Long ago my mother got for their anniversary a ring from my father, with 12 little round gemstones. My father explained that she could wear this ring and change the gems when she pleases. The gemstones represented the birthstones. You can only wear the birthstone of your birth month or you wear it every month another birthstone. Just where you feel comfortable.
This little family story shows how confusing ‘birthstones’ are represented and how strict you have to take the birthstones in combination with the birth months. Besides that… it’s great to know a little about birthstones because they make awesome personal gifts. When you give a piece of jewelry with a gemstone that is the birthstone of the lady, you will make a great impression. You took the trouble to find out, searched for a great piece of jewelry for her. That will impress her!
But it is not that easy to find the right birthstones, since there are more ‘birthstone lists’ available, and even a birthstone of the week list exists. Maybe it is time to explain a little more about birthstones, their origin, and their meaning.
The tradition of the birthstone
Birthstones are precious or semi-precious gemstones, but what they represent is a cause of disagreement. It can represent a month, a date, a color, a sign of the zodiac, a day in the week… And there are quite a few birthstone lists to choose from. The thing we know rather sure is that the popularity of wearing birthstones started between the 15th and the 16th century in Europe.
The gemmologists think that the concept of the birthstone gems dates back to the Bible and the breastplate of Highpriest Aaron, the brother of Moses, the prophet, and the first High Priest of the Israelites. That breastplate had 12 gemstones that are described in the Bible. In the Bible is written that those twelve stones represent the 12 sons of Jacob, and each of them started a tribe in Israel.
It is also stated that the sons were all born in a different month and therefore the 12 stones should represent each a different month. Then every stone has a different color, but in the translation from the local language at the time of the Bible to Hebrew, to Greek and Roman, the real ‘color names’ got a bit lost. And every scientist had their own interpretation. The result was that the information about the precise gemstones and their place in the breastplate got lost.
Every continent uses its own list, which is most confusing. In the United States, most of the time people and jewelers use the traditional or ancient birthstone list. This list originates in Poland, between the 16th and 18th centuries.
In 1912 the National Association of Jewelers wanted an update from the old list and they produced a list with ‘modern birthstones’. This one is not all that different, but now they used all transparent gems (mostly quartzes). This change was only for commercial reasons.
On Mother’s Day (also a US invention) the fathers and children buy a lot of birthstone pieces of jewelry for their wife and mother. And a combination of the birthstone of the mother, with those of her children, was popular. But it is very difficult to combine for example pearl, with faceted quartzes and turquoise. That does not look very beautiful.
The jewelers found this solution and it worked for them. But nowadays people pick the stone, they like and choose from both (or more) lists, and don’t bother. Sometimes according to their budget, or sometimes according to their taste. But get influenced… choose the birthstone you like!
The origin of the Western list
In the first century AD, a historian named Josephus found it, anyway he thought that there was a connection between the twelve months of the year, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the twelve stones in the breastplate of high-priest Aaron, as described in the Bible book of Exodus. The twelve stones in the high-priests breastplate represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
This revolutionary opinion of those days gave a lot of turmoil. Also because the interpretation of that particular passage in the Bible book was disputed by a lot of wise men. To make it short all the other wise men claimed that Josephus saw another breastplate of another high priest and of another temple.
Josephus stayed firm and produced two different lists of the twelve stones, based on that breastplate. It is not very scientifically wise to produce two lists, but that is not up to me. The result was that St. Jerome stuck to the interpretation of Josephus and declared that the list based on the Foundation Stones of the New Jerusalem should be used by the Christians.
The discussion did not end and in the eighth and the ninth century in religious writings or books the writer associated a particular gemstone with an apostle. And the name of that particular apostle should be inscribed in the concerning Foundation Stone. Then the custom or tradition started to wear one of the stones of the Foundation Stone each month, and honor the concerning apostle.
The tradition that people wear only their birthstone in a piece of jewelry is only a few centuries old. And the question stayed alive: which birthstone was connected with what month? In the 18th century, Mr. Kunz set for a list that was used in Poland.
The Western interpretation of the birthstone list
Modern lists connecting certain birthstones with certain months are not based on the information about the breastplate of the high-priest Aaron anymore. That had nothing to do with not believing the Bible text, but more with different translations, tastes, and traditions. And it has all to do with commerce. Taste changes, so the list changed.
