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The History and Significance of Birthstones

Jul 2, 2008
For centuries, gemstones have played a significant role in the everyday lives of people. Today, birthstones are used to represent the birth month of individuals. Some believe that birthstones hold special powers for the wearer. Others just appreciate wearing a gemstone that represents the month in which they were born.

When did these gemstones first become associated with the months of the year? Historians think that the first written record comes from the book of Exodus in the Old Testament of the Bible. Here, the breastplate of the Hebrew's high priest is described as having 12 specific gems, one for each of Israel's 12 tribes:

"Then they mounted four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there was a ruby, a topaz and a beryl; in the second row was a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. They were mounted on gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes." (Exodus, Chapter 39:9-14, New International Version)

During the 8th and 9th centuries, gemstones were also connected to the 12 apostles. Since then, the 12 stones have been related to birth months and zodiac signs. The actual wearing of birthstones probably originated in Poland in the 15th or 16th century. Many believed that the powers of a gemstone for a particular month were heightened in that month. Hence, people may have worn the birthstone for each month, hoping to achieve the full effects of those gemstones.

It wasn't until 1912 when the Jewelers of America organized an official list connecting each month with a specific stone. They added or changed the list according to what was most commercially viable, and not necessarily what was traditionally deemed the proper birthstone for that particular month. This list is still used today to identify particular stones. As a result, some argue that the proper way to assign gemstones is according to astrological sign and not month. For this reason, some older birthstone lists vary from today's modern birthstones as the following listing demonstrates.

Traditional and Modern Monthly Birthstones:

Modern: Garnet
Zodiac Gemstone for Capricorn: Ruby

Modern: Amethyst
Zodiac Gemstone for Aquarius: Garnet

Modern: Aquamarine
Zodiac Gemstone for Pisces: Amethyst

Modern: Diamond
Zodiac Gemstone for Aries: Bloodstone

Modern: Emerald
Zodiac Gemstone for Taurus: Sapphire

Modern: Alexandrite or Pearl
Zodiac Gemstone for Gemini: Agate

Modern: Ruby
Zodiac Gemstone for Cancer: Emerald

Modern: Peridot
Zodiac Gemstone for Leo: Onyx

Modern: Sapphire
Zodiac Gemstone for Virgo: Carnelian

Modern: Opal or Tourmaline
Zodiac Gemstone for Libra: Peridot

Modern: Topaz and Citrine
Zodiac Gemstone for Scorpio: Beryl

Modern: Turquoise, Blue Topaz, or Tanzanite
Zodiac Gemstone for Sagittarius: Topaz

Certain months offer various options for the modern birthstone. For example, for those who want to purchase the birthstone for June, Alexandrite or Pearl may be chosen. Pearls are a classic choice, while genuine Alexandrite - a color-change stone, is expensive and rare. In response to the costs associated with Alexandrite, some manufacturers have selected their own stone to represent the month of June, including Green Tourmaline to represent the green color of Alexandrite; the Garnet for its color-change quality; and Smokey Quartz or Pink Tourmaline.

When choosing a birthstone, keep in mind that the four C's of diamond buying apply to colored gemstones as well: Carats, Cut, Color and Clarity. Birthstone gems are graded and priced on those four qualities, as well as: place of origin, availability/rarity, possible treatments and current fashion. It is not unusual for a particular birthstone to suddenly rise in value because it is currently in vogue to wear it. Also, the type of gemstone selected dictates the care they require. Some genuine stones have excellent durability, while others require more care. For instance, rubies and sapphires are considered a good choice for everyday wear while an opal or pearl require careful handling. Taking time to understand how to select and care for your gemstones can lead to enjoyment of these treasures for years to come.
About the Author
Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Jewelry. Pandora bracelets, Pandora charms and Pandora beads are only a part of the collection. For more information, contact Lewis Jewelers at 877-88-LEWIS or visit the website.
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