Gemstones for the Month of a Person's Birth
|June||Cultured Pearl, Alexandrite, Moonstone|
|December||Blue Zircon, Tanzanite, Turquoise|
|Image credits: Aquamarine:|
What Are Birthstones?
Birthstones are gemstones that represent the month of a person's birth. As an example, emerald is the birthstone for the month of May. So, people born in May have emerald as their birthstone.
The use of specific gems as "birthstones for a specific month" and wearing them in jewelry is a custom that began in eighteenth-century Europe and quickly spread to the United States. GFK The practice became popular in the United States, and in 1912, the American National Retail Jeweler's Association (now named Jewelers of America) adopted a standardized list of monthly birthstones which went into use by jewelers throughout the country. JoA Birthstone jewelry is still very popular in the United States.
Birthstone Jewelry Popularity
The custom of gifting and wearing birthstone jewelry produces a nice share of jewelry sales in the United States and other countries. Birthstone jewelry is especially popular as a first jewelry gift for children, often given on a birthday or as a graduation present. Some students select their birthstone as the center stone of their high school or college class ring.
Birthstones facilitate the purchase and sale of many jewelry items. Birthstones serve as both a purchasing and marketing aid. Here is how that might happen…
A shopper is looking for a gift for a niece and is having difficulty finding "the perfect item". The salesperson asks the birthdate of the niece. Upon learning that the niece was born in February, the salesperson directs the shopper to a nice display of amethyst jewelry. The shopper quickly finds an amethyst jewelry set consisting of a ring, a pendant necklace, and a pair of earrings. The "birthstone idea" helped the salesperson facilitate a sale and helped the shopper select a personalized gift. Both are happy and there is a good chance that the niece will be delighted with her birthstone gift.
Historical Roots of Birthstones
The practice of associating certain gemstones with certain months of the year dates back at least 2000 years. George Frederick Kunz, a mineralogist and gemologist who served as the Vice President of Tiffany & Company in the late 1800s, wrote in his book, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones:
"The origin of the belief that to each month of the year a special stone was dedicated, and that the stone of the month was endowed with a peculiar virtue for those born in that month and was their natal stone, may be traced back to the writings of Josephus, in the first century of our era, and to those of St. Jerome, in the early part of the fifth century. Both these authors distinctly proclaim the connection between the twelve stones of the high-priest's breastplate and the twelve months of the year, as well as the twelve zodiacal signs." GFK
"However, in spite of this early testimony, we have no instance of the usage of wearing such stones as natal stones until a comparatively late date; indeed, it appears that this custom originated in Poland some time during the eighteenth century." GFK
How Today's Birthstone List Evolved
Standardization of the birthstone list in 1912 was a good thing to do. It reduced confusion between organizations and individuals who had different ideas of what birthstones should be used to represent different months. However, the list has been modified several times since 1912 - and there are still multiple "birthstone lists" in use. Fortunately, there are only a few points of departure among the many lists used in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Some modifications of the original list that are in general agreement include: (A) tourmaline was added as an August birthstone to give people color choices beyond yellowish-green peridot, (B) spinel joined opal as an October birthstone for greater durability and the option of a faceted stone, (C) the lapis lazuli of December was replaced by zircon and later tanzanite - after its 1967 discovery. The list shown on this page is one recently published by the Gemological Institute of America. GIA
|GFK The Curious Lore of Precious Stones: Being a Description of their Sentiments and Folk Lore, Superstitions, Symbology, Mysticism, Use in Medicine, Protection, Prevention, Religion, and Divination, Crystal Gazing, Birth Stones, Lucky Stones and Talismans, Astral, Zodiacal and Planetary; by George Frederick Kunz, published by J.B. Lippincott Company, 406 pages, 1913.|
JoA Birthstone Jewelry: an article on the Jewelers of America website, accessed December 2019.
GIA Birthstones for Each Month: an article on the Gemological Institute of America website, accessed December 2019.
Lab-Created and Simulant Birthstones
Although many birthstone gems are affordable, some, such as diamond, emerald, and ruby, can be expensive. Decades ago, many jewelry manufacturers began using lab-grown and imitation gems in some commercial birthstone jewelry.
