Birthstones are gems connected to a specific birth month, with each stone having a special significance. Birthstones have an amazing backstory and are still widely used by people of various cultures in different parts of the world.
Origins of Birthstone
The history of birthstones is not some carefully-written piece of history– as is the case with the history of most things in the jewelry industry. Therefore, depending on who you ask, there’s some disagreement on the details of how birthstones came about. The version of this history that jewelers most widely accept is divided into three phases that I discuss below.
Phase 1 – Associations With Jewish Priesthood
The earliest phase of birthstone history is where the most confusion and disagreement lies. However, it is commonly agreed that birthstone finds its root in Jewish history. It finds its inspiration from the twelve gemstones on the breastplate of Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.
Each of Aaron’s twelve gemstones had the names of one of the tribes of Israel inscribed on it. However, translation issues have led to disagreement over what some of the actual stones on the breastplate were.
The current list of stones you’ll find in the King James Version of the Bible are Sardius, Topaz, Carbuncle, Emerald, Sapphire, Diamond, Ligure, Agate, Amethyst, Beryl, Onyx, and Jasper. Another portion of the Bible calls these stones the covering of Eden; astrologers interpreted this as the heavens. As a result, they associated each stone with a sign in the zodiac.
Phase 2 – One Birthstone To Each Month
Initially, a person was supposed to have all twelve of the symbolic stones. They were supposed to wear each one on a particular month, amplifying the effects of the stone on the wearer. However, that idea evolved to the “one stone on your birth month” format that is now popular.
Though current experts disagree on the exact dates, the practice of wearing a single birthstone is not more than a few centuries old. The origin of this practice is from Eastern Europe, with some sources dating it to 18th-century Poland and others as far as 16th-century Germany.
The stones on the breastplate had nothing to do with the list of birthstones that people now used. The disconnection from their historical roots was due to tastes, habits, and unclear translations.
The earliest written source of a birthstone for each month of the Gregorian calendar was published by Tifanny & Co in 1870. However, releasing a poem about gemstones written by an “unknown author” and published by a luxury jeweler seems like a marketing stunt.
Phase 3 – Standardization And Further Adjustments
The (American) National Association of Jewelers (now known as Jewelers of America) convened in Kansas in 1912 to unify birthstones and formally establish a list. There have been further modifications to this list, most notably by the UK’s National Associations of Goldsmiths in 2013 and the Gemological Institute of America in 2019.
Jewelers Associations made these amendments to make some of the birthstones more flexible. This need for more flexibility resulted from people seeing birthstones more as fashion accessories than for the spiritual reasons they originally had. As a result, there were people whose months of birth had birthstones that they didn’t like.
Some months added new stones to allow more flexibility in the choice of birthstones. Also, the jewelers were strategic in adding stones that came in multiple colors so that people could choose what color of that gemstone they wanted. For example, August, which had peridot as its major birthstone, added spinel, a stone that came in various colors.
Birthstones And Their Meanings
Beyond being beautiful stones attached to a particular month, each birthstone symbolizes something interesting. Below is a look at each of these birthstones and what they signify.
January Birthstone — Garnet
The name garnet is derived from the Latin word meaning pomegranate seed, and most of them come in the traditional dark red color they’re known for. Garnets do, however, come in every color but blue.
Garnets have been notably discovered in Greece, Madagascar, the US, and Russia. Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs donned garnet necklaces because they thought they symbolized life and were even entombed with them. Roman citizens often carved signet rings made of garnet to stamp vital documents.
It is believed that if you wear garnet and do good things, more good things will come your way. However, if you misbehave while wearing a garnet, horrible things will happen to you. Garnets are customary for the second wedding anniversary and represent deep friendship, mainly when offered as a gift.
February Birthstone — Amethyst
Amethyst is a gemstone that ranges from pale lavender to a deep, dark purple. The word “amethyst” derives from the Greek word “methustos,” which means drunk. According to ancient Greek belief, wearing amethyst would shield you from the wine deity Bacchus. In other words, it would stop people from getting wasted.
Although people have used amethyst for thousands of years, it was almost exclusive to royalty and clergy for two reasons. First, the color purple has always been associated with royalty. Also, amethyst was extremely scarce and expensive until the late 1800s, when miners found a sizable deposit in Brazil.
Amethyst is associated in many civilizations with tranquility, bravery, and stability. Tibetan prayer beads frequently contain amethysts, which Buddhists believe improve meditation.
March Birthstone — Aquamarine, And Bloodstone
March has aquamarine and bloodstone as its two birthstone options. The name “aquamarine” is derived from two Latin words– “aqua,” meaning water, and “marine,” meaning the see. The stone has that distinctive sea blue color and occasionally a blue-green tint.
According to legend, aquamarine increases a person’s intelligence, friendliness, and unconquerability. Although soldiers frequently wore it in war, people also believed it would be helpful in court or disputes. Supposedly enhancing intuition, aquamarines were also used to create several crystal balls.
