When shopping for a birthday gift, it’s hard to go wrong when you choose jewelry that includes a birthstone. For centuries, various gemstones were associated with months of the year. Then, in 1912, a standardized list was developed by the American Association of Jewelers. It is the most widely accepted guide to months and their birthstones option for the month of December, according to the American Gem Society.
Let’s examine birthstones, their history and symbolism, month by month.
This gemstone is not just one mineral, but a combination of several similar minerals. Although the most common version of garnet is a dark red specimen, garnet also appears in yellow, orange, brown, gray, purple and green. Archeological exploration has unearthed portions of garnet jewelry daring back to 3100 B.C., and the popularity of garnet jewelry among the elite of the Middle Ages is well documented. The garnet represents peace, health and wellness; weal, and great happiness, while also providing an additional measure of safety for the wearer during their travels.
Tip: The rarest of all garnets are green and blue, so expect to pay a premium for either.
Amethyst, diamond, platinum and gold brooch designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., features cushion-shape amethyst weighing approx. 56.00cts. Sold for $25,000, Heritage Auctions, Dec. 5, 2016. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Heritage Auctions
The name of this striking quartz mineral hails from Ancient Greece and the word methustos, which means “intoxicated.” This gave way to the storied belief that if one were to wear an amethyst, they could avoid drunkenness. Although that may be up for debate, what isn’t is the amethyst’s durability, which is a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. They’re found in North America, regions of South America, and Zambia in southern Africa. The availability of amethyst gemstones has increased since the late 19th century, when significant deposits were discovered. As supply increased, the gems became more affordable. Perhaps owing to the legend of amethysts warding off drunkenness, it is said that the gemstone helps the person wearing it to be clear-headed, courageous, humble and loyal. Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the amethyst was useful for sharpening the mind and ridding oneself of evil thoughts.
Tip: Amethyst stones often appear to contain layers of color, which develop naturally as the stone is formed. However, the manner in which a gemologist or jeweler cuts the stone can even out the layers of color.
Aquamarine is a variation of the mineral beryl, and gets its name from the Latin word aqua, or water, for its calming color reminiscent of the sea. Aquamarine gemstones vary in intensity – the larger the stone the more intense the color – but are consistently green-blue to blue-green in color. Most aquamarine gemstones are mined and exported from Brazil, however some specimens have reportedly been mined in Nigeria and Mozambique, as well as other parts of Africa. Legend and lore affiliated with aquamarine is extensive. Early adventurers and sailors were said to wear the gemstones to gain protection during a voyage and to bring about calm and clarity. It’s not hard to imagine how a clear head might be helpful when navigating uncharted oceans. History reveals armies of ancient societies had soldiers who believed wearing aquamarine would bring them victory. In addition to these benefits, there are also reports of the aquamarine being used as a cure for a variety of infections. The gemstone in powder for is said to help heal eye infections.
Memo: The bloodstone is regarded as an optional birthstone for the month of March.
Edwardian-style sapphire and diamond 18K white gold jewelry suite with a bib necklace and pair of matching ear pendants. Sold for $32,500, I.M. Chait, March 2016. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers
The formation of diamonds from carbon atoms, in a high-pressure and high-temperature environment about 100 miles below the surface of the Earth, is a fascinating scientific process. It results in one of, if not the most, sought after of all gemstones. The formation process involves diamonds breaking the surface following a course of volcanic eruptions that occurred centuries ago. The diamond lays claim to being the hardest entity in nature – 58 times harder than any other substance. Its durable quality makes it the ideal choice for engagement rings, and it has been the subject of many songs and motion picture themes. While the colorless diamond is perennially desirable, diamonds also come in other colors, including yellow, pink, blue, and others. The recent upsurge of interest in colored diamonds has prompted the development of color-treated diamonds in laboratories.
Tip: Recent diamond-buying trends reveal a preference for Art Deco designs that incorporate scrollwork or flower shapes with diamond elements.
