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Birthstones: May - Emerald

During May, the flower buds are in full bloom, the heady temperatures of summer are just around the corner, and the evening sky is a stunning tone of blush. With a sense of vibrancy in the air, this beautiful month has an equally beautiful birthstone: Emerald.

Our Lillicoco university gemstone guide gives a brief look into Emerald’s chemical composition, how and where they are mined, and what you should look for when purchasing an Emerald piece of jewellery. Here, we decided to unpack this further by writing a May Birthstone jewellery guide that illuminates us more on this signature and bewitching bright green gem!  

Little History of Emerald Jewellery

Ancient and Renaissance Emerald jewellery

The unmatched hue and tone of Emeralds has made it a famous and sought after gemstone for centuries, quickly cementing its status as a cult cardinal gemstone. 

It is believed that Emerald jewellery was first mined during Ancient Egypt, and that Cleopatra was obsessed with the gemstone. In ancient lore, the gorgeous verdant tone was believed to possess the power of enhancing fertility, growth and peace.

The etymology of the word Emerald comes from the Ancient Greek “smaragados”, translating to “green gem” and also the translation of the Sanskrit word “marakata” which means “the green of growing things”. 

Ancient Revival Emerald Scarab Beetle Gold Ring, Source - SND Gems

Ancient societies around the world were enamoured with this gemstone, and the stone quickly accrued both spiritual as well as monetary value. Aristotle allegedly wrote that an Emerald has powerful soothing and calming qualities, as well as bolstering the status of an individual.Pliny the Elder also wrote that Emeralds were helpful in healing eye fatigue and irritation, and as a consequence emeralds were ground up and mixed with water, then applied as a salve to sore eyes.

There has been details of ancient Islamic religions inscribing the Quran with Emeralds and the myths of the Roman Emperor Nero watching gladiator fights through a large transparent Emerald to not only show his power and wealth, but also because it soothed him. 

Gold and Emerald Necklace, 1st-2nd Century AD, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As mentioned above, Cleopatra was fascinated with Emeralds and Peridots, with the belief that the green stone could aid in fertility and promising rebirth. Cleopatra loved Emeralds so much that she had entire mines dedicated to the gem which were rediscovered in 1817, and when visiting dignatiries left Egypt, Cleopatra allegedly presented them with her likeness carved into large Emeralds. In fact, when Emeralds were first imported into Europe, they brought with them Egyptian design and aesthetics, so many in Europe were carved into scarab beetles!

Reconstruction of the legendary Emerald tablet, Source - Ancient Origins

The literary tradition of Emeralds trickles down into the later generations of the Medieval, Tudor and Renaissance beliefs, as they are imbued with divine religious powers. A hermetic text was written by Hermes Trismegitus which was reputed to contain all of the secrets of the world, and this was called the “Emerald Tablets”, equating Emeralds with occultism and a talisman for knowledge. Another example is that in 1550, the physician Giralamo Cardano published De Subtilitate, in which he wrote that the owners Emeralds would shatter if the owner had adulterous intercourse, which was also a cardinal sin in Catholic Italy. 

Ostrogothic Emerald Gold Earrings, c.3rd Century, Source - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Not only were Emeralds known to soothe and aid fertility, but during the Medieval period, they accrued positive powerful associations including helping business, and strengthening knowledge, memory and intellect. This of course meant that many powerful families and royalty coveted Emeralds. 

French Gold Cluster Brooch with Emeralds, Pearls and Diamonds, c.15th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In Florence, Emeralds and other stones were widely collected by the Medici family, which influenced painters around the world. This led to a variety of noble and allegorical figures being painted bedecked in gemstones, such as Emeralds. Emeralds were often wedding gifts between Florentine nobles helping to maintain the chastity of the wearer. Emeralds were also often used as intaglios and cameos. The sheer love for Emeralds meant that during this time it was worth four times more than Diamonds, yet it was still half as expensive as a Ruby. 

