There are countless existing gemstones that you haven’t heard of, but the most popular ones are allocated to the 12 months of the year. These valuable gemstones are available in limitless colours and qualities.
History of Traditional Birthstones
Beautiful stones, minerals, pearls and precious metals have long been considered collectables. Gemstones have long been associated with healing powers, and were also worn to signify position and wealth.
In respect to birthstones, many cultures had their own references to meaning and usage. However, the influence of zodiac signs was recognized early on, with key gemstones becoming associated with their respective planetary influences.
Modern birthstones did not exist until 1912, when the Jewelers of America developed a standardized list of birthstones for each month.
While older stones tend to be left in their natural state, coloured gemstones are now often treated to enhance their colour and longevity. Common treatment methods include heat, irradiation, diffusion and oiling.
* Images provided courtesy of the American Gem Trade Association – www.agta.org
The January birthstone is garnet, typically with a familiar burgundy colour. However, garnet is available in a wide range of colours and prices.
The beautiful, vibrant rhodolite garnet, found in Sri Lanka, is a violet-red. The rare tsavorite garnet from Tsavo National Park in Tanzania is an intense green. The bright gold or burnished yellow-brown of the hessonite garnet can be found in Canada.
The most important sources of garnets today are Africa, Sri Lanka and India.
Garnet was once believed to give its wearer guidance in the night, allowing one to see where others could not. At one time, weapons were carved from garnet, in the belief that it would draw blood more effectively. Most often, garnet has been known as the gem of faith, constancy and truth, and therefore a perfect gem to commemorate friendship.
Garnet is very durable and does not require unusual care in wear or cleaning. Its versatility and strength make it suitable for rings and men’s jewellery.
February’s birthstone is amethyst, and it comes in a lovely range of purples. Amethyst is the most precious member of the quartz family, and has long been treasured by kings, queens and religious figures because of its rich, royal colour.
Amethyst has been found all over the world, but today, its most important source is Brazil, with additional sources in Africa.
The Greeks believed that wearing this gem, or drinking from goblets fashioned from it, would minimize the effects of intoxication–in fact, the word itself is derived from a Greek word meaning, “not to intoxicate”. Amethysts have been used in many gem forms, including beads, rondels, cabochons and faceted stones.
Many of today’s amethysts are expertly irradiated or heat-treated to bring out the deepest purple colour. Amethysts are durable, so no special care is required in cleaning them. However, their surface polish can be eroded by rough wear or abrasion more easily than other gems.
Aquamarine is the birthstone for March. Aquamarine derives its name from the Latin meaning “seawater” and is ideally is a clear sea blue colour, but can also range from colourless to a deep-sea blue. It is a close relative of the emerald, as they are both members of the beryl family of gems.
The leading producer of aquamarine is Brazil, with many mines spread throughout the country. Karur, India has recently become another of the biggest suppliers of Aquamarine. Other deposits of Aquamarine are sourced from Australia, as well as countries in Asia and Africa, and even in the US.
Aquamarine was worn to bring courage to the wearer, victory at war, and safety on the sea. It was also thought to bring happiness to marriages, rekindle love and provide oracles with the best means of forecasting the future.
The truly intense aquamarines of the past are very scarce, and therefore expensive. Most gems mined today are paler in hue. Many are carefully heat-treated to bring out the blue tones. Aquamarines are durable with no special care required in cleaning or handling them. Treat them as you would any of your fine jewellery.
The April birthstone is diamond. Diamonds are most recognized as a colourless stone; however, diamonds do come in a variety of colours, called “fancies” or fancy-colour diamonds. Red, pink, yellow, blue and green have been found in nature, both in light and darker tones.
The first riverbed diamonds were presumably discovered in India around 800 B.C. India remained the primary source of diamonds until more were found in Brazil around 1725. Later finds in South Africa made this the primary source around 1866, with new technology making Russia a key source after 1954. Today, Canada has become the newest member of the diamond producing nations.
The name diamond comes from the Greek word “adamas”, meaning “invincible”. Diamonds were thought to bring the wearer balance, clarity, strength and abundance. They were thought to be God’s tears or created by lightning bolts. Diamonds were thought to have healing powers, with the ability to draw out toxins and replenish the body. Diamonds have been the traditional engagement ring since the early 1900s, and remain the gem of choice for the modern bride and groom.
