Birthstones are gems that symbolise the different months of the year. The birthstone list tells us which gem is traditionally associated with the month of our birth. Each birthstone has a distinctive beauty, magic and tradition that reach into many religions and cultures.
The Babylonians believed that the lustre and colour of certain gemstones brought luck and healing powers. The Hindu Vedic system matched particular gemstones to nine key planets; the gems were chosen on the basis on their properties in relation to nature and the Earth. Twelve gemstones had key significance in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Exodus 39 in the Old Testament describes the gems that adorned the breastplate of the high priest Aaron, brother of Moses. These initially represented the 12 tribes of Israel, but various traditions developed to attribute a gemstone to each month of the year. Over the millennia different birthstone lists emerged. In 1912 these were consolidated into one list by the American National Association of Jewellers.
WHAT BIRTHSTONES ARE FOR WHICH MONTH?
Here is the American National Association of Jewellers birthstone list:
January birthstone – Garnet
The deep red colour of the garnet was first alluring to the Ancient Egyptians, who used this gem in their jewellery. The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin, ‘granatus’, meaning ‘grain’. Many garnet deposits are small grains of red crystals in their host rock.
February birthstone – Amethyst
Some of the finest examples of this purple-blue gemstone come from Russia and Siberia. The Greek word ‘amethystos’ means ‘not drunken’. The Ancient Greeks believed that amethyst wine goblets prevented inebriation. Similarly, the gem was linked with clear-headedness. Soldiers in the Middle Ages carried amethyst amulets, believing that this would protect and heal them and keep them cool-headed.
March birthstone – Aquamarine
Aquamarine is from the Latin phrase for ‘water of the sea’, and the blue-green hue resembles the waters of the Mediterranean. Aquamarine gemstones and emeralds are both varieties of the mineral, beryl. And yet aquamarines are much tougher than emeralds.
April birthstone – Diamond
Since ancient times diamonds have been treasured for their brilliance and lustre. The more they lack colour, the more highly they are prized. Their association with love and eternity owes much to their durability – diamonds are the hardest natural substance on Earth.
May birthstone – Emerald
The green of the emerald is reminiscent of fertility and the jungles of Columbia, which produces some of the finest specimens. The Incas were among the early South American civilisations that prized high-quality emeralds. Emeralds always have a perfect six-sided crystal structure.
June birthstone – Pearl
Gem-quality pearls are always iridescent but come in colours from white, cream, pink, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple or black. Before the advent of cultured pearls in the early twentieth century, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very rich. They were known as the ‘Queen of Gems’.
July birthstone – Ruby
The deep vivid red or slightly purple-red ruby is rare and very valuable. Rubies are very tough. They are associated with passion and were thought to promote health and courage. Some of the finest are mined in Burma, while some come from Thailand.
August birthstone – Peridot
This gemstone, formed in volcanic fire, comes in shades from lovely apple green to olive green. As early as 1500 BC the Egyptians mined peridots, calling them ‘gems of the sun’ and believing that they had the power to ward off anxiety, enhance speech, and ensure success in relationships and marriage.
September birthstone – Sapphire
‘Sapphire’ comes from ’sappheiros’, the Greek word for ‘blue’. Sapphires include a beautiful range of blues, but they also come in all colours except red. Blue sapphires have been made popular by the engagement of Kate Middleton, and HRH Prince William of Wales. Pink sapphires have also become sought-after recently.
October birthstone – Opal
Each opal gemstone has a unique combination of fiery colours. The word ‘opal’ is derived from the Latin word ‘opalus’, meaning ‘precious stone.’ From ancient times opals have been highly prized.
November birthstone – Topaz or Citrine
The name ‘topaz’ comes from the Sanskrit word, ‘tapas’, meaning ‘fire’. The topaz is a tough gemstone, so you can wear it in any type of jewellery. A medieval belief was that topaz strengthened the mind. In the 1700s Egypt and Rome used to procure topazes from Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon).
Citrine is derived from the French word for ‘lemon’. Some ancient cultures thought that citrine protected the wearer against evil words and thoughts. The citrine gemstone can be found in a variety of yellows or orange/red or golden brown. Clear yellow to brownish red are popular colours with gem and jewellery enthusiasts.
December birthstone – Blue Topaz or Turquoise
Blue topaz is renowned for its uniquely blue clarity. There are different shades, such as ‘sky blue’, ‘Swiss blue’ and ‘London blue’. Most of the blue topaz gems you will encounter have been heat-treated; naturally blue topaz is extremely rare. The Ancient Greeks believed that topaz had the power to increase strength and make one invisible.
The gem turquoise was known to the earliest civilizations: the Egyptian pharaohs incorporated it into their jewellery, and the ancient Chinese carved it into ceremonial figurines. Blue gem turquoise was an accepted source of wealth in pre-Columbian America. The name ‘turquoise’ came into use in the 13th century, when a French trader bought this gem from a Turkish market.