Human World

May birthstone is the emerald

May birthstone. Five green faceted gems, rectangular with the corners cut off (emerald cut).
An assortment of emeralds. This gorgeous green gemstone is the May birthstone. Image via Mauro Cateb/ Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Help! EarthSky needs your support to continue. Our yearly crowd-funding campaign is going on now. Donate here.

The May birthstone is the emerald

The emerald belongs to the beryl family of minerals. It also includes aquamarine (one of March’s birthstones), heliodor, and morganite. Beryl, or beryllium aluminum silicate in chemical jargon, is a six-sided symmetrical crystal. Additionally, Beryl contains beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen.

Emeralds vary in color from light to deep green. It’s commonly thought that an emerald’s color derives from the presence of chromium and/or vanadium replacing some of the aluminum in the mineral’s structure. However, the stone can lose its color when heated strongly.

Mineralogy of emeralds

Emeralds are most frequently found inside a form of shale – a fine-grained sedimentary rock. Emerald-bearing shale has undergone recrystallization caused by changes in the physical environment such as pressure and temperature. Colombia produces the largest and highest quality emeralds. Around 1830, they found and began mining emeralds in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Also, North Carolina – in the United States – is a source for emeralds. Around the world, they also occur in Zambia, Brazil, Pakistan, Norway, Austria, India, Madagascar, and Australia.

German chemists began making synthetic emeralds shortly before World War II. Then, growing synthetic stones of fine quality began in the United States in 1946. Also, there are excellent imitation emeralds on the market made of colored cut glass.

Columnar natural crystal, greener with inclusions at the bottom fading to near clear at the top.
A 5-carat emerald crystal. Image via Rob Lavinsky/ Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

History of emeralds

The emerald’s name derives from the Greek word “smaragdos,” a term applied to several kinds of green stones. Plus, knowledge of emeralds date back to antiquity. Royalty wore them in Babylon and Egypt. As a matter of fact, emerald mines of Egypt had tools dating back to 1300 B.C., during the reign of Ramesses II. Queen Cleopatra’s emeralds probably originated from mines in southern Egypt, near the Red Sea.

When the conquistadors first arrived in South America from Spain, they saw indigenous rulers wearing emeralds. Then they stole large quantities of emeralds from the Peruvians during the invasion. But they never discovered the source of the emeralds. Then in 1537, the Spaniards found Chivor in Colombia, now the location of an important emerald mine. They also took over the Muzo mine following the defeat of the Muzo Indians. Mining operations at Muzo have continued almost uninterrupted since the Spanish invasion. It is perhaps the most famous emerald mine in Colombia and produces the world’s best emeralds.

Lore of the green May birthstone

Several famous historical artifacts contain emeralds. Among them is the Crown of the Andes, made from emeralds worn by Atahualpa, the last Inca (king) of Peru. The crown is set with about 450 emeralds, collectively weighing 10 ounces (1523 carats).

There are many myths associated with the emerald. It’s believed to prevent epilepsy, stop bleeding, cure dysentery and fever, and protect the wearer from panic. Plus, its magnificent green color could rest and relieve the eye. Additionally, the ancient Romans, dedicated emeralds to the goddess Venus because the green emerald symbolized the reproductive forces of nature. Also, early Christians saw it as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Then in the Middle Ages, they thought emeralds had the power to foretell the future.

Find out about the birthstones for the other months of the year

January birthstone
February birthstone
March birthstone
April birthstone
May birthstone
June birthstone
July birthstone
August birthstone
September birthstone
October birthstone
November birthstone
December birthstone

Bottom line: For those born in May, the May birthstone is the emerald, a type of beryl colored green by chromium. Perfect emeralds are among the rarest of all gemstones.

May 1, 2023
Human World

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Editors of EarthSky

View All