May's birthstone is the intense brilliant green emerald. Emerald is derived from the word smaragdus, meaning green in Greek. Within its depths are tiny fractures which the French call "jardin," or garden because of their resemblance to foliage. The ancient Romans associated this gemstone with fertility and rebirth, and dedicated it to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Emeralds were once used as amulets to ward off epilepsy in children and have also been thought to cure diseases of the eye. Folklore suggests that these stones will improve memory and intelligence. Pliny wrote, "nothing is more intense than the green of emerald, sight is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone." For this reason, Roman Emperor Nero watched the gladiators while gazing through glasses with emerald lenses.
The Ancient Egyptians mined emeralds in the eastern dessert region many 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 has been said that she gave visiting dignitaries gifts of large emeralds with an image of her likeness carved onto it.
The emerald is a member of the beryl family of minerals. The green crystals grow slowly within metamorphic rocks and are restricted in size by the rock, making large emeralds rare and costly. The rich green color of emerald is reminiscent of spring and has been prized by many cultures throughout history.
Today, most of the world's emeralds are mined in Columbia, Brazil, Afghanistan, and Zambia. The availability of high quality emerald is limited; consequently, treatments to improve clarity are performed regularly. The emerald is believed to grant the owner good fortune, foresight, and youth. Some people believe that the emerald brings wisdom, growth and patience; three traits essential to a long lasting relationship. This may explain why a gift of emerald for an Anniversary, or anytime, is considered symbolic of love and fidelity.