What You Should Know About Birthstones
Just about everyone knows what their birthstone is. Why is that? Because people still enjoy folklore associated with the tradition of the birthstone. They like believing that wearing a birthstone brings them good luck and protects them.
Early civilization as far back as far back as 1400 BC invested rare and beautiful gemstones with magical powers. Some minerals were thought to have a force or possess certain values and powers. For instance, amethyst was said to prevent intoxication. Tradition associates a gem with each sign of the zodiac based on a color system. Color was thought to unleash the power attributed to the stone. In time, birthstones became associated with calendar months rather than the zodiac. And people began to select birthstones in colors other than the originals. The following list of birthstones, which includes fascinating facts and folklore attributed to each birthstone, was adopted in 1912 by the American National Association of Jewelers, which later evolved into Jewelers of America.
|June||Cream or White/Blue||Pearl or Moonstone|
|October||Variegated||Opal or Tourmaline|
|November||Yellow||Topaz or Citrine|
|December||Sky Blue||Turquoise or Blue Topaz|
Garnet is the accepted birthstone for the month of January. It is also the anniversary gemstone for the second year of marriage. When most people think of garnet, they picture the dark red Bohemian garnet that was popular in Victorian times. You may be surprised to learn that garnets are found in every color except blue, including brilliant green tsavorite garnet, raspbery pink rhodalite garnet, and orange malaya garnet. Bright red “anthill” garnets are found in Arizona. The czars of Russia favored rare green demantoid garnets. Garnets offer enough variety in appearance to suit every taste, as well as an outstanding price range to suit every pocketbook. Legend holds that Noah hung a large garnet in the ark for illumination. It reportedly also gives its wearer guidance in the night, protection from nightmares, and according to Egyptians is an antidote for snake bites and food poisoning. It was also thought to have a special affinity with the blood. Garnets are durable and brilliant and will give years of pleasure. As with all gemstones, care should be taken to protect garnet from scratches, sharp blows, and extreme temperature changes. Garnets are found in the US, Africa, Sri Lanka, Russia, Brazil, and India.
Amethyst is the recognized birthstone for February and the accepted anniversary gemstone for the sixth year of marriage. Amethyst is a variety of quartz and comes in place lilac to rich, deep purple shades. Ideally, it is a deep medium purple with rose-colored flashes that give amethyst its beauty and fire. Because of its abundance, it is readily available in all sizes and shapes. It is durable and can be worn everyday. Coupled with the folk legend of the Greeks that it will prevent intoxication when worn, it becomes a most desirable gem! Amethyst was said to have a sobering effect on the wearer – not only those who indulged but on those over-excited by love’s passion as well. It has symbolized peace, protection and tranquility. Some say it will prevent baldness and improve the complexion, as well as protect from treason and deceit. Because royalty has always adored the color purple, amethysts abound in the ornaments of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and in the British crown jewels. As with all gemstones, care should be taken to protect it from scratches and sharp blows. Amethyst is fond mainly in Brazil, Uruguay, and Zambia.
Aquamarine is the traditional birthstone for March. It is also the accepted anniversary gem for the 19th year of marriage. The ideal color of aquamarine is a refreshing pastel sea blue. Stones with a clear blue color without green or gray are generally the most valuable. If you are looking for a big, durable gemstone, aqua is readily available in larger sizes and is truly dramatic when cut in rectangle or oval shapes. It is a member of the important beryl family, which also includes emerald. In ancient times, the stone was said to aid seafarers; thus it is an excellent gift suggestion for sailors or one who takes frequent cruises! To dream of aquamarine signifies the making of new friends; to wear aquamarine earrings brings love and affection. It is a universal symbol of youth, hope, and health. As part of the normal finishing process, some aquamarines are heated to remove traces of green and yellow. To maintain he brilliance of this beautiful gemstone, it should be immersed in jewelry cleaner or in lukewarm soapy water and cleaned with a small bristle brush. Do not use a home ultrasonic machine. As with all gemstones, care should be taken to protect it from scratches and sharp blows. Aquamarine is found mainly in Brazil, Nigeria, Zambia, and Madagascar.
