This weekend we’re throwing it back all the way to primary school with some good old birthstone chat. Later on we can play MASH and maybe a bit of Red Rover…
My oldest school friend turned 26 last week, and for one of her gifts I designed her a silver and emerald earring and necklace set. As well as being one of her favourite stones, emerald is also her birthstone, which is something we were VERY excited about back in junior school (along with birth flowers, star signs, and any other vaguely mystical identifiers we could find…).
All this birthstone nostalgia made me wonder where birthstones even came from. I mean, it’s a fairly niche idea when you think about it. Star signs, the Chinese zodiac, all of those identifiers are based on astrology, but birthstones? Whose idea was that?
The birth of birthstones
Surprisingly, it seems like it was Aaron’s. Not as in Aaron Burr, but as in the High Priest Aaron, Moses’ brother. In Exodus 28, when Aaron is being fitted for a new breastplate, Moses decrees it should carry 12 gemstones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Historians have since argued that these stones were also linked to the months of the year and the signs of the Zodiac. Because names of gemstones have changed over time and translation, nobody is quite sure which stones Aaron was sporting, but a commonly-accepted list is as follows:
As you can see below, some of these stones or close alternates still appear on today’s lists…
However, the practice of wearing your birth month’s stone only appeared in Europe a few hundred years ago; before that, it was customary (presumably only among those who could afford it!) to keep one of each stone and wear it during its month. However, by the 20th century, birthstones were such a popular (and lucrative) concept that both the American National Association of Jewelers and the British National Association of Goldsmiths created their own ‘official’ list of birthstones.
Let’s get stoned
Ever wonder what your own birthstone is? Well, wonder no longer – I’m about to take you through the official (British NAG) list of birthstones. Some of them are pricier than others, but the NAG have thoughtfully provided alternatives on some months. I also have a couple of suggestions for budget-friendly dupes for some of the more expensive stones…
As I’ve mentioned once or twice, I bloody love garnet. If only my mum had held onto me a solid month past my due date this stone could have been mine… The gorgeous dark red colour is perfectly set off by faceting, and it looks lovely in a gold or silver setting.
February’s stone is amethyst, a lovely violet-coloured form of quartz. Fun fact about amethyst: its name comes from the Ancient Greek for the words ‘not’ and ‘intoxicate’. This belief that amethyst protected you from drunkenness (and, indeed, hangovers!) led to lots of drinking vessels carved from or inlaid with the stone, as well as charms:
Maybe I’ll try wearing amethyst charms on my next night out and see how my head is the next day…
Two quite different stones for March – perhaps March babies are meant to be more indecisive? Bloodstone sounds – and looks! – a bit emo, whilst aquamarine is delicate and classic:
If you don’t fancy either of these, March’s birth colours are white and light blue, so you could always consider substituting a pearl or a moonstone for the two ‘official’ options…
April: Diamond/Rock crystal
One of the most expensive months of the year is April, with diamond as its main stone. Luckily, a more affordable alternative, rock crystal, is given, and you could also substitute crystal quartz:
If only I’d be born in May… Emeralds speak for themselves, and luckily chrysoprase makes a nice, affordable substitute for emerald. Chrysoprase also has some lovely marble-esque inclusions which adds a bit of interest:
June’s stones of pearl or moonstone give some lovely, neutral-coloured options for birthstone jewellery, but the benefit of pearls is they also come in different colours to suit all tastes and styles, and rainbow moonstones also produce lovely colours when the light hits them:
Another red month, with cardinal stone ruby and semi-precious carnelian for some fiery birthstone jewellery:
Leaving aside the fact that Sardonyx sounds like me as a Pokemon, it’s also quite different from the better-known August birthstone of peridot. August babies have tons of colours and patterns to choose from with sardonyx, as well as a light green sparkler with periot. I think I prefer the sardonyx for its variety (and name!), but peridot isn’t too shabby either:
September: Sapphire/Lapis Lazuli
Yet another month I’m jealous of; more for the lapis lazuli than the sapphire, actually. I just love its gold flecks and historical appeal. That being said, you can’t go too far wrong with a sapphire, and they come in a bunch of different colours as well, so you can choose your favourite or sport a rainbow birthstone piece (if you’ve the budget for it!):
Opals have come back in in a big way in the past couple of years, so lucky October babies! Opals were extremely rare before the 19th century discovery of huge opal deposits in Australia, and appear in the treasuries of many European royal houses. Like many of the stones on this list, opals come in a range of colours and styles…
November is the only month with predominantly yellow stones, perhaps to make up for the lack of sunshine the UK during these babies’ birthdays… Topaz does, of course, come in blues, greens and pinks as well as yellows, whilst citrine (as the name suggests) is just yellow. According to British superstition, Topaz also cures ‘lunacy’, so take from that what you will…
I love turquoise now, but when I was little, it did feel a little like they’d just run out of stones by the time they got to my birth month. I mean, turquoise isn’t even sparkly! Gorgeous, purply-blue tanzanite is, but I didn’t know about it back then. Tanzanite is also a lot more expensive; turquoise is definitely the affordable December stone, but it does have the advantage of a huge range of variations in colour and inclusions (the speckly bits)…
What’s your birthstone, and, more importantly, do you like it? If your month has two stones, what do you prefer? Let me know in the comments…