The accent stone(s) is an important part of some jewelry. It’s meant to enhance the beauty of the center stone and provide added interest to the jewelry. Diamonds are the most often used gem for accentuating a piece of jewelry. They “go” with every other gem, and they add sparkle and richness. But, what if you want something different for your accent stones? Are there rules or best practices that apply when choosing accent stones?
An important guideline to follow when creating jewelry is to make sure the accent stones don’t compete with the center stone for attention. Features such as size, cut, polish, and color should all be considered. The size of an accent stone should always be smaller than the center stone, but there are many acceptable proportions. Cut and polish of the accent stones can be similar or quite different from the center stone. For example, I love the look of this rough drusy quartz with the polished and faceted diamonds. But the smoothly polished chrysocolla and turquoise pendant is also pleasing to the eye.
Sleeping Drusy Quartz with Diamond Accents
Chrysocolla and Turquoise Cabochon Pendant
The study of color starts with the color wheel. There are terms for colors that look good together, such as complementary or analogous colors. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, and analogous colors are adjacent. Monochromatic colors are different tints or tones of the same color. For example, blue and orange are good colors together. And blue with green can be a vibrant combination. But dark blue can look great with light blue, too!
In the end, your eye is the best judge of what colors look good together. So much depends on the exact tint and hue of each gem. Some people prefer bold, saturated colors while other people prefer pastels. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the hues of accent stones. Here are some suggestions for accents to put with birthstone gems.
- January – Red Garnet paired with Yellow-Green Peridot
- February – Violet Amethyst paired with Yellow Citrine (Note: Ametrine is the natural pairing of these two.)
- March – Aquamarine paired with Pink Tourmaline
- April – Diamond pairs with anything, but consider Blue Zircon for its high dispersion of light (aka Sparkle!)
- May – vivid Emerald paired with another vivid gem, Blue Sapphire
- June – Pearl, often used as accent itself, would pair well with the pastel hues of Morganite
- July – Ruby, another vivid stone, would look great with Emerald as long as you’re okay with Christmas colors. If not, consider Pink Sapphire, with its less saturated,monochromatic hue, as an accent gem.
- August – Green Peridot paired with Ethiopian Opal
- September – Blue Sapphire paired with Orange Spessertine Garnet
- October – Precious Opal, if white, would pair well with Pink Spinel or Tourmaline. If the Precious Opal is black, it would pair better with Emerald or Sapphire.
- November – Yellow Citrine paired with Red Garnet
- December – Robin’s Egg Blue Turquoise paired with Black Spinel or Diamonds
I recently helped create a Lavender Star Sapphire ring. The sapphire had a very pale hue, as star sapphires often do. The goal was to enhance its color with effective accents. We chose faceted trillion amethysts, fairly light in color but more colorful than the sapphire. When the three were side by side, it really helped the Star Sapphire appear more lavender. This can be another great use of accent stones.
Star Sapphire with Light Amethysts
Choosing accent gems for your next jewelry project can be lots of fun. Diamonds are wonderful, and they’ll never lose their appeal as an accent stone, but there are lots of other possibilities. We’d be happy to help you figure out your options.
Boulder Opal from Australia
Opal can be a confusing gem stone. For one thing, it’s not a mineral like most gems. Minerals have an identifiable crystal structure. Opal has a non-crystalline, amorphous structure, and so it’s labeled a mineraloid. Another unusual quality of opal is all its different variations. Most people think of opal as the stone that flashes different colors. Gemologists call that quality “play of color.” But that only happens with precious opal, which represents about 5% of all opal. Most opal is called “common opal” or “potch opal”, and it shows no play of color. These are just two reasons why opal is, well, complicated.
If you are really serious about your gem stones, you’ve probably heard of Black Opal, White Opal, Crystal Opal, Peruvian Opal, and Fire Opal. You know that most of the precious opal comes from Australia or Ethiopia. You understand that an opal doublet is really a layer of precious opal too fragile to survive alone in jewelry, so it’s backed with a non-precious material. An opal triplet is an even finer layer of precious opal, with both a backing and a protective clear quartz dome over the top.
