One particularly bleary morning, not so long ago, a friend laughingly told me that she thinks her birthstone is a coffee bean. (I didn’t question her: she was three cups in and getting perkier by the sip!) It’s such a fun sentiment (and really did ring true in her case) and it got me thinking about how I would dearly love to make a special jewelry piece for her using an actual coffee bean. Which then got me thinking about her actual birthstone, and birthstones in general. And then it hit me: while diamonds are all well and good (okay, diamonds are really, really well and good!), there is something incredibly special about jewelry made using birthstone gems. A piece that sparkles with, well, sparkle, and spiritual significance and meaning.
Birthstones appear to have first become a thing in biblical times, tracing back to the book of Exodus in the Bible and specifically on the breastplate of Aaron. The breastplate was inlaid with 12 gemstones that represented the 12 tribes of Israel at the time, those gems being: emerald, sapphire, diamond, topaz, carbuncle, sardius, agate, ligure, amethyst, onyx, jasper, and beryl. Fast forward to the 1st and 5th century AD, and the two scholars Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome are credited with associating the 12 breastplate gems with the 12 signs of the zodiac. Fast forward all the way to 18th century Poland, and you have savvy gem traders starting to see the potential in marketing specific gemstones based on a person’s birth month. In 1912 the National Association of Jewelers solidified this practice in the United States, and since that time the particular gemstones for each birthstone have remained largely the same.
Savvy gem marketers they may have been, but we can’t fault them for bringing such a fun, special, sparkly addition to the jewelry-making scene. We’d choose rare birthstones in stunningly vivid colors over lumps of coal any day! So, without further ado, here are the 12 birthstones, and the meanings attached to each, for you to consider next time you’re trying to come up with the perfect gift for a loved one.
The gemstone: Garnet
The birthstone for those born in January, garnets are available in a variety of rich and vivid colors, with the most common being a deep red gem that goes beautifully with just about any type of jewelry. In keeping with this color, in medieval times, glittering burgundy garnets were associated with blood and were thought to speed the healing process of hemorrhages and wounds. On a more romantic note, garnets are a sign of constancy and fidelity.
The significance: The powers attributed to the garnet are varied: they are said to bring peace, prosperity, health, true friendship, and security.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Garnets are the gemstones traditionally given as a 2nd wedding anniversary gift.
The gemstone: Amethyst
Amethyst, the birthstone for those born in February, is particularly pretty, and has a particularly fun backstory. Once upon a time, the party god Bacchus was wooing a pretty maiden who did not return his interest. The girl, named Amethyste, asked the goddess Diana for protection, who gave it to her by turning the maiden to a statue of icy white quartz. Bacchus, thwarted and angry, is said to have poured his cup of wine over the statue, turning the crystal to a gorgeous purple color. From then on, amethyst was thought to ward off intoxication… in ancient Greece, anyway, it was believed that if you wore an amethyst it would protect you from getting drunk.
The significance: Fascinating intoxication prevention and hangover cure myth aside, the purple hues of the amethyst gemstone have long been a symbol of royalty, signifying wealth and power. It also imparts peace of mind to the wearer, along with freedom from worry and care.
The alternative gifting opportunity: The amethyst is the gemstone associated with 6th wedding anniversaries.
The gemstone: Aquamarine
The birthstone for those born in March, the aquamarine, an exquisite blue color, is named for the beautiful blue sea – aqua meaning water, and marina meaning sea. It makes sense then that this pretty gem has a long and trusted tradition of being used by superstitious sailors to give them good luck on the seas and to ensure a safe voyage.
The significance: Aquamarine is also often associated with focus and clarity of thought. As such, it has, in history, frequently been used as a part of psychic pursuits. Exhibit A: during the 1500s, famous court astrologer, astronomer, psychic, and royal consultant Dr. John Dee used an aquamarine crystal ball to predict the best date for the coronation of Elizabeth the First.
The alternative gifting opportunity: The aquamarine is the gemstone associated with 19th wedding anniversaries.
The gemstone: Diamond
The diamond. A girl’s best friend. But especially the girl born in April. The birthstone for the month of April, the diamond is one of the rarest gemstones in the world and certainly one of the most prized. Diamonds are both practical – being 58 times harder than any other mineral on Earth, they are perfect for everyday wear – and perfectly exquisite. They also come in a variety of colors and are easily cut to all shapes and sizes. In short, you will never run out of ideas for diamond jewelry for the April-born person in your life. Lucky is the girl born in April indeed!
