May's Birthstones – Emerald and Agate

There are four stones considered by ancient tradition to be the most precious; diamond, ruby, sapphire – and those born in May have the fourth for their birthstone: the beautiful Emerald! But that's not all – lucky people born in May have two birthstones, the emerald and the agate!

Tiffany & Co.'s Gregorian Birthstone Poem, published in 1870, has this to say about May's Emerald birthstone ...

"Who first beholds the light of day,

In spring’s sweet flowery month of May,

And wears an emerald all her life,

Shall be a loved and happy wife."

What is an Emerald?

An emerald is a form of Beryl, a gemstone family that also includes aquamarine and morganite. Pure beryl in its natural form is colourless, but the emerald variant gets its beautiful green colour from the presence of chromium. Only beryl with a rich deep colour is considered true emerald; pale green beryl is simply known as 'green beryl'.

Did you know: Emeralds are at least twenty times rarer than diamonds! The name Emerald comes from the Old French esmeralde, meaning green stone. Most emeralds today come from deposits in Africa and South America, where emeralds can grow quite big – up to 180,000 carats! To discover more about BIG emeralds, click here. Almost every emerald has flaws and inclusions, which makes them quite brittle. These inclusions are called jardin (French for garden) because of their branch-like appearance. The jardin doesn't detract from the value at all – in fact valuers look for these inclusions to prove the authenticity of the emerald. Most genuine emeralds will have been treated with oil or resin to fill these tiny fissures and improve its appearance.

The natural inclusions and brittle nature of emeralds is the reason why lapidaries developed the 'emerald cut'. The square or rectangular emerald cut can work with the elongated flaws in a way that improves the integrity of the stone and its appearance. Emeralds are more suited to low impact jewellery like earrings, pendants and brooches rather than rings that frequently get knocked. Note: Care should be taken when cleaning emeralds as chemicals and steam can strip out the oil and reveal the inclusions. If this happens to your emerald, don't panic – a trained jeweller can re-oil the stone to restore it to its former glory.

What is Agate?

There are lots of different forms of agate, so if you're not a fan of emerald green you're sure to find an agate in a colour more to your liking! Agate was the traditional birthstone for May back in the days of the ancient Romans and Greeks, when birthstones were generally assigned to the astrological sign rather than the month. Agates are a form of chalcedony, available in almost any colour, and often banded, striped or spotted. The name Agate is thought to have derived from the Achates River in Sicily, where it was first mined over 3000 years ago. The agate gemstones are beautiful when polished into cabochons for jewellery, but agates can be fairly large and are often sold in decorative slices for display. Unlike many crystal gemstones that form to a set chemical composition, every single agate is unique in its patterns and colouration. What do emeralds symbolise?

Emeralds symbolise good luck, wellbeing, renewal and hope. Green is associated with nature and growth, so emeralds also symbolise fertility and new life. If you want to ensure a happy home life, give a gift of emerald to your lover – emeralds symbolise faithfulness and domestic harmony!

What do agates symbolise?

Agates symbolise strength, balance and protection. It's a harmonious stone thought to bring peace and balance to stressful situations, and to encourage forgiveness.

Emerald healing powers* Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, claimed that wearing an emerald could prevent epilepsy.

Gazing into an emerald can soothe eyes and improve vision. In other cultures, emeralds were ground into a powder, which was then stirred into water and used to rinse eyes. In China, powdered emeralds are still used in traditional medicines.

Agate healing powers*

As a stone of protection, agates can assist in overcoming addictions and encourage healing, especially of disorders of the skin and digestive system.

Agates can also cure insomnia and relieve bad dreams. Pop one under your pillow!

*NOTE: Any medical 'advice' contained in these articles is not to be taken as proven. It is merely based on historic superstition and belief. If you are suffering any worrying symptoms, please seek the help of your doctor or trained medical professional before seeking the help of a gemstone!

Emerald superstitions and beliefs

In the middle ages it was believed that an emerald could change its hue to alert the wearer to impending danger, or an unfaithful lover. Emeralds are the stone of fidelity, and were the gemstone of Venus, the goddess of love and hope. Wearing emeralds can also improve memory, clarity of thought, and keep a lover true. It was once believed that holding an emerald in your mouth would give you the ability to see into the future.

Agate superstitions and beliefs Planting agate amongst your crops ensures a bountiful harvest.

Holding an agate in your hand can also ease the pain of childbirth. Agates can enhance creativity and increase courage – great for tricky situations where a little lateral thinking is required. Ancient warriors would adorn their armour in agate, believing it offered them strength, courage and protection.

Emeralds in history

Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, loved emeralds and is known to have worn them often. In fact, Egyptian royalty had prized emeralds for thousands of years before Cleopatra was even born, and believed emeralds held the key to eternal life.

Roman Emperor Nero, the one famous for fiddling while Rome burned, was said to have used a lens fashioned from emerald to see the gladiatorial battles better, triggering a new fashion trend amongst other high-born Romans. Romans also considered pale green beryl to be an unripe emerald, believing the colour would deepen as the emerald aged and ripened. Agates through history

Mithridates, ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus from 120 - 63 BCE (now part of modern day Turkey on the southern side of the Black Sea), is said to have had a collection of over 4000 agate bowls. During the Renaissance period in Europe (1300-1600 CE), collecting agate cups became a popular passtime. In Ancient China, agate gemstones were believed to be the brains of fossilised horses, or formed from pools of blood spilled in battle. Were you born in May?

If you are a May baby invest in, or request, a gift of emerald or other green crystal – green is your colour! As your birthstone, any magical or soothing properties will be enhanced for you, and remember, those born in May are compassionate, loyal, hard working and dedicated to their home and family. Does that sound like you?

Next week: "It's Our Birthday!" Celebrate with us as Alyssum Jewellery turns ten years old!

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