Birthstones and Why They're Special

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There’s always an appetite for gems in jewellery, which is not surprising since they look so beautiful! Many people look for their birthstone, so in this series of blogs, we’re going to take a look through each month’s birthstones, and what makes each one special. 

A large part of what makes jewellery so special is the meaning that we attach to it. I'm from traditionally down-to-earth Yorkshire, so am not really New Age or an avid astrologer. Whether or not you believe in gem power, the gift of a birthstone always makes its recipient feel special – as long as you know when their birthday actually is! 

The tradition of wearing birthstones dates back to ancient civilizations, as people across cultures have been charmed and fascinated by the glow of gemstones, attributing mystic powers to them. Historically, certain gemstones have been linked with the months of the year. Because people in times gone by classified stones by colour, and could not distinguish between rubies and garnets, for instance, the stones that were attributed to a particular month do not necessarily match the list of birthstones that we have today. Over time, many cultures and civilisations have adopted a system of birthstones, including the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Incas, Aztecs, Persians, Tibetans and Indians. 

It’s thought that the Old Testament contains the first recorded instance of the importance of gemstones, as Exodus 28: 15-30 has precise instructions for making the Breastplate of Aaron, high priest of the Hebrews. This ritual garment was set with twelve gemstones, representing the tribes of Israel. These stones were easily adapted to represent the Zodiac signs and the months of year, each also numbering twelve.

Around the 8th and 9th centuries, a number of religious treatises were written that associated particular stones with specific apostles. These were known as “Foundation Stones”. People would wear a stone associated with a particular month in the belief that the stone’s powers were at their maximum during that time. Ideally therefore, a person needed to possess a collection of twelve gemstones, rotating them through the months. While we don’t believe that gems give you special powers, it’s a great excuse to treat yourself to a new piece of jewellery! 

Customs changed over time, and it gradually became more typical for a person to wear a single symbolic stone, although this tradition is really only a few centuries old. In the 16th century, the Gregorian calendar contained poems that matched each month to a birthstone. This poem also details the values and meanings behind the birthstone. 

During the 18th century, gem traders had begun to use birthstones in their marketing, assigning a particular gemstone to a person’s birth month. By this point, birthstones were much like our modern conception of them, and had become entirely removed from any religious meanings. 

The concepts were formalised into a birthstone collection by Tiffany and Co in 1870 and published in a pamphlet with an unknown author. 

Finally, the American National Association of Jewellers (now known as Jewellers of America) convened in 1912 to standardise birthstones. They officially recognized the gemstones that would be associated with each calendar month. The list has only been adjusted three times since then (in 1952, 2002, and 2016), and gives us the “traditional,” modern birthstones that are popular today.

What is my birthstone? 

Many women attach significance to their birthstones - wearing them to mark the great life stages of engagement, marriage and birth. When Hollywood actress Jessica Biel received her engagement ring from Justin Timberlake, it featured two pieces of aquamarine to signify her March birthday. 

The commonly accepted list of birthstones in use today dates only from 1912, when the (American) National Association of Jewellers met in Kansas to come up with a definitive list. The most recent addition to the list came in 2002 when the American Gem Trade Association added tanzanite as a birthstone for December (which, incidentally, already had two birthstones in the form of turquoise and zircon). 

Month Birthstone(s)
January Garnet
February Amethyst
March Bloodstone or Aquamarine
April Diamond
May Emerald
June Pearl, Moonstone or Alexandrite
July Ruby
August Peridot
September Sapphire
October Opal or Tourmaline
November Citrine or Topaz
December Turquoise or Tanzanite

Choosing the Right Birthstone 

No matter when your birthday is or what jewellery you are wearing, the most important thing is that it speaks to you in some way. Whether you prefer certain styles, metals, or stones, you should always select jewellery that has meaning for you. 

You can choose a gemstone that makes you feel happy when you wear it because you love its colour and beauty. You can also add meaning by choosing a birthstone that is specifically connected to you, even if it is not your birthday.

It is interesting and fun to wear unusual gemstones. By incorporating a birthstone or an alternative birthstone into your jewellery box, you can add colours and types of gemstones that you might not ordinarily pick. These gemstones vary in hardness, and some may not be suitable for everyday use, but they will all catch your eye every time you wear them. 

Birthstones make it easy to shop for your partner, spouse, children, or relatives. Surprise your loved one with a birthstone gift! Whether you choose a gem set into a simple pendant, a statement ring featuring a stone, or a custom piece designed with your jeweller, you can give them a uniquely personalised gift they will always treasure. 

Birthstones are beautiful gems that offer a personal connection to your life. Finding a gemstone that you love and combining it with other gems and various metals (such as silver, gold, or platinum) can help you create a memorable and meaningful piece of jewellery that is one-of-a-kind. 

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