The significance: Do diamonds need more significance than just their mere existence? Okay, diamonds were once thought to be lightning on Earth and are also an emblem of innocence.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Diamonds are often gifted on milestone wedding anniversaries: 10th, 20th, 60th, 75th. But really, any occasion works.
The gemstone: Emerald
The emerald is the birthstone for those born in May. Historically even more prized than the diamond – Cleopatra prized emeralds above all other gems and claimed ownership of every single emerald mine in Egypt during her rule – the green of the emerald is also said to have soothing powers. The Roman emperor Nero believed this to be true, anyway, and was said to have watched gladiator fights through a giant transparent emerald. (Although it must be said: if it was soothing he wanted, perhaps he shouldn’t have allowed gladiator fights to begin with?)
The significance: It is often said that those who wear emeralds will be loved and happy all their life. Who needs more than that.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Similar to diamonds, the emerald is gifted on milestone wedding anniversaries, the 20th and 35th in particular.
The gemstone: Pearl (Alternative: Alexandrite)
The pearl is the lucky birthstone of those born in the month of June. Pearls have long been prized in fashion and jewelry for their lustrous beauty and sweet simplicity. Moreover, its enchanting prettiness has fascinated our forebears for centuries. Ancients from the Middle East believed that pearls were teardrops fallen from heaven; the Chinese told tales of pearls coming from the brain of a dragon; while Christopher Columbus thought mollusks formed pearls from dew drops. The truth is no less magical: natural pearls are organic gems that grow inside the tissue of a living saltwater or freshwater mollusk (either an oyster or a mussel).
The significance: Pearls are most commonly associated with purity, chastity, humility, innocence, as well as stability in marriage. They are also said to bestow long life and prosperity.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Pearls are also gifted upon the occasion of a 3rd and 30th wedding anniversary.
Alternative June Birthstone: Alexandrite
In 1952, the Jewelers of America added Alexandrite as the birthstone for the month of June. Alexandrite is the rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that changes color in different lighting, with the most prized being stones that show a vivid green to bluish green in daylight or fluorescent light, and an intense red to purplish red in incandescent light.
The gemstone: Ruby
The birthstone for those born in July, the ruby has much going for it. Not only is it one of the “big three” colored gemstones in terms of value (alongside emeralds and sapphires), its exquisite red color cannot be ignored AND it is known as the stone of devotion, love and romance. Given its blood red color, it’s not surprising that the ruby is also known to represent life and blood and was, in ancient times, believed to increase courage: warriors in Burma would implant rubies into their skin before battle for protection and courage on the battlefield.
The significance: As the go-to stone to show devotion, love, passion and romance, it is said that those who receive and wear rubies will be forever exempt from love’s doubts and anxieties. Enough said.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Rubies are gifted on the milestone 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries.
The gemstone: Peridot
Peridot is the birthstone for those born in August. One of the few gemstones that appear only in one color, in this case a vibrant green, which seems to glow from within, Peridot first found its place in jewelry in the time of Cleopatra. (Girl had a thing for shiny green stones it seems!) Peridot is most often set in gold to enhance the color and the power of its inner glow… done right it can look like the sun is shining from within!
The significance: For those who believe in magic and spells, Peridot is thought to dissolve any enchantments that may be cast on the wearer. Ancient Egyptians believed it could keep night ghosts and evil spirits away. For those more practical and prosaic, Peridot speaks to our intuition and gut-feel; those who wear it are in touch with their emotions, feelings, and deep inner knowledge.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Peridots are the gemstone traditionally gifted on your first wedding anniversary.
The gemstone: Sapphire
Born in September? The stunning sapphire is this month’s birthstone. The name sapphire comes from the Latin word for “blue stone”, sapphirus, which speaks to its stunning deep blue hue. In actuality, the sapphire can appear in a range of colors, from blue to green to pink. It is most famous, however, for that striking blue shade – made famous by Princess Diana’s (and now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s) engagement ring. So bewitching is the particular blue associated with this gem that the ancient Persians believed the earth rested on a giant sapphire, and the blue of the sky was merely a reflection of the stone. On a more practical note, one of the benefits of sapphires is their hardness: registering a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale (diamond is a 10), it is a strong and sturdy gemstone that you don’t have to worry about getting damaged.