These man-made alternative gems, along with sterling silver or low-carat gold mountings, provided two benefits: they (1) significantly reduced the cost of the item, and, (2) improved the size, color, and clarity of the stones that the buyer was able to afford.
Many people are delighted with the lower-cost alternative. However, it is very important for the salesperson, product labeling, and receipt to clearly state that the birthstones are man-made and not natural gems. This disclosure is very important because many people only want to purchase jewelry made with natural gems.
Amethyst is the birthstone for February. It is the world's most popular purple gem - and that increases enhances its status as a birthstone. The purple color of amethyst can be so light that it is barely perceptable or so dark that a faceted gem can be nearly opaque. The color of amethyst spans a range from violetish purple, to purple, to reddish purple. The gem above is a beautiful reddish-purple amethyst from the Four Peaks Mine in Maricopa County, Arizona. Four Peaks is the most important amethyst mine in the United States.
Garnet is the birthstone of January. Although many people think of a red gem when they think of garnet, it is actually available in almost every color - green (tsavorite and demantoid), orange (spessartine and hessionite), purple (rhodolite), yellow (mali and topazolite), pink (malaya), red (almandine and pyrope), black (melanite). These are just some of garnets many colors and varieties. There are even opaque garnets that are usually cut as chabochon (pink hydrogrossular and green grossularite). The color variety of garnet gives people born in January more color options.
Diamond is the birthstone of April. It is the world's most popular gem. Many people enjoy diamond because of its brilliance and because of its dispersion. Dispersion is the ability of a gem to act as a prism and separate light into its component colors - as shown by the diamond in the accompanying photo. Diamond is one of the most expensive birthstones. When cost is a concern, many people opt for a smaller stone. Others decide to purchase a more affordable lab-grown diamond. If cost is not an issue then a beautiful colored diamond might be possible! Image
Aquamarine is the the birthstone for the month of March. Aquamarine is the blue variety of the mineral known as beryl. It occurs in a range of colors from slightly greenish blue to nearly a pure blue hue. Aquamarine also occurs in a range of color saturations, from very light, almost imperceptable blue to a rich deep blue. The richly-colored aquamarines with a purest blue color are the most popular. Image Bloodstone is another gem that serves as a birthstone for March. Bloodstone is a green chalcedony that is marked with spashes of red color. It receives its name from the red spashes of blood-like color. As an opaque gem, bloodstone is usually cut en cabochon.
Pearl is an organic gem and a birthstone for the month of June. There are three basic types of pearls: 1) natural pearls, which form naturally within the shell of a living mollusk; 2) cultured pearls, which are propagated by people by inserting a "seed' into a mollusk shell with the intent that the mollusk will deposit layers of nacre around it; and, 3) imitation pearls, which are usually plastic beads with a lustrous coating applied. Most pearls in today's market are cultured pearls, which are very affordable when compared to natural pearls, and make a much nicer gift than imitation pearls. In addition to pearls, Moonstone and Alexandrite serve as birthstones for the month of June. Moonstone is a feldspar mineral that produces a "pearly" luster when light enters the stone and is reflected by twinned mineral layers below. Alexandrite is a color-change variety of chrysoberyl that appears as different colors under daylight and incandescent illumination. Image
Emerald is the birthstone for the month of May. Emerald is the world's most popular green gem. It is the green variety of the mineral beryl. The gem ranges in color from slightly yellowish-green, to pure green, to slightly bluish-green. Pure green emeralds are the most popular. Emerald can be a costly gem and it often lacks the high level of clarity that many people desire. For that reason, lab-grown emeralds have become a popular option in birthstone jewelry. Lab-grown emeralds can be purchased at a small fraction of the cost of a natural emerald of similar size and clarity. The buyer and the recipient of an emerald birthstone gift might be pleased with this option. Image
August: The birthstones for August are Peridot and Spinel. Some lists also include Sardonyx as a birthstone for August.
July: The birthstone for July is Ruby.
October: The birthstones for October are Opal and Tourmaline. Image
September: The birthstone for September is Sapphire. Creative Commons photo by Montanabw.
December: The birthstones for December are Turquoise, Blue Zircon, and Tanzanite. Image
November: The birthstones for November are Citrine and Topaz. Image