But what is Boulder Opal? I describe it as ribbons or veins of opal that are embedded in the host rock it formed within. Because the host rock is tougher and harder than opal, boulder opal is considered more durable. And because the host rock is less valuable, you can get a big piece of boulder opal for much less money than a small piece of crystal or black opal. Boulder opal is mined in Queensland, which is the northeastern part of Australia. Mine fields in places like Quilpie, Bulgaroo, Koroit, and Yowah are yielding a lot of product. As Boulder Opal has become more popular, these mines have kept up with demand.
Three pieces from our collection
For the month of May, 2018, we’ve brought several beautiful pieces of boulder opal into our store, courtesy of our distributor, DuftyWeis Opals. They’re only here for a limited time so, if you have the chance, come in to be personally introduced to boulder opal.
Gemstones are part of my life. I’m around them all day at work! But many people feel that their interaction with gems and jewels is minimal. Our language, however, is quite “loaded” with references to gems. This pervasiveness means that it’s literally impossible to live life without some knowledge of gems.
Many women, and some MEN!, are named after gemstones. Have you ever met an Amber, a Ruby, or a Jade? Other well-known names include Beryl, Pearl, Opal, Jett, and Jasper. Names like Gemma and Crystal aren’t gemstone names, per se, but they mimic the idea of gems. And there are plenty of less-common names like Jacinth, Sapphire, and Garnet.
Beryl Markham, Aviatrix, and character in the movie, Out of Africa
Pearl S Buck, author of The Good Earth
Amber Tamblyn, actress. Starred in Two and a Half Men
Companies like Crayola and Pantene have borrowed names from gemstones to describe their colors. Do you remember coloring with crayons labeled Aquamarine or Amethyst? What about Pantene’s Color of the Year last year–Rose Quartz! Names like Ruby, Emerald, or Turquoise bring colors vividly to mind. The gemstone names can be colorful adjectives, and the entertainment industry has used them for years. Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz with her RUBY red slippers? Or how about Dolly Parton singing about Jolene and her eyes of EMERALD green?
Even gemstones with little or no color get used a lot in our language. Diamond is the most popular gemstone used in songwriting. Pearl is the runner-up. Over 1200 songs were counted as having the word, Diamond. Rhianna has a recent song, “Diamonds”, which, I’m sure, is quite popular. My mind goes back to my 8th grade synchronized swimming program, when we swam to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” by Ethel Merman. (I guess that dates me, doesn’t it?)
There are sayings and quotations about gemstones. For example, “Diamond in the Rough” means that something or someone is valuable and good, but not polished or finished. “Pearls of Wisdom” means rare and worthy words of advice. Even the Bible contributes to the list with “Pearls before Swine” which talks about not giving out words or things of great value to those who won’t appreciate them. In general, gemstones are used as synonyms for something or someone rare, valuable, and special.
I love these funny quotations about gemstones and jewelry that I came across while researching for this blog.
Diamonds are only chunks of coal, that stuck to their jobs, you see. by Minnie Richard Smith
Jewelry takes people’s minds off your wrinkles. by Sonja Henie
I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry. by Rita Rudner
But I want to end with a reference to gemstones that we all learned from early in our youth. This is proof, in my opinion, that one can’t go through life without some knowledge of gems:
Twinkle, twinkle little star– How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high–Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle little star–How I wonder what you are.
Most of us think of Michelangelo, Picasso, or Rodin when someone mentions sculptors. But here are three more names of skilled artists who sculpt and polish gem stones. Tom Munsteiner, Steve Walters, and John Dyer have all won multiple awards for their work. Here are some examples:
Tom Munsteiner is a fourth generation gem stone carver from Germany. His father, Bernd Munsteiner, is famous for the development of the fantasy cut, and he even has some of his work in the Smithsonian! Tom knew early on that he wanted to carve gems. At age 16 he began training with his dad. One thing I found very interesting is that his dad first taught him how to classically cut gems before attempting any fantasy cuts. By the time he was 22, he had been trained as a Gemologist and was beginning to win awards for his gemstone creations. His work is distinguished from his father’s for its softer, less angular designs.