On the other hand, there’s bloodstone which is jasper with a dark, earthy green color and either spots or streaks of red in it. Since bloodstone is made of jasper, it can be cut thinly, giving it a variety of purposes.
The bloodstone has also been associated with treating blood problems and aiding in blood coagulation throughout history; as a result, the Babylonians wore them as amulets. And to treat blood diseases, they would use it to touch the body. And when they were injured in combat, the Romans and other ancient warriors would carry it into battle to treat their wounds.
April Birthstone — Diamond
April has a single birthstone, but who needs anything else to add when you have arguably the most coveted gemstone today. Diamonds are created extremely deep in the earth due to carbon being put under intense pressure and heat. These stones are then propelled upward and closer to the earth’s surface in a volcano.
Diamond is the hardest naturally-occurring substance on earth and scores a perfect ten on the Mohs scale. This hardness makes it almost impossible to scratch a diamond with any other material. The name “diamond” is from the Greek word “adamas,” meaning “invincible” or “indestructible.”
The ancient Greeks thought diamonds were formed from the tears of crying gods. This gemstone has represented strength in different cultures of the world. Also, people use diamonds to signify their 60th anniversary.
The only issue people born in April would have with their birthstone is its cost. However, synthetic diamonds are an option that many can turn to as a cost-efficient alternative to naturally-mined ones.
May Birthstone — Emerald
Emerald is a green beryl stone, and it can range in hue from a sort of light grassland green to dark grassy green. Darker emeralds are more popular than lighter ones. As a result, light-colored emeralds are heated or boiled in oil to give them a darker shade.
The stone’s name comes from the ancient Greek word for green, “smaragdus,” and is a very fragile stone. The reason emeralds are so weak is because of the many inclusions they contain; therefore, using them on jewelry such as rings is not a great idea.
Egypt had the first known emerald mines, and Cleopatra– coveted emeralds– gathered them and had a sizable collection. Many Ancient Egyptians were buried with them to carry them into the afterlife since they were supposed to symbolize eternal youth. The Incas likewise revered emeralds; they donned them, and many of the emeralds used today still originate in South America.
June Birthstone — Alexandrite, Moonstone, And Pearl
The mineral known as alexandrite was initially found in Russia in 1830. The name of the stone is a tribute to Czar Alexander the Second of Russia. One notable feature of alexandrite is how it changes hue– it appears green during the day and more crimson or purple at night or under incandescent lighting.
Red and green were also the colors of the Russian military uniforms throughout the Czarist era, and alexandrite became the nation’s stone. They make lovely engagement rings since they are linked to love and passion.
Secondly, you can wear the moonstone, which comes in creamy, white, yellow, and peachy-like shades. However, the most sought-after color is blue.
Moonstones are also linked to the moon in many civilizations due to their stunning brilliance. Moonstones were connected to the moon goddesses Celine and Luna in ancient Greece and Rome. Moonstones bring luck and enable you to view your future, mainly when held on your tongue during a full moon.
Finally, there is pearl, which, despite being referred to as a birthstone, is not a mineral or a gemstone. However, it forms when an irritant enters a mollusk, such as an oyster or a clam. The mollusk produces nacre around it to make the nuisance smoother and less irritating, which becomes a pearl.
On the Mohs scale, pearl measures 2.5, making them very vulnerable to abrasion and scratches. Pearls are frequently linked to the moon due to their spherical form and brightness. They are also seen as a sign of modesty, chastity, and purity because they are inherently less dazzling than gemstones.
July Birthstone — Ruby
Ruby is a red variety of corundum; any other shade of this stone is known as a sapphire. It’s not entirely obvious when a ruby turns into a pink sapphire; the exact moment is up for debate. Pigeon rubies, described as dark red with a tinge of blue, are the most desired and expensive type of ruby.
The name ruby originates in the Latin word “rubens,” which means red. The ruby was often regarded as “the king of precious stones” in Sanskrit. Giving rubies to the Hindu god Krishna, according to the ancient Hindus, would guarantee your reincarnation as an emperor.
Because rubies stand for strength and protection, ancient warriors frequently carried rubies into combat.
August Birthstone — Peridot, Sardonyx, And Spinel
Bright green peridot resembles yellow-green olivine. Throughout history, people have unknowingly mined and loved peridot. The reason for this inadvertent love of the gem is its resemblance to emeralds. Most notably, several of Cleopatra’s emerald collections and the 200-carat jewels of the Three Holy Kings’ shrine in Cologne Cathedral contained peridot.
Peridot was particularly potent when set in gold and was thought to dispel enchantments. If you have peridot dreams, you should exercise caution for a while. It is believed to heal mental scars and prevent heartache.
Sardonyx is the second August birthstone, a fascinating stone made of layers of white onyx and sard. The appearance of the sardonyx can be either linear or somewhat wavy. However, it is a stone that fluctuates between shades of white and reddish-brown.
Sardonyx brings bravery, joy, and effective communication to marriage and partnerships.
There’s spinel, which comes from the Latin word “spina” or thorn because spinel is often found as very sharp crystals. It occurs in various colors, including lavender, orange, blue, pink, red, and pink. The most sought-after and most expensive spinel is thought to be red and blue.