Highly important platinum, emerald and diamond ring with fine 9.00ct green emerald flanked by two pear-shape diamonds totaling approx. 1.20cts. Sold for $9,250,000, Bruce Kodner Galleries, Dec. 19, 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Bruce Kodner Galleries
This deeply hued gemstone shares a history like that of the aquamarine, as it, too, is a variation of the mineral beryl. The intensity of an emerald’s color is one factor in determining its value, with the rarest emerald being dark green-blue. Emeralds are mined in regions around the world, with the majority coming from Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia. Some of the earliest emeralds are estimated to be nearly 3 billion years old. Emeralds were sought out after by various ancient societies as fashionable adornments in life, as well as in death (burials). One of history’s greatest fans of emeralds was Cleopatra. They were among the gemstones harvested from mines near the coast of the Red Sea during Cleopatra’s reign. Ironically, or not, Elizabeth Taylor, who famously portrayed the fabled vamp in the 1963 Academy-Award film, was known for her sensational collection of jewelry. In 2011, an emerald and diamond brooch designed and created for Taylor by Bvlgari sold for $6.58M at Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection. The brooch was one of 14 lots of the movie legend’s jewelry that included emeralds. The gemstone is a symbol of new beginnings, peace, security and loyalty.
Tip: A quality emerald should have an even distribution of color and a deep, but not too dark, green-blue hue.
June: Pearl, Alexandrite, and Moonstone
18K yellow gold necklace with 245 round, brilliant-cut diamonds and 34 pearls; and a pair of earrings containing 40 round, brilliant-cut diamonds and six pearls. Stamped 18K HAMMERMAN. Sold for $15,000, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, April 18, 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
People born in June have the good fortune of being able to select from three birthstones. The pearl is unique in that it is made by a living creature that relies on an irritant to form the creamy gemstone. Clams deposit layers of calcium carbonate around the irritants to create the pearl, which is among the softest of all gemstones, posting a minimum of 2.5 and maximum of 4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. In addition to natural development of pearls, the process of freshwater culturing of pearls is a growing market operation. Natural harvesting of pearls is confined to an area of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The most common characteristics associated with pearls are purity and innocence.
Did You Know: One of the rarest types of pearl is the Black Pearl. However, its color is more often dark green, purple, or even blue.
Another June birthstone, the alexandrite is a “youngster” among birthstones, said to have first been discovered in the mid-19th century in Russian mines in the Ural Mountains. The gemstone’s most fascinating quality is its changing color. Due to a rare chemical composition, alexandrite appears green in daylight and with a purple-red hue when placed under incandescent light. After the Russian supply of alexandrites dwindled, so did interest in the stone – until the discovery of alexandrite in Brazil in 1987. Despite this current source, alexandrites are scarce.
Moonstone is said to have been named by a natural historian who thought the gem looked like the shifting of the moon’s phases. Tiny layers of the feldspar create the effect in moonstone. It is found in India, Australia, Madagascar and the United States. It’s said to aid in balancing energies and rendering tranquility, thus making it useful in the treatment of insomnia. It is also fondly referred to as the “traveler’s stone” due to the belief that its properties help keep adventurers’ safe during the evening.
Platinum and 18K gold Art Nouveau-style cocktail earrings with 4.75ctw old, European-cut diamonds and 1.50ctw near-flawless Burma rubies. Sold for $13,500, GWS Auctions Inc., July 29, 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and GWS Auctions Inc.
The power of this gemstone, as believed by ancient civilizations, is to keep evil at bay. The luxurious red color of the ruby comes from the element chromium. The same element provides this gemstone with the appearance of an inner glow, but it also leaves it more susceptible to cracks. The most common regions where rubies exist include Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, India and East Africa. It is also second only to the diamond in terms of hardness, according to the Mohs scale, which ranks it as a 9. The ruby is said to heighten awareness, increase energy, and encourage love and strength. Throughout history, leaders of various cultures believed in the power of rubies, including Chinese noblemen. Ancient Hindus seeking status as emperors in rebirth would offer rubies to the god Krishna.
August: Peridot and Sardonyx
The peridot was described by early Egyptians as the “gem of the sun.” They also believed it could protect people from nighttime dangers. A deposit containing peridot was discovered in Pakistan in the 1990s, but more than 80% of the global supply of peridot is located in a deposit in Arizona on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Peridot is a variation of the mineral Olivine, and the amount of iron within the gemstone determines the depth of green color.