Steve Walters grew up in California. He taught himself how to carve gemstones by reading books and practicing. For a short period, he produced gemstone sculptures for his parents’ company. In the mid-1980s he started to carve gems for jewelry. His work is very recognizable as many of the pieces are composites. He might put gems like onyx, citrine, and hematite together, backed with mother of pearl. He’s won several A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association) Cutting Edge Awards, and his booth at the Tucson Gem Show is always one of the most popular.
John Dyer grew up in Brazil, the son of missionaries from the United States. When his parents saw his interest in gems, they bought him books and helped him obtain his first rough gem stone material. John tells the story of taking his rough to a cutter who overcharged him and did a terrible job. That’s when he decided to cut his own gems. With lots of practice and a few “disasters”, he’s become one of the most recognized gem stone cutters and has won over 50 cutting awards.
At Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth, we’ve been fortunate to set gem stones cut by all three of these artists. It’s so gratifying to see these gems being worn and appreciated. Here are some of our designs. If you’re inspired to have your own creation by one of these well-known artists, come and talk to us. We’d love to help.
Blue Topaz by John Dyer
Composite with Watermelon Tourmaline by Steve Walters
Peridot by Tom Munsteiner
The history of lab-created or synthetic gemstones is much longer than you might think. Scientists began making synthetic ruby back in the late 1800’s. Initially, rubies were made for industrial rather than decorative purposes. Ruby is harder than steel, so it can hold up to moving metal parts. It actually helps reduce friction in devices like watches or compasses, allowing the metal pieces to move with a consistent pattern.
In the early 1900’s, a young boy named Carroll Chatham tried to grow diamonds in his garage. He was fascinated with the work of Henri Moissan, a French chemist who also tried to grow diamonds but ended up with Moissanite. Making diamonds requires more heat and pressure than Chatham could produce at the time, so he re-directed his focus to emeralds. Even then, the work wasn’t easy. In fact, his first emerald crystals were accidentally formed. By this time Chatham was in college, and it took him three years to figure out how to replicate the “accident.”
Lab-created Emerald Rough Crystals
Lab-created Cut and Polished Emerald
By 1938, Chatham had perfected the process of growing emeralds for jewelry, and he moved on to creating other valued gems like sapphire, ruby, opal, spinel, and alexandrite. Chatham began selling his lab-created gems under the Chatham label. The company is now 80 years old and is one of the leaders in the making of lab-created colored gem stones. Carroll never gave up on his dream of growing diamonds and, in the late 1980’s, the company was successful. Unfortunately, Carroll didn’t live to see this dream come true.
In 2018 there are many, many companies that produce diamonds–companies like Brilliant Earth, Clean Origin, and EcoStar. Years of refining the High Pressure, High Temperature technique has led to better quality diamonds. While diamonds have many industrial uses, today’s lab-created diamonds are beautiful and can also be used in jewelry. Anyone purchasing an engagement ring today has a decision to make that his/her parents and grandparents didn’t have to make–Should the center stone be natural or lab-grown?
Photo courtesy of Rogers & Holland
There are pros and cons to purchasing a synthetic diamond or colored gemstone. Some of the advantages are 1) synthetics are less expensive than their natural counterparts; 2) growing synthetics is kinder to the environment than mining for natural stones; and 3) gem cutters can sacrifice more synthetic material to create the perfectly cut gem because, well, you can always grow more! Partly because of these advantages, we’ve seen more customers move towards this option.
One big disadvantage of a synthetic stone is that it’s, well, synthetic. Fine jewelry symbolizes pure and natural feelings of love, gratitude, or friendship. How will it feel to wear or give jewelry that has a lab-created stone? Another disadvantage is that synthetic stones will only go down in value. They are a manufactured item and, as the technology improves in the making of them, the cost to produce will decrease. Fine natural gems are rare, and that rarity will keep values high.
It’s a decision every consumer has to make for him/herself. What’s imperative is that consumers are presented with clear options, and that they know what they are buying. Gemstones are not obviously natural or synthetic, so customers must rely on reputable jewelers to distinguish between the two. For an important jewelry purchase, go to an A.G.S. (American Gem Society) member store. There you will find associates dedicated to the highest integrity in the jewelry industry. Ask questions and do comparison shopping. And feel lucky to live in a time when there are so many gem stone options.
