STARSTONE: Emerald for May

April 22, 2022

The May birthstone is Emerald, casting a green glow over the signs of Taurus (April 20–May 20) and early Gemini. This green gem also is used to celebrate the 20th, 35th and 55th wedding anniversaries.

The Emerald City is where Dorothy and her traveling companions met the Wizard who made every wish come true. But the familiar yarn of the Kansas farm girl caught in the twister is not the first time the Emerald has been the subject of fantasy and myth.

Emerald is considered to be one of the four stones given to King Solomon, granting him power over all creation. In ancient times, placing an Emerald under the tongue was believed to guarantee truthful speech and even prophecy. Emeralds were also associated with improved vision, and were used to treat eye inflammation.

An especially fetching expression of this is the pair of Mughal-era, Emerald-lensed spectacles which were appraised at Sotheby’s auction house in 2021 at a value between $2 million and $3.4 million USD. The tear-drop shaped Emerald lenses were cut from a single Colombian stone estimated to have weighed 300 carats. Green in particular is linked to the ever-verdant garden of paradise, salvation and eternal life in Islamic practice, giving the wearer a decidedly optimistic outlook.

In January, 2022, rapper Pharrell Williams created a sensation at the Kenzo fashion show in Paris by wearing a custom pair of replica Emerald-and-Diamond sunglasses that he designed in collaboration with Tiffany & Company, modeled after the Mughal originals.

Williams is in good company. In addition to the Mughal rulers who might have peered at the world through Emerald lenses, Pliny the Elder recounts the Roman Emperor Nero watching the gladiatorial contests while wearing a pair.

For centuries, ancient people around the globe revered the gem for its magical abilities, notably as a cure for cholera and malaria. These diseases posed a deadly threat in the New World, so it’s no wonder that the legendary Crown of the Andes features a large central Emerald stolen by conquistador Francisco Pizarro from the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa.

By the mid-1600s, the Spanish battled the Dutch and other gold-digging Europeans for access to tons of precious metal and uncut, untaxable Emeralds. In their greed and haste, colonials often overfreighted their ships, making then unstable at sea. For example, in September, 1622, a massive galleon named The Nuestra Señora de Atocha, loaded with 40 tons of looted treasure, sailed into a hurricane and was smashed against a reef in the Florida keys, where it sank into the depths.

The wreck, with all of its stolen splendor, lay on the ocean floor until 1985. After more than three and a half-centuries, the Atocha finally surrendered her riches, including an Emerald and 24-karat yellow gold rosary, 255,000 silver coins, 964 silver bars, 161 gold bars, and fistfuls of rough Colombian Emeralds. Today, top-quality Emeralds can be worth more than Diamonds on a per-carat basis.

Global piracy of the Americas sent Colombian Emeralds into the rapidly expanding world market. One of the largest Emeralds known is the Mogul Mughal, mined in Colombia, arduousky transported across the Atlantic, and finally sold in India where the greenest of gems was beloved by rulers of the Mughal Empire.

 

Dated from around 1695, the rectangular-cut stone weighs in at 217.80 carats and is inscribed with sinuous Naskh Arabic script, as well as a stylized poppy design on the reverse. It bears mention that opium, then called “the milk of Paradise,” was enjoyed by the elite of the Persian and Mughal Empires. When the silk and spice routes brought the plump, oozing, scored poppy pods to Venice, Florence and beyond, Europeans quickly followed suit, believing that opium derivatives including laudanum could treat and cure the Bubonic Plague.

 

Cleopatra famously loved Emeralds, although newer research suggests that the green stones so beloved by the Queen of the Nile were in fact Peridot, based upon where the gems were discovered.

 

The Emerald’s links to antiquity inspire modern designers, including Boulder, CO jewelry artist @margeryhirschey, to create the contemporary pieces, notably 22 karat gold-and-Emerald earrings, that she calls #modernrelic:

@margeryhirschey

Emeralds are known for their inclusions, meaning the presence of other minerals that became embedded in the gem as it formed. While thread-like inclusions are technically considered flaws, gemologists and collectors acknowledge that inclusions actually are a mark of authenticity, and only rarely diminish the value of the gem. In fact, these inner structures are often called jardin, meaning garden, since they often resemble leaves and foliage.

