Category: June Birthstone

History of Birthstones

| September 16, 2016 | Reply
garnet

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

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Sardonyx: August 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

Amethyst: February birthstone

Colorful Stories of Three Colored Gemstones

The romance and history of colored gemstones has always fascinated me.  I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story.  Here are three I thought you might like.

TANZANITE:  It’s said that we are all members of the “Tanzanite generation.”  Discovered in 1967 by a Masai tribesman in Northern Tanzania, Tanzanite is mined in only one, 4 square kilometer, location.  And the mines are getting deeper and harder to mine profitably.   We will be the ones who can buy a new Tanzanite.  Future generations will only see the stone in heirloom pieces.  It’s estimated that Tanzanite One, the largest Tanzanite mining company, has less than 30 years of production left.

The gemstone was named by Henry Platt, great-grandson of the famous Louis C. Tiffany.  Tiffany and Co. realized the importance of the gemstone and quickly made themselves the main distributor.  Their marketing efforts made tanzanite one of the most popular gemstones by the 1990s.  The beautiful gem hit the big screen with a “splash” as the Heart of the Ocean in the movie, Titanic.

KateWinslet

MORGANITE: This pink to orange/pink variety of beryl was originally discovered in Pala, California in the early 1900s.  It was named for J.P. Morgan, a great financier and collector of minerals.  Tiffany’s gem buyer and gemologist, George Kunz, was the man who named the gem, buying up all he could find for his wealthy client.  Incidentally, another pink gemstone, discovered at about the same time, was named Kunzite in honor of George Kunz.  So, he got his own gemstone, too!

Morganite is the same species of mineral as Emerald and Aquamarine.  Like Aquamarine, it is usually an eye-clean stone that can be cut in larger sizes.  It’s a good thing, too, because a larger stone usually shows a more saturated color.  Pale Morganite often needs that advantage.   It’s generally heat-treated to improve its pink color and minimize its yellowish tint.  The treatment is stable, so no fading occurs. morganite2

ALEXANDRITE: First discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the early 1830s,  Alexandrite is the quintessential color-change gemstone.  It was found by miners who thought they’d found emeralds, until nighttime came and they were sitting around the campfire.  Alexandrite’s trace elements of iron, titanium, and chromium make it greenish in sunlight and reddish in incandescent or fire light.  Boy, were those miners surprised when, the next morning, their red gemstones had turned back to green!

Legend says that the gem was found on the 16th birthday of young Alexander II, future Czar of Russia.  The stone became the National Gem of Czarist Russia.  It was the perfect fit with the red and green color scheme of imperial Russia’s military.  Every Russian had to have an Alexandrite.  Unfortunately, for all of us, the Russian supply was depleted.  Fortunately, other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil.

Natural Alexandrites are very expensive, especially in larger sizes.  Even the synthetic version is expensive, because it’s difficult to manufacture.  But, if you’re lucky enough to own an Alexandrite, you have an “Emerald by day, and a Ruby by night.”

alexandrite

Born in June? Lucky You!!

If you are lucky enough to be born in June, you have three birthstones to choose from–Alexandrite, Pearl, or Moonstone.  No month has more options.  Yet as a young girl born in early June, I was actually disappointed in my birthdate.  Yes, the weather was nice and, yes, summer vacation was right around the corner, but how could I be happy with that pale purple birthstone called Alexandrite?  No one explained the other options to me.  No one told me about the special gift of true Alexandrite.   I remember wishing I’d been born just a few days earlier, so that I could have May’s Emerald birthstone.   That vivid green was so much more ME!

There is a big difference between real Alexandrite and the simulated Alexandrite featured in every inexpensive birthstone ring of my youth.  Named after Alexander II, Czar of Russia, Alexandrite was discovered on his birthday in the early 1830s.  It is very rare, especially in large sizes.  What’s amazing about this gem stone is its ability to change color.  When viewed in natural daylight, Alexandrite is a shade of green or blue-green.  But at night, in incandescent light, the same stone is violet, red, or purple.  Quite romantic, huh?  I wish I’d known that when I was young.

alexandrite

If Alexandrite isn’t what you’re looking for, think about pearls.  Pearls are organic and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.   They are less rare and expensive than Alexandrite.  Because of the many varieties, treatments, and the complicated grading process, you can spend a lifetime learning about pearls.  Exotic and classic at the same time, pearls are a perennial favorite.

pearls

Finally, if you want special meaning attached to your gemstone, Moonstone might be the birthstone for you.  It’s considered good luck, especially for lovers, because it’s said to arouse love and passion.  Moonstone is known for calming nerves, strengthening resolve, and guarding against recklessness.  And, to top it off, the stone is beautiful withits gentle sheen.  It comes in soft tones of white, blue, peach, gray or green.

moonstonbluernd9-aa-msblurnd109a
So, feel blessed if you’re born in June.  In addition to nice weather and summer vacation, you have GREAT birthstones to choose from!  Lucky you!!