Ultra Violet, Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year
In December, Pantone came out with its Color of the Year. This year it’s Ultra Violet. My mind goes to the gemstones that exhibit this glorious hue. Many people will think of Amethyst and Tanzanite. I’d like to introduce some other options– two gems most people have never heard of and two gems most people have heard of but never in this hue.
SUGILITE was first identified in 1944 by Ken-ichi Sugi from Japan. But gem quality Sugilite wasn’t discovered until 1979 in South Africa, making it a very new gem in the jewelry industry. The color ranges from a pinkish purple to a deep bluish-purple. The hardness is between 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs scale. Sugilite is generally cut as a cabochon because it’s opaque. It usually has veining and a mottled appearance.
CHAROITE is another “young” stone. Named after the Chara River in Eastern Siberia, the only place it’s ever been found, it was discovered in the 1940s but not really known until 1978. The stone ranges from lavender to purple in color, is usually opaque, and is readily identified by its swirling, fibrous appearance. Considered a rock rather than a mineral, its hardness on the Mohs scale is listed as 5 – 6.
JADEITE has been known and valued for centuries. It comes in many colors, not just green. Lavender jade is beautiful! It can be semitransparent to opaque and is usually cut into cabochons or beads. It comes from many different places–Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, and Canada to name a few. Jade is a harder, tougher stone than either Sugilite or Charoite. But it also has the possibility of being dyed, which brings down the value. Neither Sugilite nor Charoite undergo treatments. Always ask if the jadeite has been treated or enhanced before you buy!
PURPLE SAPPHIRE is very rare, coming usually from Sri Lanka or Madagascar. Again, sapphire has been valued as a gemstone for centuries, but most people don’t know that it comes in so many different colors. Most sapphire is heat-treated, but purple, lavender, and violet sapphires usually don’t need to be. Purple sapphire has a Mohs hardness of 9, so it’s the most durable of the options presented here. Because it’s hard and transparent, this gem is usually faceted. Not surprisingly, it’s also the most expensive option listed.
Amethyst and Tanzanite are lovely purple gems, and they would work well with this year’s fashions. But now you have LOTS of options if you want to be “styling” with the Color of the Year!
Michigan isn’t known as a state rich in gemstones. We have Petoskey (our state stone) and Isle Royale Greenstone (our state gem). There are no sapphires, emeralds, or rubies, but this hasn’t stopped us from making our own gems. Be thankful for the ingenuity of artists who use the materials readily available to them. If you’re a Michigander, you can be proud of our “Made in Michigan” gems.
Detroit is the Motor City. Henry Ford started making automobiles around the turn of the 20th century. Little did he know he’d be helping the jewelry industry! But Fordite, or “Motor Agate” as it’s sometimes called, is made from the same kind of lacquer or enamel paint that graced the cars of the mid-1900s. Today the material is used to make such things as pendants, earrings, and cuff links.
Fordite Pendant made from Cadillac Paint
For decades, automobiles were spray painted by hand in rooms called painting bays. The painted car frames sat on skids that could then be moved to the oven when the paint was ready for curing. Over time, excess paint on the skids, baked hard by many trips to the oven, made the skids less efficient. Workers would chip big chunks of psychedelic enamel off, and, at some point, they realized that the colorful chunks could be cut and polished.
According to experts on the material, the heyday for Fordite was in the 1970s, because such a variety of color was offered. Experts can look at a piece of Fordite and know, approximately, when the piece was formed. For example, bright colors of red, green and yellow were popular in the 1960s. Earthtones of olive green and brown were popular in the 1970s. Experts can also distinguish Fordite from the creations of contemporary jewelers who can make their own “Fordite-like” pieces. Obviously, the “natural Fordite” is more valuable.
By the late 1980s, innovation in the painting process reduced the amount of wasted paint. Today’s cars are painted with robotic arms and a magnetic process which eliminates the chance of overspray. Sadly, colorful Fordite is no longer made. If you want to own a piece of Fordite, don’t wait too long!