It has been used in jewelry since its beginning, yet it was frequently mistaken for sapphires and rubies. Spinel thus spent a significant portion of its existence in relative obscurity. However, this would be the perfect birthstone for you if you want something unique.
September Birthstone — Sapphire
Sapphires are available in practically every color of the rainbow, apart from red. The sapphires with better clarity are typically faceted, with a diamond-like cut and resemble the well-known traditional jewel.
Sapphires are excellent for bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and other types of jewelry. They bring insight, assurance, intuition, and enlightenment, which is why numerous royals and clerics have adorned themselves with sapphires over the years.
October Birthstone — Opal, And Tourmaline
Opals are incredibly delicate stones, scoring between 1.98 and 2.25 on the Mohs scale. Opals can be made stronger by cutting them into pieces and supporting them with a harder stone. You can add a third transparent layer to make the opal a triplet.
One of the myths states that wearing an opal can be unlucky unless you were born in October, so you should avoid doing so. And there has always been a tug-of-war between those who believe it to be good luck and others who believe it to be terrible luck. Medieval Europeans thought it symbolized evil because it resembled the eyes of animals they believed to be malevolent.
Tourmalines come in various stunning hues and can even be found as tricolor and bicolor stones. A tourmaline’s ability to imitate other stones makes it interesting; for instance, the blues can sometimes be so stunningly blue that they resemble sapphires. The reds are known as rubelites and frequently mimic rubies.
Empress Tz’u Hsi of China was arguably the world’s biggest tourmaline enthusiast. She controlled China from 1860 to 1908. She had a deep affection for tourmalines, especially pink tourmalines, which she gathered from all over the world.
November Birthstone — Citrine, And Topaz
The birthstone for November was originally topaz, but citrine was later introduced as a second choice. Topaz is available in various hues, from colorless to blues, greens, and browns. Imperial topaz is uncommon and comes in red, pink, or pinky-orange.
The ancient Greeks thought that topaz and the topaz jewelry they wore gave them power. Additionally, topaz was believed to be able to break spells in ancient Europe.
Citrine is a type of quartz found in many hues, from a sort of autumnal orange to a darker orange. Amethyst and citrine are frequently found together in the same rock, in their original natural form. Additionally, you can see them in a stone that is partially yellow and partially purple; that is referred to as an ametrine.
The ancient Romans and Greeks adored citrine. The Success Stone was its Chinese name. Queen Victoria loved citrine, and many Scottish kilts and the brooches that once held them and still do today are set with the gemstone.
December Birthstone — Tanzanite, Zircon, And Turquoise
Zircon is believed to be a billion years older than diamond. There are numerous hues available for zircon, including blue, gray, purple, pink, orange, and red. The shade you’ll most frequently see in jewelry stores is blue, created by heating the material.
Zircon was thought to enhance sleep, lessen nightmares, foster honor, and intelligence, and ward off evil spirits during the middle ages.
Turquoise is thought to be the earliest stone ever mined for jewelry. Turquoise is available in various hues, including a blue-green heading toward green, a brighter blue, and even a robin’s egg blue. Even while fine grades of turquoise can be costly, there are less expensive versions with veining or in additional hues.
The Aztecs, Persians, and Egyptians held turquoise in high regard. The Egyptians used it to decorate Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The tanzanite is the final birthstone for December
In addition, the tanzanite is a relatively recent addition to both the world and the world of birthstones. In 1967, tanzanite was found in Tanzania; at first, geologists believed that sapphire had been found. But after realizing it was a different stone, Tiffany obtained the rights to sell it globally and called it tanzanite.
Tanzanite comes out of the ground in a sort of a brownish color. When treated, it brings that dark blue purplish color with red flashes that we’re all so familiar with. Due to its recent discovery, tanzanite does not have much history, and there are no tales of anyone in antiquity adoring this stone. However, it is a beautiful stone, and you can be a part of those who write it.
Why Do People Wear Birthstones?
People wear birthstones for different reasons; firstly, they might want to harness the properties of the stone. People who cling firmly to what each stone represents might desire some traits of the stone and wear the birthstone for that reason. Also, some people associate a birthstone with their zodiac signs.
For others, birthstones are a fashion trend for which they’ve seen lots of marketing, and they want to be a part of the move. These people are more attracted to the look of the stone than any deeper meanings it might have.
How To Wear Your Birthstone
Birthstones can be worn as part of your jewelry in various ways. First, you can wear them as the stones on your ring; however, this is only a good idea for stones that are not fragile. Stones like opal and emerald can easily break if you use them on rings.
Alternatively, you can use them as pendants or attach them to necklaces. Wearing your birthstone in this manner would make it less likely to break. Also, it’ll highlight the stone more as it’s in a more visible body part.
Finally, you can use them on bracelets. Many people who use birthstones for spiritual reasons prefer to wear them as bracelets. They believe that the stone having direct contact with the skin is essential to fully harnessing its powers.