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Birthstone of May--Emerald






From Egyptian pharaohs to Inca emperors, emerald has enchanted royalty. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald and used it in her royal adornments. The legendary Crown of the Andes, fashioned in colonial South America, is one example of how the Spanish revered the May birthstone. According to lore, its largest stone—now called the Atahualpa emerald—was taken from the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, by conquistador Francisco Pizarro. The emerald and gold treasures recovered from the sunken 17th century Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha represent a small fraction of the colonial riches sent to Spain from the New World.

The Crown of the Andes boasts the May birthstone with a 24 carat emerald center stone and 442 additional emeralds set in the intricately crafted golden headpiece.
The Crown of the Andes boasts an impressive 24 ct emerald center stone and 442 additional emeralds set in the intricately crafted golden headpiece. Photo: the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The May birthstone is the focal point of a gold rosary necklace with a cross made of seven emeralds, recovered from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck.
An emerald cross and gold rosary recovered from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck.Courtesy: Eileen Weatherbee. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA

The word “emerald” comes from smaragdos, ancient Greek for a green gem. Roman author Pliny the Elder, who died in the 79 CE eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, wrote in his encyclopedic Natural History that “nothing greens greener.” He also stated that the May birthstone had therapeutic properties that helped gem cutters: “(they) have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude.” Science now proves this belief: The color green relieves stress and eye strain.

The green birthstone was also thought to have magical powers. By placing it under the tongue, one could see into the future. Some believed it made one an eloquent speaker and exposed lovers who made false promises.


Colombia has been the source of the finest emeralds for more than 500 years, and Colombian emeralds are the standard by which all others are measured. Three mining sites in Colombia are particularly noteworthy: Muzo, Chivor and Coscuez. Each locality produces a range of colors but, generally speaking, darker tones of pure green emeralds come from Muzo. Emeralds that are lighter in tone and slightly bluish green are associated with Chivor. Slightly yellowish green emeralds are unearthed in Coscuez.

The May birthstone, emerald, is found in the landscape of the lush green Andes Mountains towering over the deep tropical valleys around Muzo.
The lush green Andes Mountains tower over the deep tropical valleys around Muzo. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA

The May birthstone is also found in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. One of the most productive sites for the green birthstone is the sophisticated Belmont mine. Capoeirana is another important locality, a rugged region worked largely by independent miners and small-scale operations.

Miner holding a rough emerald at the Capoeirana mining area where the May birthstone is found.
An independent miner at the Capoeirana mining area holds a rough emerald. Photo: Eric Welch/GIA

The May birthstone can also be found in Africa. Zambia is a major source, and mines in the Ndola Rural Restricted Area are known for producing emeralds that are bluish green and darker in tone. Pakistan and Afghanistan are important producers as well.


Emerald is a 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is more susceptible to scratching than a diamond, which ranks 10 on the scale. The May birthstone is often treated to improve its color or clarity. Common treatment methods include:

1. Dyeing: Paler emeralds with multiple fractures may be dyed green to enhance their color.
2. Fracture Filling: Oils, waxes, and artificial resins are often used to fill surface-reaching fractures in emeralds. The goal is to reduce the visibility of the fractures and improve the apparent clarity. The volume of filler material present can range from minor to significant; the different substances have varying degrees of stability.

The emerald birthstone requires some special care: Avoid exposure to heat, changes in air pressure (such as in an airline cabin) and harsh chemicals. Never put an emerald in an ultrasonic cleaner, as the vibrations and heat can cause the filler to sweat out of fractures. Filled emeralds can also be damaged by exposure to hot water used for washing dishes. The safest way to clean emeralds is to gently scrub them with a soft brush and warm, soapy water.

 3.69 carat emerald ring flanked by six diamonds shows off the May birthstone.
The beauty of emerald is seen in this 3.69 ct stone flanked by six diamonds. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA. Courtesy: Ismael Daoud

The May birthstone is perfectly suited to the celebration of life blooming everywhere. Given the rich green hues of emerald, it was inevitable that we would fall under its spell. Productive mines around the world ensure that all who love green or are born in May will continue to be enchanted. Now you can treat yourself – or a loved one – to an emerald that captures the exuberance of the season.