Fordite isn’t the only example of recycling in jewelry. In the town of Leland, near Traverse City, jewelry is made from the slag by-product of an iron smelting process. Back in the late 1800s, Leland was home to the Leland Lake Superior Iron Company. Situated close to the harbor, right on Lake Michigan, the company separated iron from the raw ore. The glass-like slag, made of silicon dioxide and metal oxide, had useful purposes when the company was in business, but when it folded in 1885, heaps of unneeded slag were dumped into the harbor. Within a few years green, blue, gray, and even purple pieces of the slag were coming up on shore like beach stones. Snorkelers find larger chunks of the slag further out in the harbor. No one seems to know who first decided that the material could be shaped and polished for jewelry, but it’s been used for at least 30 years. Today, almost any jewelry store in the Leelanau Peninsula has jewelry made from Leland Blue.
Leland Blue Rough
Let me mention one final example of recycled material in jewelry. A young company, Rebel Nell, figured out how to use another of the Motor City’s commodities. They make sterling silver jewelry from peeling and fallen graffiti paint. The process Rebel Nell uses to stabilize the paint is a trade secret, but it’s no secret that they are doing great work. The mission of the company is to employ, educate, and empower disadvantaged women living in local shelters. The work they do, making bracelets, rings, pendants, and earrings, allows the women to transition to an independent life.
Graffiti paint bracelet, made by Rebel Nell
Recycling is a strategy that only grows in popularity. Michigan jewelers take slag, paint, and other things that have little value (think beach glass and copper nuggets) and make new treasures from them. It’s the Michigander way!
One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry. Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry. She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories. She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it. As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”
The first story she told was one of the best! She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor. There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother. It was pretty expensive–about $25. That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week! But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day. It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.
La Peregrina, before and after re-mount
Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing! Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms. Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below. All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone. In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina! Amazingly, it was not scratched. “I did finally tell Richard,” she said. “But I had to wait at least a week!”
The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson
Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life. Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much. It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales. When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research. She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.
If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor. And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing! I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share. Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs. I don’t understand that mentality at all. Each piece is different, each piece is unique. And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”
I’ll never forget vacationing in Thailand, trying to decide whether to buy a pair of jadeite earrings. The beaming salesman chanted to me, “Burmeeeese jade,” with a knowing nod. His smile implied that nothing could be better.
Imperial-quality jade. Courtesy of Mason-Kay.
That was about eight years ago, when jade and rubies from Burma (Myanmar) were banned from the United States. Retailers in the U.S. could not sell them. Wholesalers could not import them. Well, that recently changed, and the announcement got me interested in the story of how these gems came to be sanctioned.
It was back in 2003 when George W. Bush signed the trade embargo, prohibiting the import of Burmese goods. The military ruling group, the “junta”, of the country had imprisoned the people’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Citizens of the country were having their human rights violated. The embargo was a response to what was considered an unacceptable way to govern.
But there were loopholes in the 2003 document, and Burmese jade and rubies still found their way into the U.S. If a “middleman” country got involved, either in the cutting or polishing step, it was still legal to import these gems to the U.S. That is, until July 2008.
President Bush signed a new document, the Tom Lantos Block Burmese J.A.D.E.(Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which closed the loopholes and effectively banned the import of ALL precious Burmese gemstones. Wholesalers and retailers selling ruby and jade needed documentation to certify that the gems had not originated in Burma.
The jewelry industry was negatively impacted by the embargo. Burma was considered the best source in the world for fine ruby and jade. Different sources of the gems had to be found, and, over the years, they were. Today many rubies come from Mozambique. Jadeite sources include Guatemala, Japan, and Kazakhstan.
The trade sanctions had the desired effect. Myanmar began to make reforms in 2010. Over the next couple of years, democratic elections were held and many political prisoners were released. In 2011, the U.S. appointed an ambassador, and, in 2012, President Obama visited the country. Using a cautious approach, President Obama lifted some of the sanctions in November 2012. But the ban on rubies and jade remained in place.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now the nation’s State Counsellor (sort of like a Prime Minister), expressed patience, saying that “We believe that if we are going along the right path, all sanctions should be lifted in good time.” And she was right! On October 7th, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order to lift the remaining trade sanctions against Myanmar.