Generally, diamonds of deeper hues are considered more valuable. Colour is sometimes introduced in a laboratory to achieve the desired shade. These are correctly called colour-treated diamonds. When purchasing a fancy-colour diamond, be sure to ask if any enhancements or treatments were used to improve its colour or clarity.
Diamonds are very hard and strong. They do not require special care in wearing or handling, however one diamond may still damage another so–as with all gemstones–they should be stored separately.
Emerald is May’s birthstone. It is a rare, magnificent green gemstone, and the most famous member of the beryl family of gems. Emeralds come in a range of green shades, with some more transparent and others more opaque. In general, emeralds tend to have a high level of inclusions, or visible lines, in their crystals.
The interior of Columbia has always been the most important source of this precious gem, although it is found in small numbers all over the world. In recent years, significant sources have also emerged in Zambia and Brazil.
Emeralds were mined in Egypt as early as 330 B.C. They were thought to bring the owner youth, good fortune and foresight. Their deep green colour made them a symbol of rebirth as well.
Long ago, it was discovered that soaking a rough emerald in colourless oil subdues the natural flaws and improves their transparency. Today, most emeralds are treated in this manner. Due to a high level of inclusions, emeralds require special care in cleaning and handling. Use only mild soapy water and gentle cleaning with emerald jewellery–never an ultrasonic cleaner. Be particularly careful to store emeralds away from other jewellery.
June: Pearl & Alexandrite
Pearl is June’s birthstone–typically round, smooth and lustrous, but also available in an array of colours, shapes and sizes. Natural pearls are formed in the shells of mollusks, and are quite rare. Most pearl jewellery is made from cultured pearls, farmed mainly in parts of Asia and Australia. Pearls are a symbol of purity and have been worn for centuries around the world. As they are delicate and easily chipped, they require special care and handling.
Alexandrite is another of June’s birthstones, a very rare and expensive gemstone that changes colour in different lighting.
Brazil is the largest producer of alexandrite. It is also found in Russia, India, Madagascar and Sri Lanka.
A relatively modern gem, alexandrite was identified in 1834, on the 16th birthday of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, after whom the stones was named. The colours of the stone are green and red–also the colour of the Russian imperial guard.
When seen in daylight or fluorescent lighting, alexandrite is in the green range, with a tint of blue, yellow, brown or even gray. Under incandescent light, it turns a soft shade of red with a hint of purple, orange or brown. This unique optical property has made it one of the more valuable stones, especially in fine qualities.
Alexandrite requires no special care, but as with all gemstones, should be stored individually to protect it from scratches or chips.
July’s birthstone is ruby. It is valued for its intense red hue and has long been considered the “King of Gems”. Ruby is the most rare of the Corundum family of gemstones, of which sapphire is also a member.
The rubies of Myanmar (Bhurma) are touted as some of the finest available, exhibiting a fine “pigeon blood” red, which is most desirable and valued. Rubies are also found in Thailand and East Africa, where more iron tends to give them a purple overtone.
Rubies were thought to have the power to end a lover’s dispute and rekindle desire. Ancient medics associated its red colour with blood and relied heavily on its mystical healing qualities. Its rich red colour was prized by royalty and religious personages.
All natural rubies have imperfections in them, including colour impurities and inclusions of rutile needles known as silk.
Gemologists use the needle inclusions found in natural rubies to distinguish them from synthetics. Due to limited availability, most rubies are put through a complex heating process to improve their colour. As rubies are one of the hardest gemstones, regular cleaning methods are appropriate.
August’s birthstone is peridot, with a unique chemistry that results in its delicate springtime green colour.
Originally mined only on an obscure island off the coast of Egypt, and only at night, when its colour was visible against the rock among snake-infested lands. Peridot was rare and expensive. Today, peridot can also be found in several U.S. states, China, Myanmar and Africa. Simplified mining has improved the availability of this unusual gem.
Considered a powerful amulet, peridot was worn as a charm to ward off evil. It was used in jewellery and also adorned clothing.
Peridot is vulnerable to hard blows and excessive scratching. It can be worn everyday, although with a little extra care.
Sapphire is September’s birthstone. Few people realize that this gemstone is available in every colour imaginable, except for red. Although the intense velvety blue hues of the Sri Lanka and Kashmir sapphires were traditionally the most sought-after, beautiful yellows, pinks, purples have become more popular.
As a member of the corumdum gem family, sapphire is related to the red ruby.
Sapphires were originally obtained in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. Today, they can be found in India, China, Madagascar, the US, Australia and Africa.
There are numerous legends associated with sapphires. The ancient Persians believed the earth rested on a giant sapphire. Other early cultures wore the stone as protection against poisoning. Sapphires have also symbolized truth, sincerity and constancy.
Stones of poorer colour were often re-buried, as it was believed they were un-ripe and would improve with more time in the ground. Scientific discovery revealed stones would deepen in colour when baked or heat-treated.
No special care is required to maintain the beauty of a sapphire. As they are quite durable, regular cleaning methods are suitable.
October: Opal & Tourmaline
October’s birthstone is opal. This is an exceptional gemstone, with flashes and patterns of different colours against a white or grayish background, referred to as “play of colour” by gemologists. This intensity and variety of colours make opals more desirable, valuable and unique.Opal is considered a mineraloid, but with a lattice structure. The 10% water in their molecular structure plays a part in their display of colour.
Precious opals are primarily found in Australia, although some have also been found in Mexico and the US, with smaller numbers found in other locations as well.
The opal has been a treasured gem since Roman times. Originally associated with luck in the Middle Ages, it was portrayed as a symbol of bad luck in a novel during the 1800s, creating a superstition that continues to this day. However, opal remained a favourite of Queen Victoria, despite the negative connotation.
Opals do not need to be stored in water or oil, as commonly believed. However, they should be worn with care, and never exposed to heat or acid. Opal jewellery may be kept alongside other jewellery, provided it is cushioned, to protect it from being knocked or scratched.
Tourmaline is also a birthstone for October. ourmaline is best known for displaying several colours within a single stone, from red to green or blue to yellow, among others. However, tourmaline is often cut to show only one colour, so that it may resemble an emerald or a ruby.
This is in contrast to the watermelon tourmaline, which is cut into thick slices with a pink centre, white ring and green edge.
The name tourmaline is derived from the Singhalese word “tura mali”, meaning “stone with mixed colours”. Tourmaline is a silicate mineral, found in many locations, including Brazil, Afghanistan, Africa and the US.
According to an Egyptian legend, the tourmaline passed through a rainbow on its journey from the earth’s centre to the surface. In doing so, it assumed all the colours of the rainbow. Today it is still referred to as “the gemstone of the rainbow”.
Tourmaline has become a favorite among jewellery designers and gem collectors throughout the world. Available in such a wide variety of colours, it is ideally suited to nearly everyone’s taste.
Tourmaline is of medium strength, and can be cleaned and handled with usual care for fine jewellery.
Topaz is November’s birthstone, and although it comes in a wide range of colours, yellow-brown is the combination commonly recognized. Topaz is a silicate mineral; the varieties of minerals naturally form a variety of colours. It is a hard gem.
Most famously, topaz comes from Brazil. However, it can be found in Mexico, Australia, Africa, Russia Europe and the US.
Historically, the name topaz was attached to many stones yellowish in colour. Topaz was associated with wealth and during the Middle Ages was believed to have incredible powers of healing. It was thought to promote a pleasant nature, patience and love.
While many topaz stones are heat-treated to improve their colour or hue, the treatment is harmless and permanent. Conventional jewellery cleaners are safe to use on all colours of topaz and keep gems looking their best.
December: Blue Topaz
Blue topaz is December’s birthstone, and comes in a wide range of hues. However, nearly all blue topaz is heated in order to create the rich colour we identify as December’s birthstone.
Most famously, topaz comes from Brazil. However, it can also be found in Mexico, Australia, Africa, Russia and parts of Europe, as well as the US. Blue topaz is the state gem of Texas.
Topaz is a silicate mineral and a hard gem. They are heat-treated to permanently improve their hue. Conventional jewellery cleaners are safe to use on all colours of topaz.