The inclusions may also be called fissures and feathers, and sometimes contain liquid and gas bubbles, causing the stone to potentially be prone to fractures. Calcite, pyrite and oxides are often the cause of inclusions in Emeralds, making this coveted stone rather fragile in spite of its sturdy ranking of 7.5 – 8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. This fact concerning the anatomy of an Emerald contributes significantly to its cost: the potential risk of chipping and fracturing make the stone challenging to cut, and to set into jewelry.

@margeryhirschey

Chromium and/or vanadium are the minerals that give Emeralds their vivid color. Beginning in 1976, Zambia Emeralds entered the world market. Iron present while the African gems were forming give these stones a more blue cast than their counterparts from Colombia, which are prized for what might be called a Kelly Green shade. A definite plus: African Emeralds tend to have fewer inclusions than their Colombian cousins, making them a sparkling, more transparent, and more affordable alternative when shopping for a May birthstone.

Queen Victoria’s birthstone was Emerald, and the Emerald ring given to her by Prince Albert in 1840 is considered the first official engagement ring. Surprisingly, the ring is in the form of a serpent , set with a large Colombian Emerald. The ring is likely of Asian origin, given that in China and India, the latter of course being a Victorian Conquest for the Crown, Emeralds were believed toward off attacks by snakes (and even grumpy dragons).

 

Which brings us to Taurus, the full-bodied, hot-blooded Earth sign linked with the month of May. Ruled by pleasure-planet Venus, grounded in the most stable of the four elements, it’s not difficult to imagine Taurus as a Moghul ruler of antiquity, blissfully chewing on an opium-infused sweetmeat while fountains and rose-gardens sweeten the balmy air.

Taurus is a big eater, which makes perfect sense since Taurus rules the mouth and throat.  This sign also has a tendency to be chatty, especially when stressed (which is often), earning her the rep of motor-mouth.  The bull tends to be a heavy cell phone user, always texting and talking. Silence is  difficult for her to bear. No wonder she always has an opinion!

Taurus epitomizes sensuality and tremendous appetite for all of the pleasures of the body, happy to spend days rolling around in clean sheets (especially if someone else is on laundry-duty), napping, noshing, and ringing up room service for more nachos, milkshakes, and clean towels.

Her comfort is paramount. As with all Earth signs (Virgo and Capricorn are the others), Taurus resists change and can really dig in all four hooves in an attempt to keep things as they are. And when Taurus is challenged or defied, the exchange turns into a full-blown confrontation as the bull sees red. ¡Ole, Toro!

But what she craves most: not s’mores, brownies, not fudge, not apple-cider donuts, but heaps of peer-validation. Taurus does not tolerate disagreement well, so when in doubt (for instance, when you just want to go to sleep), tell her she’s right.

With these tendencies in mind, Emerald can be helpful in helping Taurus verbalize her feelings (instead of head-butting everything in sight), and as a talisman that teaches bulls and others much-needed patience. Although stolid, Taureans, especially women, are often whipsawed by conflicting emotions, a state which often leads Taurus to indulge in midnight buttered-toast binges, late-night Etsy splurges, tipsy ex-sexting, and other indulgences she’ll regret the morning after.

Indian and Persian design proved irresistible to the designers at Cartier, who integrated South Asian into the design of this Art Deco Emerald ring.

Speaking of the morning after, that’s when Venus, the bull’s ruling planet, is visible on the horizon. While birthdays are often a time of reckoning for any sign, this is especially true for Taurus. Spring is here, and more often than not, Taurus is having trouble squeezing into her spring frocks, antagonizing her oft-bruised self-esteem. Wearing an Emerald is a powerful personal amulet in this sort of circumstance, helping the wearer to cherish her own value on the deepest level—a little extra junk in the trunk be damned.

For the Taurus seeking romance this spring, wearing an Emerald, or several, is a reasonable strategy. The healing aspect of this green gem can be useful in taming the bull’s violent temper. Taurus tends to see the world in binary terms: good or bad, friend or foe. This rather narrow perception—again, typical of stubborn, stalwart Earth people—can naturally lead to interpersonal friction.

