loaded boats with emeralds to bring back to Europe.
In addition to their historical importance, emeralds also have religious significance. The bible names emerald as one of the birthstones in the breastplate of Aaron, representing the tribe of Judah. Emerald has importance to Christianity as well. Italy boasts of a Holy Grail cup made of emeralds that was captured during the crusades and which is said to have been used by Christ at the Last Supper.
The Koran also describes heaven’s garden as being carpeted with emeralds, and the famous ‘Mogul Emerald’ has prayers engraved in it. The Hindus revere emeralds for their supposed healing properties and its name in Indian means “the green of growing things.”
From the old world to the new, emerald’s rich religious and cultural history made it a prized stone in ages past, but our love affair with May’s birthstone still endures. In fact, high-quality emeralds are worth more than diamonds by carat weight. Perhaps it is the vast depth of emerald green that calls to us, or maybe, as the ancients believed, the stone is simply soothing to the eye. Whatever accounts for our fascination, emerald is like spring captured in a stone and that makes it the perfect birthstone for May.