The Jewelry Insider

July 10, 2009

Gemstone Education

All About Birthstones

Gems by month, gems by the stars, gems by color or gems by power – Jewelry.com’s guide to colored gems covers the many facets that make these jewels a fashion favorite.

Click on the stone name for complete information.

January: Garnet
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February: Amethyst
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March: Aquamarine
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April: Diamond
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May: Emerald
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June: Pearl
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July: Ruby
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August: Peridot
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September: Sapphire
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October: Opal
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November: Citrine
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December: Blue Topaz
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Birthstones: Rockin Through The Ages

For more than 45 centuries (3000 BC up to the 1500s), the acquisition of gems for their aesthetic qualities was a minor consideration. Though gem beauty is the dominant reason for today’s gem purchasers, in the ancient world, gems were not luxuries. They were considered necessary to daily life.

The idea that gems contain special properties and powers is a concept that has survived for countless thousands of years, and lives on our modern birthstone charts. It is the oldest of jewelry traditions to link a birth date to a particular stone and to accept the gem’s ability to influence the wearer’s life.

The awe that the ancients felt for the gems they wore is a race memory passed down to us today, and is a great deal of what our desire for precious jewelry is all about. The Birthstone tradition links our time to a time when man was more at peace with nature and more in tune with the world around him. To better understand the properties associated with birthstone (as well as other power gems) we must look back in gemological history and become aware of the mystique that began these traditions.

IT IS IN THE STARS

It is debatable when exactly it occurred, but the idea of Gem Power was first cultivated in the societies of ancient India and Babylonia. Both of these ancient peoples ascribed many magical powers and virtues to gemstones. This was no mean, primitive superstition, but a science: a complex and sophisticated system of beliefs.

In these ancient cultures, jewelers were almost never the first consultants in matters of gem collection/purchases. The royal houses and the landed rich (the only people who could afford to trade in gems) would almost always consult an astrologer. Usually these sages were on retainer to the best houses of the land. Once their advice was heeded, the purchaser visited a jeweler with
recommendations based off the buyer’s horoscope.

In India, wise sages used gems as a practical means of attunement to life forces and spiritual cleansing. Wearing these stones would align the wearer with the life energies and the currents the gems exerted. From these practices evolved the nine-gem Vedic system of birthstone matching. This system is still in use in many Eastern cultures as The Vedas formed the foundations of Hinduism.

To the astrologers of ancient Babylonia (called Chaldeans), gemstones were imbued with powerful metaphysical properties. The ruling planets’ link to their related stones in both the Indian and Babylonian systems laid the groundwork for our Western birth month, sign and stone traditions.

This Eastern birthstone tradition found its way into what would become the foundations of western religious ideology through Judeo-Christian teachings. The famous Breastplate of Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first priest of The Arc Of The Covenant, was constructed at Moses’ command to specifications given him by God. Over the last 3500 years both Jewish and Christian theologians have theorized about the significance of the 12 gems used in the breastplate’s construction. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, described the protective armor in detail and this description is believed to be the real origin of our modern birthstone record.

It was not until the late 1500’s that religious scholars and “enlightened” scientist began to attack the idea of gems as magical repositories of alchemical energies. The jewelry establishment (aided by the more superstitious underpinnings of society) was able to hold off the naysayers for a long while.
By 1600, however, this Western Zodiacal tradition started to lose ground and by 1700 most people scoffed at the idea.

OUT WITH THE OLD

This Age of Enlightenment not withstanding, the birthstone tradition has survived into the modern era. The current birthstone list was established in Kansas City, MO in 1912 when the National Association of Jewelers met to rework and revise the list that had been in use since the 1400’s. The list as it stood in 1912 was one that had evolved over centuries and carried the influence of
many eras and cultures. The 1912 revision drew fire from gemstone purists who felt that the list’s importance was being subjugated by commercialism. Only six of the stones from the older, traditional list were retained and revisions such as the movement of Ruby from being December’s stone to July’s and the addition of tourmaline as an October alternate were considered scandalous.

George Frederick Kunz, one of the great gemologists of his day, repudiated the new list vehemently in his book, “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones”, going so far as to outline the DANGERS of playing with this list. Certain that our sense of romance and imagination would be harmed, Kunz declared, “Once we allow the spirit of commercialism … to dictate the choice of such stones …
there is a grave danger that the only true incentive to acquire birthstones will be weekend.” Despite the objections of the respected expert, the modern birthstone list was born. It survives to this day, and is the list in use most around the world.

Theological debate over the centuries has revised and remolded many of the ancient world’s ideals but gemstones continue to play important roles in daily life. Throughout the ages gems have been treasured amulets prized for their ability to influence the energies of nature and the life force itself. Even today much of the attraction to gems still centers on the mystical over the decorative.

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