Your Guide to Birthstones

| 4 min read

Did you know that today's birthstones come from the Old Testament? Did you know that 2016 brought us an addition to the birthstone list? Find out the full story here.

Birthstones feel like they should be a relatively new idea. But, perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t. They’re actually based on the research of the Roman scholar Titus Flavius Josephus (37-c.100AD), who apart from having a fabulous name, studied the twelve gemstones of Aaron’s Breastplate, and compiled the first list of Birthstones.

What was Aaron’s Breastplate?

A very good question. Aaron’s Breastplate was described in the Book of Exodus, and has special importance to gem lovers, as it is one of the oldest written accounts (dating from between 600 and 400BC) of gemstones being used for symbolic reasons. Although it isn’t completely clear exactly which stones were actually used, they were described in Exodus as being Ruby, Topaz, Beryl, Turquoise, Sapphire, Emerald, Jacinth, Agate, Amethyst, Chrysolite, Onyx, and Jasper, set into a 3x4 square and worn to communicate with God.

The Twelve Stones

Josephus realised that the number twelve has huge significance. From the twelve stones on the Breastplate, to the twelve gemstones mentioned in the Book of Revelation, to the number of the sons of Israel, to the signs of the Zodiac, and the months of the year.

In the 5th Century, St Jerome posited the idea that the twelve gemstones of Revelation could be used to represent each month.

However, it was not until around the 17th century that it was suggested that you should wear the gemstone attributed to your birth month year round. Up until that point, you would try and own all twelve and change them every month.

But nobody could agree on what the twelve gems should be. The names of the gems of the Bible had changed so much over the centuries, with gemstone names often being used to designate a gem of a particular colour rather than a specific gem. For example, carbuncle is used in the Bible for any red gemstone, or coal!

The Modern List

Clearly, this was confusing. So in 1912, the American National Jewelers’ Association compiled a new birthstone list. A few amendments later, including the addition of Tanzanite in 2002, and Spinel in 2016, and we have the list we use today:

You can see that some lucky months have alternative options, so some of you will find you can choose your favourite, or collect all of them.

Myths and Folklore

Every birth gem is shrouded in ancient myths and folklore. Even Tanzanite, which was only discovered in 1967, is already said to be useful to expectant mothers. Most famously, perhaps, is Amethyst’s supposed ability to protect from drunkenness.

Wearing your birthstone is said to enhance the mystical and healing powers of the gem itself.

There is a traditional poem which goes:

By her who in January was born No gem save garnets shall be worn They will ensure her constancy True friendship and fidelity.

The February born shall find Sincerity and peace of mind, Freedom from passion and from care, If they, the amethyst will wear.

By her who in March was born No gem save Bloodstone shall be worn They will ensure her constancy True friendship and fidelity.

She who from April dates her years, Diamonds shall wear, Lest bitter tears For vain repentance flow.

Who first beholds the light of day In spring's sweet, flower month of May And wears an Emerald all her life Shall be a loved and a loving wife.

By her who in June was born No gem save Pearls shall be worn They will ensure her constancy True friendship and fidelity.

The gleaming Ruby should adorn, All those who in July are born, For thus they'll be exempt and free, From lover's doubts and anxiety.

Wear a Peridot or for thee, No conjugal fidelity, The August born without this stone, `Tis said, must live unloved; alone.

A maiden born when autumn leaves Are rustling in September's breeze, A Sapphire on her brow should bind; To bring her joy and peace of mind.

October's child is born for woe, And life's vicissitudes must know, But lay an opal on her breast, And hope will lull those woes to rest.

Who first comes to this world below In dreary November's fog and snow, Should prize the topaz amber hue, Emblem of friends and lovers true.

If cold December gave you birth The month of snow and ice and mirth Place on your hand a turquoise blue; Success will bless whate'er you do.

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