art by Rachel Anderson

Spring is a time of new growth and rebirth. And the intense brilliant green of the Emerald, May’s birthstone, is as refreshing to the eyes as a spring garden after a rain. Within it’s depths are often tiny fractures or inclusions, which the French call "jardin," or garden, because of their resemblance to foliage. The Egyptians were known to engrave Emeralds with the symbol for foliage to represent eternal youth, and to bury these jewels with their dead. The ancient Romans associated this gemstone with fertility and rebirth, and dedicated it to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.

The Ancient Egyptians mined Emeralds in the eastern desert region 2,000 years before Cleopatra’s birth, braving extreme heat, scorpions and snakes to search for the beautiful crystals. During Cleopatra’s reign, she claimed the Emerald mines as her own, as this was her favorite gem. She often wore lavish Emerald jewelry, and it is said that she bestowed visiting dignitaries with large Emeralds carved with her likeness when they departed Egypt.

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish Conquistadors were amazed to find the native people wearing Emeralds larger and more magnificent than any they had ever seen. Although the natives attempted to hide their Emerald mines, the Spaniards soon discovered and conquered most of them. But it took twenty years before they found the abundant mining operation held by the Muzo Indians, and another thirty years to overtake this aggressive tribe. The Muzo mine was in the area known today as Colombia, and it remains the source of the most prized Emerald specimens. Other sources of Emeralds are Brazil, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Russia.

What exactly are Emeralds? The word Emerald is derived from the Greek word "Smaragdos" which means "green stone" reflecting the color of the emerald. It was believed that there was nothing in nature to equal its colour and brilliancy and it was an old Hebrew belief that if a serpent fixed its eye upon the lustre of this stone it would become blind. By weight the emerald is the most valuable gemstone in the world.

The Emerald held a very high place in the esteem of the people in ancient history. Some of the traditions connected with it are very curious. The belief that demons and griffins guard the emerald mines is said to be as strong amongst modern Peruvians as in the days of the Romans. Emeralds were known and esteemed in most remote times of the world's history. Emeralds have been found in ancient Egyptian and Etruscan tombs. Emeralds were frequently used in the decorations of sacred images.

The Romans believed that nothing evil could remain in the presence of this gem which discovered falsehood and treachery by changing colour and turning pale, and when powerless to avert misfortune would fall from its setting, giving rise to the belief that the falling of an emerald is a bad omen. Emeralds were considered very beneficial to the eyes, on which account it was worn as a seal ring and in connection with this Pliny states the following:

"If the sight hath been dimmed and wearied by intense poring upon anything, the beholding of this stone doth refresh and restore it again."

It is also recorded that the Emperor Nero, who was very short-sighted, used an emerald eye-glass to watch the gladiatorial contests.
The Incas possessed some wonderful Emeralds. One of their emeralds was described as being as large as the egg of an ostrich and was believed to be inhabited by Esmeralda, the chief goddess of Peru. When sacking the temples of Esmeralda the Spaniards discovered immense quantities of Emeralds, it being customary for her priests to obtain them by representing to the worshippers that these gems were esteemed by the goddess above all else, Emeralds being her own daughters.

The explorer Pizarro, in his conquest of Mexico, found numerous Emeralds of surpassing beauty; but d’Acosta, a contemporary writer, states that many of the finest stones were ruined by the Spanish soldiers, who, being informed by a priest that to test their genuineness they should be placed upon an anvil and struck with a hammer, followed these instructions with most disastrous results.

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