Sardonyx is a combination of sard and onyx minerals. Depending on the level of oxide within the composition, the color of the sard can be yellowish red or reddish brown, while onyx presents as white. India has produced the finest examples of this gemstone, which is said to render courage, clear communication skills, and genuine happiness.
Tip: A popular type of cut is cabochon, and in addition to its use with large, individual gemstones, it is also carved into cameos and brooches.
Harry Winston 18K gold necklace featuring an approximately 24ct rectangular-cut sapphire surrounded by diamonds on a multi-strand of cultured pearls. Sold for $110,000, John Moran Auctioneers, May 21, 2013. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and John Moran Auctioneers, Inc.
Most commonly seen in blue, sapphires can actually come in a variety of colors, depending on the elements that are present in their composition. In the gemological world, sapphires that are not blue are referred to as “fancies.” Like the ruby, it measures 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, which opens the door for sapphires to also be incorporated into the production of watches and electronic instruments. In ancient times, it was believed that sapphires could help avoid poisoning.
Tip: Clarity among sapphires is usually greater than that of rubies, often due to the presence of rutile (a form of titanium dioxide). While this might lower the value of other gemstones, in some form of sapphires it increases value.
October: Opal and Tourmaline
Necklace composed of 25 oval, bluish-green tumble polished indicolite tourmaline beads, 418.0ctw, interspaced with diamond and 18K gold rondelles. Sold for $5,000, Clars Auction Gallery, Nov. 15, 2015. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Clars Auction Gallery
Both of October’s gemstones are revered for the way they transform in varying degrees of light, and symbolize faithfulness and courage. In fact, the word opal has its origins in the Greek term opallios, which means “to see a change in color.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the scientific community was able to explain the reason for the change, which is due to intricate silica spheres diffracting light. The climate and geography in Australia are said to be the most conducive to the creation of opal.
Tourmaline also presents in a variety of colors, and according to legend, this is due to its passing through a rainbow during its journey from creation below the Earth’s surface to the top.
Tip: One of the most sought-after types of tourmaline is the rubellite, which appears in varying degrees of red and pink. Dark-toned tourmaline often appears black in color, and they typically sell for less than more brightly colored variations.
November: Topaz and Citrine
Once believed to be only yellow in color, topaz is colorless, and depending on impurities, can take on various colors, including the most popular variation – imperial topaz – which is orange with hints of pink hues. Another storied variation of this gemstone is the blue topaz, which is said to rarely appear naturally. Citrine also ranges in color from yellow to brownish orange and is a variety of quartz. The yellow hues are the result of the iron within the gemstone’s quartz crystals. Most of citrine today is mined in Brazil, but Bolivia and Russia also mine citrine, as do the U.S. states of Colorado, North Carolina, and California. Citrine has also been called a “healing quartz,” with reports that the gemstone fosters optimism and helps cultivate prosperity.
December: Tanzanite, Zircon, and Turquoise
David Webb earrings with pear and oval-shape turquoise cabochons enhanced by full-cut, baguette-cut and marquise-cut diamonds. Sold for $36,000, Heritage Auctions, April 3, 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions
As the name suggests, tanzanite hails from Tanzania. It is a variation of the mineral zoisite first discovered in 1967, making it another of the more modern birthstones. While shades of blue ranging from pale to ultramarine are the most common color of tanzanite, depending on the cut of the stone, additional colors may evidence themselves. Zircon is sometimes erroneously confused with the synthetic but unrelated cubic zirconia, simply because of the similarity in names. Since the Middle Ages zircon’s qualities have been linked to peaceful sleep and prosperity.
Turquoise varies in color from powder blue to robin’s egg blue with a hint of green. The name turquoise originated in 13th-century France and the phrase pierre turquois, which means “Turkish stone.” Most prevalent in arid regions, five U.S. states are the sources for most of the turquoise on the market today. It is said that the turquoise was used to adorn ceremonial masks and equipment used in battle because of its ability to bring power and protection to those wearing it.