Every month of the Gregorian calendar is larded with a gemstone and a poem. Even Tiffany & Co published these poems and birthstone list in 1870.
In 1912 the American National Association of Jewelers, gathered in Kansas, created a modern Birthstone list to end all the confusion and on this list every month had their own birthstone (or sometimes even 2 or 3 gemstones). This definite list was altered in 1952.
The gemstone Alexandrite was added as the birthstone for June, the pink Tourmaline became the second-best in October, and the Citrine joined the topaz for November.
Although a lot of people had comments about the choices in gemstones the Association made, this list is regarded as the definitive chart of the astrological birthstones. The jewelers of the Association decided to skip the lapis lazuli as the birthstone of December in favor of the Zircon. In 2002 December got an extra birthstone, the Tanzanite, in 2016 the spinel became the second birthstone for August.
And this addition and changes will not be the end of it. Besides that, every country can make its own list, like the British National Association of Goldsmiths did in 1937.
And what about the East
Don’t think that all the turmoil about lists and what birthstones on which list is just a ‘Western’ thing. Also in the East, they know everything about birthstone lists, although they are not based on the Bible, of course.
There are differences. Their list is not based on the birth months but associated with celestial bodies and astrology on the time of the birthday or time. And there are not 12 stones, but only 9.
For instance, in Hinduism, there are 9 birthstones based on the Navagarha, which are the 9 planets that are worshipped by the Hindus. They believe that these planets help you to overcome any challenge or bad luck.
The nine planets collectively are called Navagrahas. These 9 planets are worshipped by Hindus to overcome any hindrance, obstacle, or bad luck. In practice, this means that an astrological chart is made, based on your birth time and date. In this chart are the stones that you should wear to prevent having problems.
How do these lists look like?
There are quite a few lists, but let us stick to the most common ones.
The lists, based on the period in time:
|Month||15th-20th century||USA in 1912||US in 2019||Britain in 2013|
|February||Amethyst, Pearl Hyacinth||Amethyst||Amethyst||Amethyst|
|March||Bloodstone, Jasper||Bloodstone, Aquamarine||Aquamarine, bloodstone||Aquamarine, bloodstone|
|April||Diamond, Sapphire||Diamond||Diamond||Diamond, Rock crystal|
|May||Emerald, Agate||Emerald||Emerald||Emerald, Chrysoprase|
|June||Cat’s eye, Turquoise, Agate||Pearl, Moonstone||Pearl, Moonstone, Alexandrite||Pearl, Moonstone|
|Juli||Turquoise, Onyx, Ruby||Ruby||Ruby||Ruby, Carnelian|
|August||Sardonyx, Moonstone, Carnelian, Topaz||Sardonyx, Peridot||Peridot, Spinel||Peridot, Sardonyx|
|September||Chrysolite, Sapphire||Sapphire||Sapphire||Sapphire, Lapis Lazuli|
|October||Opal, Aquamarine||Opal, Tourmaline||Opal, Tourmaline||Opal|
|November||Topaz, Pearl||Topaz||Topaz, Citrine||Topaz, Citrine|
|December||Bloodstone, Ruby||Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli||Turquoise, Zircon, Tanzanite||Tanzanite, Turquoise|
The list, based on the zodiac signs:
You cannot only choose your birthstone according to the month of your birth but also according to your sign in the zodiac:
|Aquarius||January 20 – February 18||Garnet|
|Pisces||February 19 – March 20||Amethyst|
|Aries||March 21 – April 19||Bloodstone|
|Taurus||April 20 – May 20||Sapphire|
|Gemini||May 21 – June 20||Agate|
|Cancer||June 21 – July 22||Emerald|
|Leo||July 23 – August 22||Onyx|
|Virgo||August 23 – September 22||Carnelian|
|Libra||September 23 – October 22||Chrysolite or Peridot|
|Scorpio||October 23 – November 21||Beryl|
|Sagitarius||November 22 – December 21||Topaz|
|Capricorn||December 22 – January 19||Ruby|
Let us end with all these list, with the list of the week:
This list is great since you can pick the day that you were born or the day of today. Or another choice with the result that you can wear the gemstone you fancy most, or the piece of jewelry you already have in your jewelry box, and is set with a certain gemstone. And whatever the stone/day you choose, you have a great story.
|Day of the week||Gemstone|
|Friday||Emerald, Cat’s Eye|
This might look a bit confusing. Therefore I would like to give you an example.