Diamond is the birthstone for the month of April. Besides being the most popular gemstone for engagement rings, diamond is the accepted anniversary gem for the 10th and 60th years of marriage. The name “diamond” comes from the Greek word “adamas,” meaning unconquerable – suggesting the eternity of love. In fact, diamonds have been the traditional symbol of love since ancient Greece. Discovered about 2,500 years ago in India, the ancients believed they were splinters from the stars, perhaps crystalized lightning or hardened dew drops. Although diamonds are associated with being a colorless stone, they are occasionally found with a strong, bright color – green, red, pink, blue, canary yellow, or amber. These “fancy” colored diamonds are highly prized. Occasionally, to improve appearance, diamonds are laser-drilled and, sometimes, a foreign substance is used to fill surface cavities or fractures. Diamonds may also be irradiated or heated to induce “fancy” colors. Even though it is the most durable of gemstones, care should be taken to protect a diamond from sharp blows. Household chemicals may discolor or or damage the mounting. To clean, you may use a jewelry cleaner, lukewarm soapy water and a small bristle brush, soak in a half-and-half solution of cold water and ammonia for 1/2 hour, or use a home ultrasonic machine with its recommended cleaner.
Emerald is the birthstone for the month of May. It is also the anniversary gemstone for the 20th and 65th years of marriage. Emerald is one of the most highly prized of all the gems. The name comes from the Greek “smaragdos,” which means green stone. The most prized is pure grass green. Emeralds are often characterized by a garden of inclusions trapped within, known as the “jardin,” because under magnification you will see all sorts of lovely patterns resembling foliage in a garden. A flawless, clear emerald is very rare and is usually found in only small sizes. Small to medium sized stones are often faceted in the “step” or emerald cut. The gem is also lovely when cut into a cabochon or dome shape. Sometimes emeralds are even carved. According to legend, the wearing of emerald not only cured a wide range of ailments, including low IQ, poor eyesight, and infertility, but also enabled the wearer to predict the future. As part of the normal fashioning process, most emeralds are immersed in colorless oil or resin so small voids are not as noticeable. Care should be taken to protect it from scratches, sharp blows, household chemicals, and extreme temperature changes. Do not use a home ultrasonic machine. Emeralds are found mainly in Colombia, Brazil, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Pearl or Moonstone
Pearl is the birthstone for the month of June. It is also the accepted anniversary gemstone for the 3rd and 30th years of marriage. A pearl is the product of an oyster’s defense mechanism. When a foreign irritant is introduced either by man (cultured) or naturally, the oyster immediately surrounds it with layers of a substance called nacre. This forms the exquisite gemstone known as pearl. Natural pearls are extremely rare. Almost all pearls on the market today are cultured by man. Cultured pearls come in a wide range of colors. They should be relatively free from skin blemishes. The more perfectly round the shape the better. The higher the luster, or “orient,” the more valuable the specimen. The larger the cultured pearl, the greater the value. Besides the popular round shape, there are stylish mabé (large hemispherical cultured pearls), and South Sea (large cultured pearls 10mm and up from Australia’s and Indonesia’s waters), to name a few. Cultured pearls have been recognized as the emblem of modesty, chastity, and purity. They have come to symbolize a happy marriage. Avoid household chemicals, cosmetics, hair sprays, and perfumes. Don’t use ultrasonic cleaners. Wash with mild soap and water and store in a protective chamois pouch or tissue paper.
Moonstone is sometimes used as an alternative by those born in June since it physically resembles some pearls.
Ruby is the accepted birthstone for July. It is also the accepted anniversary gemstone for the 15th and 40th years of marriages. Ruby is known as the “Lord of the Gems” because of its rarity and beauty. Derived from the Latin word “ruber,” it simply means red. Ruby, like sapphire, is a variety of corundum and only exists a a true red color. The finest color is a vivid, almost pure spectral red. The highest quality rubies are said to protect their owners from all kinds of misfortune. A fine ruby assured the owner he would live in harmony with his neighbors. It would protect his stature in life, his home and his land. Its protective powers were intensified when set in jewelry and worn on the left side. Many believed rubies possessed an inner flame that burned eternally. As part of the customary fashioning process, virtually all rubies are heated to permanently improve their color and appearance. As with all gemstones, care should be taken to protect a ruby from scratches and sharp blows. The finest rubies emanate from Burma, having been mined there since ancient times. Other sources include Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and India.
Peridot is the accepted birthstone for August. It is also the accepted anniversary gemstone for the 16th year of marriage. Peridot should be a lively lime green, without a brownish or olive cast. Peridot is the child of volcanic action. Tiny peridot crystals are sometimes combed from the black sands of Hawaii. Peridots were favored by pirates, considered powerful amulets against all evil, and when set in gold were said to protect the wearer from the terrors of the night. They had medicinal uses, too. If fashioned into a chalice from which medicines were drunk, they intensified the effects of the drug. Care should be taken to protect peridot from scratches, sharp blow, household chemicals and extreme temperature changes. Do not use a home ultrasonic machine for cleaning. The peridot is abundant and is available in larger sizes. It is found in Burma and the US. The most important source of peridot in the world is the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation near Globe, Arizona, where it is mined by native Americans. Large sizes are mined in Myanmar (Burma), and peridot is also found in China.
