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Emerald, The Birthstone of May

As the cold blue and white winter abates for the year, we start seeing new beginnings, new life, and new green leaves signifying the changing seasons. This is one reason for assigning emeralds to be the birthstone of May.


Example Gemstone Arrangement in the Breastplate

The historical connections of this go back to the Breastplate of Aaron from antiquity. This breastplate was made up of twelve gems in four rows of three. Due to the original text being thousands of years old and having been translated back and forth between various languages, the exact gems described can vary significantly between sources. An important note is that historically many similarly colored gems were referred to as the same gems, like peridot and emeralds, rubies and garnets, white sapphires and diamonds, and more. When scholars try to identify the specific gems in the breastplate by translation, this is the problem they all face.


Depiction of Breastplate

It is to be square – a span long and a span wide – and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be Carnelian, Chrysolite and Beryl; the second row shall be Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli and Emerald; the third row shall be Jacinth, Agate and Amethyst; the fourth row shall be Topaz, Onyx and Jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.

– Exodus 28:16-20

Issues with historical accuracy noted, the connection between the 12 zodiac signs, 12 months of the year, and the 12 gems in the breastplate was not noted until much later. No widespread popularity was found in this connection until the 18th century.

Official Birth Months

E549 | medium | right | “Emerald ID: E549 – Weight: 0.52 Carats – Origin: Zambia”An official list of birthstone gems was published in 1912 by the National Jewelers of America, though there are a variety of lists. Usually they are arranged based on color instead of by actual gemstone. Ironically, this is more accurate to the original idea of the source material than many translations.

Incidentally, natural emerald gems have a very distinctive green. Aside from the color itself, the gem material also reflects light in a soft, shimmery way. This makes emeralds pretty distinct looking to most gem dealers, though individuals unfamiliar with gems might not be able to pick up on the subtle differences. Historic gem cutters had to know the differences between these gems too, namely because they all need to be cut in different ways in order to look good and/or not fall apart on the grinding wheel. It would be big trouble if you destroy the extremely expensive gem of your wealthy patron.

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