Portrait of a Woman (believed to be wearing Emerald rings), Filippo Lippi, c.1445, Source - Wikimedia Commons.

Antique and Vintage Emerald jewellery

The fascination with Emeralds certainly did not end in Renaissance Florence. Their intrinsic and bewitching beauty continued to captivate way into the modern era. 

Like many of the precious gemstones, Emeralds were an evident status symbol. This meant that a variety of monarchies and nobilities around the world clamoured for Emeralds to be part of their collections. Emerald’s feature in almost every crown jewels, including India, Iran and Russia. 

Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (Also Known as Crown of Andes), c.1660-1770, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Georgian period, closed foil back gems were all the rage. Many cluster and memorial rings featured foiled Emeralds at the centre. In both the Georgian and Victorian period, Emeralds were one of the gemstones of choice for acrostic designs as the letter ‘E’ could easily be used to spell out a variety of phrases.

Gold, Emerald and Diamond Necklace, c.1840s, Source - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although each period adored Emeralds, the Art Deco era let their beauty shine unrivalled! Indicative of both wealth and glamour, this bright green gem was encrusted in numerous engagement rings and were often combined with Onyx and Diamonds. What’s more, Art Deco jewellery took multiple motifs and inspiration from the Egyptian period, which as you can remember, was famed for their love of Emeralds. With this in mind, you can imagine as to why Emeralds were incredibly fashionable. 

Renowned jewellery houses like Boucheron worked with Emeralds extensively. Some of their most famous pieces were made for royal houses like the Mahajara of Patiala, where it was rumoured that the Emeralds were the size of apricots. 

Boucheron Emerald and Diamond Ring, c.1940, Source - Berganza

Emeralds started to be synonymous with designers like Bulgari and Cartier. The fierce and ferosity of Emeralds aligned with the designer’s ideas to create sparkling jewellery for the modern and empowered women. Early influencers like Elizabeth Taylor wore Bulgari Emerald designs extensively, making them the gem for excessively glamorous looks. 

Elizabeth Taylor's Bulgari Emerald and Diamond Necklace, Source - Pinterest

Marlene Dietrich was also another famous woman who was equated with Emeralds. A famous story that circulated about the star was that she lost her 37.41ct cabochon Emerald ring whilst baking a cake, and it was found within the cake itself!

Style icons like Princess Mary and Jacqueline Bouvier were also in love with this captivating gem. 

Today, modern icons like Naomi Campbell and Beyonce Knowles-Carter continue to be a patronage of Emeralds, often requesting these gems to be set within their glittering designs. 

Famous Emeralds in History

1806 Gift from Napolean Bonaparte - This gorgeous Diamond and Emerald parure was a gift in 1806 from the French Emporer Napoleon Bonaparte and his consort Joséphine to their adopted daughter Stéphanie de Beauharnais on her marriage to the Grand Duke of Baden. The design of the large rectangular stones surrounded by glittering Diamonds were at the height of fashion in the Georgian period. 

Emerald and Diamond Earrings and Necklace, Nitot and Fils (Napoleon Bonaparte's principle jewellers), c.1806 Source - Victoria and Albert Museum

Diadem of the Duchess of Angoulême Marie Thérèse of France - Another early 19th century Emerald and Diamond piece, this stunning tiara was owned by the daughter of Emporer Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. The design of the tiara was symmetrical of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand Diamonds and 40 Emeralds. Today, the tiara is owned by the French state and remains in the French treasury. 

Emerald and Diamond Tiara of Marie Therese of France, Source - Bernadette Lemon

The Moghul Emerald - One of the earliest deposits of Emeralds were found in ancient India, so it’s no surprise that they are still used frequently in fine Indian jewellery. One of the greatest Emeralds ever found on Indian soil is the Moghul Emerald, discovered in 1695. Weighing approximately 217.80 carats, the Emerald has beautiful intricate Arabic script with a Shi’a Muslim prayer, and the reverse is a naturalistic floral carving of a rosette surrounded by poppies. It is believed that this Emerald was owned by one of the Moghul ruler’s soldiers. The Emerald was sold by Christie’s of London in 2001 for 2.2 million pounds. 

