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Emeralds, the May Birthstone

Emerald Facts and Folklore

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Emerald in tweezers, studio shot
Don Farrall / Photodisc / Getty Images
Emeralds are green members of the popular beryl family of minerals. The green color occurs when pure, clear beryl contains either chromium or vanadium.

Prized since ancient times, a fine emerald can be more expensive than a high quality diamond of the same carat weight.

Beryl occurs in many other colors, with shades dependent on the impurities that Mother Nature has mixed into its otherwise clear formula. Blue beryl is known as aquamarine. Pink shades of beryl are known as Morganite. Yellows are often simply called yellow beryl and golden beryl. The term bixbite refers to red beryl, a variation that's even more rare than emerald.

About Emeralds

  • Emerald hardness ranges from 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale. Compare turquoise at 5 to 6 and diamonds, the hardest substance, at 10. Even though emeralds are relatively hard stones, the presence of cracks and inclusions in emeralds can affect their durability.

  • Emerald is the May birthstone and the traditional gift for the 55th wedding anniversary.

  • Colombian emeralds are among the world's most beautiful, with rich grass-green coloring that's often kissed with a touch of blue. Quality emeralds are also found in India, South Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and Zimbabwe. Recent finds in North Carolina may provide us with quality emeralds if the mine continues to produce stones.

Emerald History and Folklore

  • Emeralds are traditionally thought to enhance the clairvoyance of their wearers.

  • Egyptian emeralds were introduced to the world about 4,000 years ago, but the stones from those mines are a duller green and are not considered high quality by today's standards.

  • Mummies were often buried with emeralds and the gems were popular in ancient Rome, but some think that many of the stones called emeralds in ancient times were actually peridot.

  • Traditionally, emeralds are worn to promote healing and enhance love and contentment.

Common Emerald Treatments

Most emeralds are treated to enhance their appearance. Even though treatments are common and accepted, they should be disclosed to buyers.

  • Nearly all emeralds are treated with oils or epoxy resins to fill-in surface cracks, making the cracks less visible and improving transparency.

  • Some coating oils are clear, some are tinted green to make the emeralds more vivid.

Most jewelers tell us to avoid cleaning emeralds with ultra-sonic devices, because that process can remove coatings.

When It's Too Good To Be True

When high-demand gemstones are scarce and costly, humans attempt to create products that look like the real thing. Emeralds are just one gemstone that can be grown in a lab.

The way synthetic emeralds are grown has changed, but they have been produced for many years. Some of the stones even have inclusions that make them look natural. True synthetic gems have the same chemical characteristics as their natural counterparts, but a reputable jeweler will disclose that a gem is lab-grown. Always ask if gemstones are created or natural, and if you are buying an expensive gemstone have it checked by a testing lab.

You'll run across fake or composite emeralds. A composite is a smaller piece of a desirable, genuine stone that's been combined with a larger chunk of an inexpensive or imitation gemstone. It's often difficult to detect these stones without magnification... More About Composite Gems and Other Deceptions

What you think is an emerald might be a fake made of glass or another material. Glass and other materials are sometimes used to mimic an emerald.

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