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The History of Birthstones

The History of Birthstones

Quite interestingly, the modern birthstone list has been set in place since 1912. But where exactly did the idea of "birthstones” originate from, and how far back do they date? We can actually trace the ancient beginning of birthstones to the Breastplate of Aaron, described in the book of Exodus in the Bible. The Breastplate was a religious garment with 12 gemstones (set in four rows of three, in a gold filigree) that represented the 12 tribes of Israel.


Next, there was a connection made between the 12 stones in the Breastplate and the 12 signs of the zodiac in the writings of Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) and St. Jerome (5th century AD). Then came the idea that one must own a collection of the 12 different gemstones assigned to the signs of the zodiac and wear the appropriate gem during the ascendancy of the corresponding signs. An idea that was more like the Vedic astrological tradition of India, where one should wear a particular gem according to their state of health and the challenges that they faced in life.

Now, just how did gemstones go from representing zodiac healing powers to birthstones? Scholars trace the distinctly modern idea of each person always wearing a gemstone corresponding to the month of their birth to the 18th century Poland, with the arrival of Jewish gem traders to the region.

In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers (Jewelers of America) defined the modern list of birthstones. Since then, in 2002, an announcement came out by the American Gem Trade that tanzanite was added as a birthstone for December. The reason being? The Jewelers of America saw that adding an additional gemstone would help retailers sell more jewelry. In 2006 a marketing campaign promoted tanzanite as the birthstone for all children with the slogan "Be Born to Tanzanite.”


Clearly, our world has come a long way from the magical powers of astrological gemstones. Nowadays, mothers have rings with each child’s birthstone, a charm bracelet with her entire family’s birthstones, and so on, all to represent their love of family.

Not sure which gemstone(s) is your birthstone? Take a peek at the list below! (The information on each has been provided by American Gem Society and The Burke Museum.)


Each month’s birthstone(s):

 January: Garnet

Garnet can be found in metamorphic rocks and sometimes in granites and volcanic rocks.

February: Amethyst

Amethyst is popular for its color and crystal shapes that produce handsome, purple, sparkling clusters.

March: Aquamarine

Aquamarine is a variety of the mineral beryl. Beryl generally forms inside granites as magma (molten rock) cools deep inside the Earth.

April: Diamond

Diamond is a form of carbon with a tightly bound crystalline structure that originates deep inside the Earth.

May: Emerald

Emerald is another variety of beryl. It is surprisingly common for emeralds to contain flaws and veins of chemicals called inclusions.

June: Pearl, Alexandrite and Moonstone

When light enters the stone, it is bounced back and forth between these layers before it exits as the glowing moon-like effect we see.

July: Ruby

Ruby originates from metamorphic rock, and is a variety of the mineral corundum, second only to the diamond in hardness.

August: Peridot, Sardonyx, Spinel

Peridot is type of olivine, and comes in various shades of green, from light to a brilliant olive green.

September: Sapphire

Sapphire is any form of corundum that is not red, as red varieties are called rubies.

October: Pink Tourmaline and Opal

The presence of water in the mineral structure allows geologists to determine the temperature of the rock at the time the opal formed.

November: Citrine and Topaz

Some citrine actually began as purple amethyst, but heat from nearby molten rock changed it to a warm yellow color.

December: Tanzanite, Turquoise and Zicron

Turquoise is composed of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate. It forms when circulating water alters other aluminum-rich rocks in desert environments.


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