The significance: The sapphire symbolizes noble qualities, such as wisdom, loyalty, greatness, and is also said to be a cure for diseases of the mind.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Sapphire is the gemstone associated with the milestone 5th, 10th, 45th and 70th wedding anniversaries.
The gemstone: Opal (Alternative: Tourmaline)
Mined primarily in Australia, the gorgeous, ever-changing chameleon stone that is the opal is the birthstone for those born in October. The rainbows within an opal are caused by light refracting from layers of silica within the stone; its name reflects this changing color, coming from the Greek word “opallios” which means “to see a change of colors”.
The significance: At one point in time the opal acquired a stigma of bad luck – this following the 1829 publication of the novel Anne of Geierstein, in which one of the characters wears an enchanted opal that causes her death. But, per history, the very opposite is true: in the Middle Ages opal was thought to possess all the virtues of every gemstone, as it displayed every color, and were actually thought to be good luck, warding off all bad luck, sadness and woes.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Opals are traditionally gifted as the gemstone for 14th wedding anniversaries.
Alternative October Birthstone: Tourmaline
In 1952, the Jewelers of America included the Tourmaline in the list of birthstones, becoming the second birthstone for October. The black Tourmaline has been traditionally used to gain protection from bad energies, negative thoughts, and bad influences.
The gemstone: Topaz (Alternative: Citrine)
Topaz is the birthstone for those who are born in November. Actually colorless, impurities in the stone can turn it almost any hue, but the most common colors associated with topaz are a variety of exquisite yellow hues. It also comes in a blue, but blue topaz is increasingly rare in nature. Imperial topaz, a reddish orange gem with pink undertones, is the most valuable of all. Regardless of color, this stone was greatly prized by the Greeks for its many magical powers, not least of those being that they believed topaz could make a wearer invisible!
The significance: Aside from invisibility (!), Topaz has a number of wonderful powers attributed to its wearing: it is said to make the wearer stronger, restore the soul, calm anger and balance strong emotions, break spells, cure insomnia, and give longer life.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Blue Topaz is the gem gifted for 4th wedding anniversaries, while the Imperial Topaz is gifted on the 23rd wedding anniversary.
Alternative November Birthstone: Citrine
In 1952, the Jewelers of America added Citrine to the list of birthstones, making it November’s second birthstone. Citrine is attributed with having healing powers, and is said to radiate positive energy, generate stability, give protection, and alleviate depression.
The gemstone: Turquoise (Alternatives: Tanzanite and Zircon)
The birthstone for December is turquoise: a striking stone with a bright blue or blue-green color, sometimes streaked through with black markings. Already known in 3000 B.C, turquoise is most popularly associated with Native American culture, turquoise has actually been used in jewelry for centuries. It was also dearly beloved by Queen Victoria (in the 1800s). Queen V attributed sentimental qualities of love and devotion to the stone, and accordingly gifted each of her ladies-in-waiting a small portrait ring (with her portrait therein), surrounded by turquoise.
The significance: Along with these values of love and devotion, turquoise is often associated with good luck, as well as success in whatever you choose to do.
The alternative gifting opportunity: Turquoise is the gemstone associated with 11th wedding anniversary gifting.
Alternative December Birthstones: Tanzanite and Zircon
In 1952, the Jewelers of America added the Zircon to the list of birthstones for the month of December. It is believed that the Zircon attracts prosperity.
In 2002, AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) added the Tanzanite to the list of Birthstones for December. This rare and exquisite blue-violet gem, only found in Tanzania, was only discovered in 1967 by Maasai herders who were tending to their stock in the Merelani Hills around Arusha, Tanzania.
As much as the origin of birthstones, and the various meanings attached to each, seems to be rooted in folklore and fiction as in history, if you think about it, what is jewelry, anyway, but imagination in design and storytelling in sparkle form? Perhaps this is why we love working with birthstones so much. And why people love receiving birthstone jewelry as much as any massive diamond. Even if the meaning is made up or make-believe, magic lives within. And goodness knows, we could all do with a little bit of magic in our lives. And, yes, coffee beans too.
At Keezing Kreations we have decades of experience working with gemstones and precious metals creating custom jewelry items designed to spark both sparkle and joy. Birthstones, in particular, can achieve this goal. Our experienced jewelry designers know how to create birthstone pieces that will not only speak to the birth month in question, but also the style and taste preferences of the wearer, ultimately creating a spectacular jewelry item with sentimental value you can’t put a price on.