Birthstones by Month: History and Folklore

Did you know that in addition to looking sparkly and elegant in a ring, necklace, or earrings, your birthstone actually has a history? And in some cases, birthstones are thought to be imbued with specific healing and protective qualities!

The Origin of Birthstones

While some sources such as 1st Century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus tell us birthstones originated on the breastplate of Aaron, with each representing the 12 months of the year and accruing 12 signs of the zodiac, others say the breastplate’s stones signified each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Eighth and 9th Century religious treaties were written associating particular stones with apostles. And while more modern accounts, including folklore, do not identify the breastplate or religious connections, some claim wearing one during its assigned month enhances its therapeutic properties.

Throughout history, accepted birthstones rotated in and out, with style and availability sometimes determining which stones would reign. In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers standardized the list, which was updated in 1952 by the Jewelry Industry Council of America. Among the changes were the addition of alexandrite to the month of June, citrine to November, pink tourmaline for October (pink was key), replacing alternate lapis with zircon in December, and switching around March’s primary and alternate gemstones of aquamarine and bloodstone. In 2002, tanzanite was added as a December stone.

What can your birthstone do for you?

January Birthstone: The garnet is said to aid blood, heart, and lungs, and to promote love, passion, sensuality, and intimacy. The name “garnet” comes from the Latin word Garanatus, meaning seedlike, because the stones look similar to pomegranate seeds in size and color.

February Birthstone: An amethyst reportedly aids in reduction of insomnia, arthritis, circulatory and pain issues. It is thought to promote peace, balance, courage, and inner strength.

March Birthstone: Known to release fear, calm nerves, and foster mental clarity, aquamarine (in Latin, “aqua” means water and “marine” means sea) is said to protect sailors and other ocean voyagers. It is also said to aid the liver, throat, stomach, jaw, teeth, eyes, and ears. March’s alternate birthstone, the bloodstone, appropriately claims to have healing powers for blood disorders.

April Birthstone: Those lucky enough to be born in the realm of the coveted diamond have many advantages. Called adamas by the ancient Greeks, which means invincible and indestructible, this gemstone symbolizes purity, perfection, and also authority. It is said to protect its owner from negative influences.

May Birthstone: Associated with Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, the emerald is said to protect lovers from infidelity. Enhanced memory, eyesight, and intelligence are also byproducts of this gemstone, as is its ability to cure inflammation of the eyes.

June Birthstone: The pearl, identified for its calming properties, is said to promote purity, charity, integrity, truth, and loyalty in its bearer.

July Birthstone: Integrity, devotion, and happiness are qualities associated with the ruby, which is also purported to aid the emotions.

August Birthstone: With abundance and prosperity hallmarks of the peridot, this gemstone is said to heal relationship stress, lessen anger and jealousy, and slow the aging process. It’s the most mispronounced gemstone, as well. The correct pronunciation is actually per’i-dot however some dictionaries list the correct pronunciation as pear-a-doe.

September Birthstone: Credited as the gemstone of creative expression, inner peace, and meditation, the sapphire is said to encourage pain relief and encourage personal expression.

October Birthstone: Pink tourmaline is associated with the heart chakra in Hinduism and Buddhism, signifying unconditional love and compassion. It is said to release tension and improve hand-eye coordination, assuage dyslexia, as well as promote overall flexibility, happiness, objectivity, compassion, serenity, and tolerance.  The Opal also belongs to October. The name opal derives from the Greek Opallos, meaning “to see a change (of color).” Opals range in color from white to black, with flashes of yellow, orange, green, red, and blue. They are associated with faithfulness and confidence.

Bad luck? You may have heard that it’s bad luck to wear opals if they’re not your birthstone. But this is a myth, and most likely a rumor spread by jealous diamond traders who were worried about losing business when opals began gaining popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. So enjoy its beauty!

November Birthstone: Considered among the most powerful of gemstones, the topaz signifies emotional balance and gives protection from greed. November’s alternate, citrine, promotes increased hearing and fosters success, clarity of thought, and abundance.

December Birthstone: Known as a healing and balancing stone, turquoise’s lore and traditions go back thousands of years. The Aztecs believed it was sacred and made masks and other adornments for ceremonial purposes. Many spiritual and supernatural beliefs have followed this stone.

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