The Moghul Emerald, c.1695-6 AD, Source - Christie's

The Seringapatam Jewels - Owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Seringapatam jewels is an incredible set of Emerald jewellery. Consisting of a necklace, brooch, bracelet and pair of drop earrings, the Seringapatam jewels exudes elegance. The Emeralds were originally given to British Major-General George Harris following the battle of Seringpatam in India in 1799. The Emeralds remained in the family and have been made into various sets of jewellery over the years. 

Emerald Cut

One of the most popular and fashionable elegant gemstone cuts, the Emerald cut takes its name from this glittering green gem itself as this was believed to be one of the most flattering cuts for Emerald and would retain most of its carat weight, 

With 57 facets, the Emerald cut is rectangular in shape, designed to highlight the clarity of the gemstone. 

Colombian Emerald Cross Pendant, c.1650-1700, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

It is believed that the Emerald cut originated in the 1500s and it was first designed for Emeralds because it prevented chips in the gemstone. However, it wasn’t long before it was adopted by Diamond cutters. Yet, the actual term “Emerald cut” wasn’t used into the 1920s. The fashion for symmetrical, geometric and architectural jewellery meant that the clean angular lines of the Emerald cut were favoured amongst women. This meant that a multiplicity of gemstones were ordered to be cut into this fabulous shape, firmly cementing its place in the history of gemstones. 

Emerald cut Emerald gemstone, Source - Lily Arkwright

Affordable Emerald and May Birthstone gifts

As Emeralds are one of the four cardinal gemstones, it is no secret that they fetch a fairly high price tag. So, if you are looking for affordable or cheap may birthstone jewellery, then we have a few other gemstone ideas you can choose from. 

In ancient lapidary, many green stones were grouped together for their similar hues and thus possessing similar meanings. So, these gemstones below have similar spiritual meanings and also have a signature shade of green. 

Green Chalcedony or Chrysoprase

Green Chalcedony, also known as Chrysoprase is an opaque apple green gemstone. The name Chrysoprase itself  comes from the Greek chrysos, meaning ‘gold’ and, prasinon, meaning ‘green’. 

Unlike Emerald’s green hue which comes from chromium, Chrysoprase owes its green colour to trace amounts of nickel. Although, some green Chalcedonys are due to the presence of chromium too. 

Measuring 6-7 on the Mohs hardness scale, this gemstone would be perfect for necklaces and bracelets, yet, unlike Emeralds, it is much softer meaning that it wouldn’t be suitable for engagement rings or wedding bands. 

Art Deco 15ct Gold Chrysoprase Cufflinks, Source - Lillicoco

Jade

Widely used in Asian art, Jade is an ornamental mineral known for its deep sea-green varieties. Ancient Chinese Jade relics have been unearthed and treasured, and in these cultures Jade has the same spiritual significance that Gold and Diamonds has in the west.

Jade’s gorgeous hue is due the presence of nephrite and jadeite. Yet the amount that these minerals occur will determine how expensive and valuable the Jade is. 

The amount of sculptural Jade objects is a testament to its apparent softness (6 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale). So, like Chrysoprase, Jade would be a suitable affordable may birthstone gift for earrings, necklaces and bracelets. 

French Art Deco Silver Jade Bracelet, Source - Lillicoco Sold

Malachite

Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide material that is opaque green in colour with banded minerals. The name Malachite itself comes from Greek molochites which is “mallow-green” stone. 

Malachite was extensively mined in Britain 3,800 years ago, being one of the oldest gemstones used for ancient Celtic jewellery. 

Malachite also has historic significance of being a protective gemstone, worn as a talisman to optimise a person’s health and aide them from lightning and contagious diseases. 

Victorian Malachite Silver Bracelet, Source - Lillicoco

Click here to see our glittering array of antique Emerald jewellery!