Taurus has a tendency to hoard, both in literal terms and metaphorically. Because she’s so in touch with her body, Taurus often is a compulsive shopper who rationalizes snapping up luxury goods whenever an opportunity presents itself. Her closets and pantries are stacked with indulgences. She’ll be the last person on earth to have a cedar chest.

Likewise, Taurus tends to “stuff” uncomfortable feelings, often accompanied by thousands of bonus calories. Other evidence: Taurus is often possessive and insecure, and this leads to jealousy—one shade of green that flatters no one. In the case of Taurus, jealousy and competitiveness will often manifest in the form of constant comparisons, criticism, gossip and unwelcome personal advice. Particularly if a Taurean has never been married, she needs to refrain from spouting her opinions about the spouses and relationships of others.

And, remember that Emeralds are the color of money (at least in the USA). Being the ultimate Material Girl, Taurus rules the realm of cash (as well as cashmere, angora, chocolate, and all things yummy). The sign’s hedonistic streak—the Bull is not a fan of ascetic self-deprivation—may lead to over-extending and over-spending.  The cooling, balancing power of an Emerald may be utilized to produce a form a satiety in insatiable Taurus, instilling the realization that today is enough, you are enough, and there is no need for excess.

Here’s the tremendous irony of Taurus: underneath all of that brawn and snorting and turf-pawing, Taurus just wants to be loved, and she loved to be babied and cuddled and fussed over, especially when she gets the sniffles (this is frequent, her stress-response). She is surprisingly sensitive in spite of her bossy demeanor. Like her birthstone, and with props to Bob Dylan, she breaks just like a little girl.

Second only to the ultimate baleboosteh (homemaker), Cancer, Taurus rules the roost. Her bed and kitchen are the heart of her home, and languorous snoozing (on the hihgest thread-count sheets) and lavish munching are the highlights of her day. She’s a homebody who imagines herself to be a world traveler– but travelling is so uncomfortable, compared to evenings on the couch.  She often claims in frustration that she wants more excitement, adventure, and romance, yearning for dance-parties and wild times.  Yet in new social situations, she’s awkward and tongue-tied, since deep-down she simply lacks confidence.

Taurus often clings to grandiose notions of herself and her immediate family which are far estranged from reality. She tends to idolize older sublings and grandmothers especially, relishing the notion of herself as “the kid.” Taurus is, in fact, in danger of being delusional, her fantasy-self conflicting with her pragmatic, Earth-sign programming. At its most extreme, this tendency takes on a “Grey Gardens” or desperate, Blanche DuBois-like sensibility in Taurus, who may actually believe that a rando’s cat-call on the street or dick-pic on her phone (she’s generous about sharing her digits) will lead to true love.

The best approach when celebrating a Taurus birthday: don’t skimp (think of the treasures of The Nuestra Señora de Atocha!). Invite everyone she knows and tell them that gifts are NOT optional. Send flowers (note: must be fragrant, tuberose being a favorite). Rent a sailboat for the day and serve her breakfast and mimosas on-deck.  Although Taurus is an elemental Earth sign, her planet, Venus, is linked with the sea-foam (think: Aphrodite), so Taurus often loves the hypnotic pounding of the waves, and basking on the beach.

This year, go for the biggest Emerald in the case, the tallest, fluffiest birthday cake in the shop, the most extravagant requests on her list. Worth noting: Taurus never hesitates to spend other people’s money. By surrounding her with material reassurances, you’re inviting Taurus to step out of the bullring and into becoming the most open and joyful version of herself.

 

@margeryhirschey

And after the May 20, an entirely different energy blows into the calendar: Mercurial Gemini, quicksilver creature of the Air. So different from Taurus, who stands rooted in her being like a mighty oak, Gemini has more in common with the Northern Lights, or a falling star.

See you in June!

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Photo: Margery Hirschey earrings images kindly provided by the artist. All other images courtesy of Unsplash, Pexels, and Wikimedia Commons

Victoria Thomas
Victoria Thomas is always at the crossroads, like Robert Johnson. She writes about intersections of culture and history and what these crossings mean, in a desire to understand human behavior and help the world awaken to our collective potential for joy. Read her arts writing under the heading “the Sublime” @www.soolip.com.

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