A birthstone is a gemstone, usually in the form of personal jewelry and most often in the form of a ring or pendant. Each stone is traditionally associated with various qualities that symbolize the month of birth in the Gregorian calendar.
History of birthstones
The first century Jewish historian Josephus proclaimed a connection between the twelve stones in Aaron's breastplate, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Translations and interpretations of the passage in Exodus regarding the breastplate have varied widely, however, with Josephus himself giving two different lists for the twelve stones (Kunz argues that Josephus saw the breastplate of the Second Temple, not the one described in Exodus). St. Jerome, referencing Josephus, said the Foundation Stones of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19–20) would be appropriate for Christians to use. In the eight and ninth century religious treaties were written associating a particular stone with an apostle, as Revelation stated their name would be inscribed on the Foundation Stones, and his virtue. Practice became to keep twelve stones and wear one a month. Wearing a single birthstone is only a few centuries old, although modern authorities differ on dates: Kunz places the custom in eighteenth century Poland, while the Gemological Institute of America starts it in Germany in the 1560s.
Modern lists of birthstones have little to do with either the breastplate or the Foundation Stones of Christianity. Tastes, customs and confusing translations have distanced them from their historical origins, with one author calling the 1912 Kansas list "nothing but a piece of unfounded salesmanship."
Ancient traditional birthstones are society-based birthstones. The table below contains many stones which are popular choices, often reflecting Polish tradition.
The Gregorian calendar has poems matching each month with its birthstone. These are traditional stones of English-speaking societies. Tiffany & Co. published these poems "of unknown author" for the first time in a pamphlet in 1870.
By her who in this month (January) is born
No gem save garnets should be worn;
They will ensure her constancy,
True friendship, and fidelity.
The February-born shall find
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an amethyst will wear.
Who in this world of ours their eyes
In March first open shall be wise,
In days of peril firm and brave,
And wear a bloodstone to their grave.
She who from April dates her years,
Diamonds shall wear, lest bitter tears
For vain repentance flow; this stone,
Emblem of innocence, is known.
Who first beholds the light of day
In spring's sweet flowery month of May
And wears an emerald all her life
Shall be a loved and happy wife.
Who comes with summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth,
With ring of agate on her hand
Can health, wealth, and long life command.
The glowing ruby shall adorn,
Those who in July are born;
Then they'll be exempt and free
From love's doubts and anxiety.
Wear a sardonyx or for thee,
No conjugal felicity;
The August-born without this stone,
`Tis said, must live unloved and lone.
A maiden born when September leaves
Are rustling in September's breeze,
A sapphire on her brow should bind
`Twill cure diseases of the mind.
October's child is born for woe,
And life's vicissitudes must know,
But lay an opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest.
Who first comes to this world below
With drear November's fog and snow,
Should prize the topaz's amber hue,
Emblem of friends and lovers true.
If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.—Gregorian Birthstone Poems
In 1912, in an effort to standardize birthstones, the (American) National Association of Jewelers met in Kansas and officially adopted a list. The Jewelry Industry Council of America updated the list in 1952 by adding alexandrite to June and citrine to November; specifying pink tourmaline for October; replacing December's lapis with zircon; and switching the primary/alternate gems in March. The most recent change occurred in October 2002, with the addition of tanzanite as a December birthstone. Britain's National Association of Goldsmiths created their own standardized list of birthstones in 1937.
|This section requires expansion. (May 2012)|
A Hindu text from 1879, Mani Mala, lists gems for each month.
Birthstones by cultures
Early civilizations, such as those in India and Babylon, have attributed gemstones with magical properties and especially to their relationship with the signs of the zodiac. Over time, astrologers assigned gems of certain colors to the twelve signs of the zodiac to help people influence the planets in their favor.
|Aquarius||21 January – 21 February||garnet|
|Pisces||22 February – 21 March||amethyst|
|Aries||22 March – 20 April||bloodstone|
|Taurus||21 April – 21 May||sapphire|
|Gemini||22 May – 21 June||agate|
|Cancer||21 June – 22 July||emerald|
|Leo||23 July – 22 August||onyx|
|Virgo||23 August – 22 September||carnelian|
|Libra||23 September – 23 October||chrysolite|
|Scorpio||24 October – 21 November||beryl|
|Sagittarius||22 November – 21 December||topaz|
|Capricorn||22 December – 21 January||ruby|
Birthday (day of the week) stones
While this word has also been used as synonym of Birth stone (see above), there is a separate list of assignment according to the day of the week of the recipient's birth:
- Monday: pearl, crystal
- Tuesday: ruby, emerald
- Wednesday: amethyst, lodestone
- Thursday: sapphire, carnelian
- Friday: emerald, cat's eye
- Saturday: turquoise, diamond
- Sunday: topaz, diamond
- Kunz, George F (1913). The curious lore of precious stones. Lippincott. pp. 275–306.
- Gleadow, Rupert (2001). The Origin of the Zodiac. Dover Publications. pp. 130–131.
- Kunz (1913), p. 289
- Knuth, Bruce G. (2007). Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore (Revised edition). Parachute: Jewelers Press. p. 294.
- Knuth, p. 299
- Knuth, p. 298
- Knuth, p. 293
- Knuth, p. 310
- Gleadow, p. 132
- Kunz (1913), p. 320
- Farrington, Oliver Cummins (1903). Gems and Gem Minerals. Mumford. pp. 63–64.
- Kunz (1913), p. 317
- Knuth, p. 311
- "Tanzanite". American Gem Trade Association. Retrieved 6 Feb 2012.
- "December Birthstone: Turquoise or Tanzanite". Jewelry Information Center. Retrieved 2011 Dec 20.
- "Birthstones". Goldsmiths. Retrieved 18 Apr 2012.
- Knuth, p. 336
- Kunz (1913), p. 315
- Kunz (1913), p. 315
- "Birthstones". American Gem Trade Association. Retrieved 6 Feb 2012.
- "Tips & Tools: Birthstones". The National Association of Goldsmiths. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
- Knuth, p. 336
- Schwam, Gena. "Birthstones: Myth and History: December - Month of Turquoise". Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- "December Birthstone". International Colored Gemstone Association. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- Knuth, p. 318
- Kunz (1913), pp. 345–347
- Kunz (1913), pp. 332–333