My birthday is on July 10, I am born on a Friday (just before the weekend, great), my zodiac sign is Cancer and the day I write this blog is a Sunday.
When I go to my jewelry box or when I would like to purchase a new piece of jewelry (in my case, when I make a new piece of jewelry for myself) and I stay strict to the list, I can wear:
A ruby, according to the modern birthstone list, but also carnelian, turquoise, and onyx. When I look at my birthday it might be an emerald or cat’s eye, my zodiac sign says to wear emerald and for today (Sunday) I can choose between topaz and diamond.
May I recommend not to be strict and choose the gemstone that facies you, that looks good on you and matches your outfit!
Some alternate features
There is another way to look at gemstones or birthstones in particular. And that is what healing or spiritual features a gemstone claims to have, and what ‘help’ you need at that moment.
On the modern list, the garnet is the birthstone for January and it is believed that the garnet keeps you safe during travels. February’s birthstone is the amethyst, which should make the bearer courageous and keep her or him from drunkenness. The aquamarine is the birthstone of March and this gemstone is associated with ‘healing powers’. And April has the most popular birthstone ‘the diamond’, the symbol of love.
The month of May is the month of the birthstone emerald, also a symbol of love and the pearl represents the birthstone of June, the symbol of purity. I have my birthday in July, so I am blessed with ruby, which should ward off evil. The peridot is the birthstone of August and is also called the ‘evening emerald’.
I am a bit jealous of the ones who are born in September and got the sapphire as their birthstone. I love this gemstone and it should guard you against evil and poisoning. In October you got the opal as your birthstone and the opal represents faithfulness and confidence. The birthstone of November is the topaz, for love and affection. And the birthstone of December, the turquoise, gives you luck and success.
The anniversary birthstones
If you thought you know everything about birthstones… there is also a list of gemstones that commemorate your anniversary. very practical if you don’t know what to give with a certain anniversary to your wife!
|1st anniversary||Gold jewelry or peridot|
|3th anniversary||Pearl or Jade|
|4th anniversary||Blue topaz or blue zircon|
|5th anniversary||Sapphire or pink tourmaline|
|6th anniversary||Amethyst or turquoise|
|7th anniversary||Onyx, yellow sapphire, or golden beryl|
|8th anniversary||Tourmaline or tanzanite|
|9th anniversary||Lapis lazuli, amethyst, or green spinel|
|10th anniversary||Diamond or blue sapphire|
|11th anniversary||Turquoise, citrine, or yellow zircon|
|12th anniversary||Jade or opal|
|13th anniversary||Citrine, moonstone, or hawk’s eye|
|14th anniversary||Opal, agate, or bloodstone|
|15th anniversary||Ruby, rhodolite garnet, or alexandrite|
|16th anniversary||Peridot or red spinel|
|17th anniversary||Carnelian or a watch|
|18th anniversary||Cat’s eye (chrysoberyl) or aquamarine|
|19th anniversary||Aquamarine or almandine garnet|
|20th anniversary||Emerald or yellow/golden diamond|
|23th anniversary||Imperial topaz|
|25th anniversary||Tsavorite, or green garnet: Silver Jubilee|
|30th anniversary||Pearl Jubilee|
|35th anniversary||Emerald or jade|
|40th anniversary||Ruby jubilee|
|45th anniversary||Sapphire or cat’s eye|
|50th anniversary||Golden Jubilee or Imperial/Golden Topaz|
|55th anniversary||Emerald or alexandrite|
|60th anniversary||Diamond Jubilee or star ruby|
|65th anniversary||Blue spinel|
|70th anniversary||Sapphire Jubilee or smoky quartz|
|75th anniversary||Diamond Jubilee|
|80th anniversary||Ruby Jubilee|
The ones who paid attention, see that the diamond is given (or should be given) on more than one anniversary. The reason is that in most of the wedding rings today the ring of the bride is decorated with a diamond.
The solution for this phenomenon is easy. Having more diamond pieces of jewelry is not a real punishment, is it? And, maybe a very Dutch solution, in the Netherlands there are jewelers that sell ‘grow diamonds’. This means that when you have a piece of diamond jewelry with one diamond, you can change that diamond for a bigger one!
And that is not all! FlorenceJewelshop has a free e-book about birthstones, with information about the color, the healing capacities, where to find them, and more. It is free and you just have to let me know where I can send it to.
Hug, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop