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The History of Birthstones

birthstones

A beautiful gem that symbolizes a person’s birthday is a special and thoughtful gift. Some people wear their birthstone on a daily basis and feel a deep connection with the gem. Others haven’t really thought about their birthstones since they learned about them as kids. Whether or not you enjoy collecting your own birthstone, knowing about the history of the tradition is pretty interesting. Where did the idea of birthstones come from? When did it all start? Let’s take a look at how certain stones came to be connected to our birth months!

The Origin of Birthstones

The idea of having a stone that correlates with each month of the year actually has a biblical origin. In the story of Moses going to Egypt, his brother Aaron stayed behind in their hometown. When Moses asked for his people to be freed, it was Aaron who convinced many people to go along with the plan to leave. His great speaking skills later helped him become an eloquent priest.

In the Bible, Aaron is described as wearing a ceremonial breastplate that holds three rows of four stones each - a sacred object that helped the priest communicate with God. Scholars quickly realized that the number 12 is significant in many ways, from the 12 sons of Jacob, whose descendants made up the 12 tribes of Israel, to the 12 zodiac signs and the 12 months of the Roman calendar. Unfortunately, historians are not in agreement on exactly which 12 stones made up the three rows of the Breastplate of Aaron, and we still see some disagreement on which stones are the correct birthstones for each month today.

Wearing birthstones became a popular trend in Poland around the 15th century. Unlike the current custom of just wearing your own birth month’s stone, at that time it was popular to have a set of all 12. This tradition allowed people to wear the current month’s powerful and symbolic stone no matter their birth month.

Modern Birthstones

Fast-forward to modern day, and our birthstones and their symbolism look quite different. Most people are more likely to connect the 12 birthstones with the signs of the zodiac than the Breastplate of Aaron. The 12 zodiac signs themselves have an interesting history, originating with ancient Babylonian constellations that were adopted by the ancient Greeks, well before we started reading about them in our daily horoscopes. However, the modern concept of connecting particular stones with months of the year was made by jewelry associations in the 20th century, most likely in an attempt to boost gemstone sales.

The first attempt at birthstone standardization occurred in Kansas in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers. In 1952, the Jewelry Industrial Council updated the list by adding an extra stone for the months of June, October, and November. Later, in 2002, the American Gem Trade Association added another stone to the month of December as well. Finally, in 2016, the American Gem Trade Association, along with the Jewelers of America, added one more stone to the month of August. To make matters more complicated, in 1937, Britain’s National Association of Goldsmiths created their own standardized list of birthstones, so Britain and the US tend to disagree on which stones correspond to which month. Check out the table below to see how birthstones have changed over time.

Month1400s-1900s1912 US2016 USBritainZodiac SignZodiac Gemstone
JanuaryGarnetGarnetGarnetGarnetAquariusGarnet
FebruaryAmethyst, Hyacinth, PearlAmethystAmethystAmethystPiscesAmethyst
MarchBloodstone, JasperBloodstone, AquamarineBloodstone, AquamarineBloodstone, AquamarineAriesBloodstone
AprilDiamond, SapphireDiamondDiamondDiamond, Rock CrystalTaurusSapphire
MayEmerald, AgateEmeraldEmeraldEmerald, ChrysopraseGeminiAgate
JuneCat's Eye, Turquoise, AgatePearl, MoonstonePearl, Moonstone, AlexandritePearl, MoonstoneCancerEmerald
JulyTurquoise, OnyxRubyRubyRuby, CarnelianLeoOnyx
AugustSardonyx, Carnelian, Moonstone, TopazPeridot, SardonyxPeridot, SpinelPeridot, SardonyxVirgoCarnelian
SeptemberChrysolite SapphireSapphireSapphire, Lapis LazuliLibraChrysolite
OctoberOpal, AquamarineOpal, TourmalineOpal, TourmalineOpalScorpioBeryl
NovemberTopaz, PearlTopazTopaz, CitrineTopaz, CitrineSagittariusTopaz
DecemberBloodstone, RubyTurquoise, Lapis LazuliTurquoise, Zircon, TanzaniteTurquoise, TanzaniteCapricornRuby

While we’ll probably never know the exact stones that were in Aaron’s ceremonial breastplate, and the actual assignment of the stones to particular months was made by jewelry salesmen, birthstones still remain relevant today. Wearing a birthstone can mean something different to each person, from a mother wearing her child’s birthstone to a person being gifted a birthstone piece on a special occasion. No matter the reasons why someone wears a birthstone, it can be soothing to wear a stone that symbolizes his or her time and place in this world.