It will be interesting to see how this executive order influences the jewelry industry in the coming months and years. It will take some time to establish or re-establish relationships with Burmese stone dealers. But I believe it won’t be long before we see the deep blood-red Burmese rubies back in our stores. And my “Burmeeeese” jade earrings (Yes. . . I bought them) may soon be easy to find in the United States.
25.59 carat Burmese Ruby, sold in 2015 for $30.3 million
Garnet: January birthstone
Most of my life I’ve wished I was born a few days earlier, mainly because my birthstone would be an emerald instead of pearl or alexandrite. When it came time to buy my high school class ring, I chose the emerald green stone rather than the pale purple one. When my husband and I designed our 30-year anniversary ring, we designed it with an emerald for the center stone, even though pearl is the traditional gift for the 30-year anniversary. As you can see, I’ve always just gone with what I wanted rather than what I was ‘supposed’ to want. But my decisions got me to thinking about the origin of birthstones. Who deemed that each month be represented by a different gemstone? When was this decision made? And why?
My research on these questions has revealed an interesting and somewhat nonsensical journey. Most sources say that the idea of birthstones started with the Bible and Aaron’s breastplate. Aaron had 12 stones in his breastplate, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. No one knows for sure what the 12 stones were, but chances are high that they were pretty rocks, like jasper or lapis. These are rocks that were native to the area.
A first century historian named Josephus supposedly made the numeric connection between the 12 stones and the 12 months of the year. For centuries the idea was to have 12 stones, carrying a different one each month. They weren’t really birthstones because they weren’t associated with the owner’s birth. They were associated with months of the year. The individual stones were supposed to bring good luck and good health during each one’s specific month.
But somewhere along the way, the idea changed. Experts say that between the 15th and 18th centuries, people began to see themselves as having one stone, corresponding to the month of their birth, that would bring them good fortune. These stones, with a few exceptions, are very different from the birthstones of today. Have you ever heard of bloodstone? It’s an opaque green stone with red spots. It was the birthstone for March. How about sardonyx? That’s a banded, rusty brown-colored, translucent chalcedony that was the birthstone for August.
Bloodstone: March birthstone
Sardonyx: August birthstone
In 1912, Jewelers of America, an association with a definite interest in marketing gemstones, sought to standardize the list. The official list of birthstones had garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, diamond, emerald, pearl, ruby, peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz (the orange-yellow-brown kind), and turquoise. Some of the months had two birthstones, partly in deference to the traditional stones. So March had aquamarine AND bloodstone. August had peridot AND sardonyx. But, let’s face it, if you were born in March, which gem would you rather have? A transparent medium blue one or an opaque dark green one with red blemishes? It didn’t take long to drop these traditional choices.
The 1912 list has had few changes in the last 100+ years. In 1952, alexandrite was added as a birthstone for June and citrine was added as a birthstone for November. December’s traditional birthstone of lapis lazuli was replaced with blue zircon. In 2002, tanzanite, the blue-purple gemstone that had been discovered in 1967, was added to the list for December. And, most recently, in 2016, spinel was added as a birthstone for August.
Why the additions? Many people would say it’s a marketing move. Birthstones aren’t really seen as bringing good luck or good health anymore. They don’t have the significance they used to have. They’re just fun. So why not have more choices? I’m really happy for all you August babies who no longer feel confined to the yellowish-green of peridot. Spinel offers great variety! (See my blog on spinel–July 28, 2016).
So, what do we make of this idea of birthstones? To me it sounds like a complicated game of Telephone. Do you remember that game when someone whispers a phrase to someone else, and it goes around the circle? The final uttering of the phrase bears no resemblance to the original. That’s how I feel birthstones came to be. From Aaron’s breastplate to the writings of Josephus to the Jewelers’ list, it’s a crazy, convoluted path. But this is where we are and what we have. My suggestion? Adopt your favorite gemstone, the one that has meaning to you, and make it YOUR birthstone.
Amethyst: February birthstone