Sapphire is the September birthstone as well as the accepted anniversary gem for the 5th and 45th years of marriage. Sapphire, a variety of corundum, comes in all colors except red (the red variety being known as ruby), but is especially popular in deep blue. Fancy colored sapphires – including pink, green, orange, and golden yellow – are magnificent when combined in a necklace or bracelet. The stone’s durability, combined with its beauty, makes it the perfect alternative for an engagement ring. Ancient priests and sorcerers honored sapphire above all gems, for this stone enabled them to interpret oracles and foretell the future. Ancients believed the Ten Commandments were written on a sapphire tablet. In folklore it is said that sapphires would refuse to shine when worn by the wicked or impure. As a part of the customary fashioning process, virtually all blue, yellow, and golden sapphires are heated to permanently produce or intensify their color. As with all gemstones, care should be taken to protect it from scratches and sharp blows. Sapphire is found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Australia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, China, and the US.
Opal or Tourmaline
Opal is the October birthstone as well as the accepted anniversary gemstone for the 14th year of marriage. The well-known Roman naturalist Pliny described opal as “made up of the glories of the most precious gems… the gentler fire of the ruby, the rich purple of the amethyst, the sea-green of the emerald, glittering together…” White opal has a white or light body color with flashes of many colors. Black opal has a black, dark blue, dark green, or gray body color with vivid flashes of color such as red, pink, and bright green. Opal has symbolized hope, innocence and purity through the ages. In the Middle Ages, young, fair-haired girls wore opals in their hair to protect its lovely blonde color. Medieval writers believed opal could render its wearer invisible when the need arose. It was also said to have a beneficial effect on eyesight. It was thought to banish evil spirits and favor children, the theater, amusements, friendships, and feelings. Care should be taken to protect it from scratches, sharp blows, household chemicals, and extreme temperature changes. To maintain the brilliance of opal, it should be wiped clean with a soft cloth. Do not use a home ultrasonic machine or jewelry cleaner. Opal sources are Australia, Mexico, and the US.
Tourmaline is sometimes used as a birthstone for October and spans the spectrum from red to violet. It also occurs in color combinations in one stone, which accounts for its popularity. It is not as fragile as opal and is sometimes selected by those who prefer faceted stones.
Topaz or Citrine
Topaz is accepted birthstone for November. Blue topaz is accepted anniversary gemstone for the 4th year; Imperial topaz for the 23rd year of marriage. Most people think topaz as a transparent golden yellow gemstone. However, this gemstone occurs colorless as well as orange-yellow, red, honey-brown (dark sherry), light green, blue, and pink. The name topaz is derived from Greek word meaning “to shine” and also implies “fire.” Orange-red “Imperial” topaz and pink colors are rare and most valuable. The lore, magic, and romance of topaz goes back many thousands of years. It holds the distinction of being the gemstone with the widest range of curative powers. The Greeks felt it gave them strength. In addition, it supposedly cooled tempers, restored sanity, cured asthma, relieved insomnia, and even warded off sudden death. Topaz is said to make its wearer invisible in time of emergency. It proved the loyalty of associates by changing color in the presence of poison. As part of the normal fashioning process, most brownish to sherry brown topaz are irradiated and heated to produce shades of blue. Topaz is found mainly in Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and China.
Citrine is often used an alternative to topaz because it appears in many of the same colors as topaz. Unlike topaz, citrine is readily available and inexpensive even in large sizes.
Turquoise or Blue Topaz
Turquoise is the accepted birthstone for December and is the accepted anniversary gemstone for the 11th year of marriage. Colors of turquoise range from sky blue (most desirable color) to blue green and apple green. The name means “Turkish stone,” because the trade route that brought it to Europe used to come via Turkey. The best qualities are found in northeast Iran (Persian turquoise). However, the southwestern United States is now the world leader in production. The deposits in Sinai were already worked out by 4,000 BC. At that time the stone was used for jewelry, amulets and in the preparation of cosmetics. During the 16th century turquoise was used as currency by Southwest Indians. They believed the gemstone could bring spoils to the warrior, animals to the hunter, and happiness and good fortune to all. Although large quantities of beautiful turquoise that have not been color enhanced are available, today’s turquoise is commonly stabilized with plastic to improve its color and durability. Chalky varieties of turquoise are normally impregnated with oil or wax to enhance color. This color change may not be permanent. Care should be taken to protect turquoise from scratches, sharp blows, hot water, and household chemicals. Do not use a home ultrasonic machine.
Blue Topaz has become a popular alternative in recent year for those who prefer faceted stones.
Information courtesy of Jewelers of America.