Birthstone Jewelry - Origins and Development

Particular gems have been linked with the signs of the zodiac since the first century and in modern times have been used in birthstone jewelry. Birthstone systems were originally based on the gem colors. The custom is believed to be connected to the Breastplate of Aaron on which gemstones associated with the twelve tribes of Israel were sewn. Gemstone were engraved with the tribe's name and sewn into the breastplate in 4 rows of 3. The names of the stones are well known, but the actual gemstones used is a mystery as there are difficulties in translating the names to correspond with known gemstones. Different interpretations have therefore lead to different gemstones being linked to each sign of the zodiac.

Modern Birthstones
Modern Birthstones

More recently birthstones became associated with the months of the year rather than the signs of the zodiac and there's been some divergence in the month to which a gemstone is assigned. The most commonly used system today is one which was initiated by the Association of Jewelers in America in 1912, and incorporates some substitutes for the costlier gemstones. There has been one addition since then. December gained the birthstone Tanzanite in 2002 though it is not acknowledged by everyone.

Alternative listings which associate distinct stones with the birth month include Ayurvedic birthstones and mystical birthstones. The mystical birthstones listing is thought to originate over 1000 years in the past and is from Tibet, the Ayurvedic system is from ancient Indian medicine and philosophy and originated around 1500 BC. However the majority use the contemporary schemes initiated by the Association of Jewelers.

Traditional Birthstones

  • January - garnet
  • February - amethyst
  • March - jasper, bloodstone
  • April - sapphire, diamond
  • May - agate, emerald
  • June - emerald, alexandrite
  • July - onyx, ruby
  • August - carnelian, sardonyx
  • September - peridot, sapphire
  • October - aquamarine, tourmaline,
  • November - topaz, citrine,
  • December - ruby, zircon

Contemporary Birthstones

  • January - emerald, garnet
  • February - amethyst
  • March - aquamarine
  • April - diamond
  • May - emerald
  • June - pearl, moonstone
  • July - ruby
  • August - peridot
  • September - sapphire
  • October - tourmaline, opal
  • November - citrine, topaz
  • December - tanzanite, topaz, turquiose

If you are buying a birthstone jewelry gift there are alternative gemstones that you can choose. If you are not keen on the delicate green peridot for August an alternative is the carnelian from the traditional list. You can also buy family birthstone jewelry which is made to hold the birthstones of the whole family, usually in a family tree design, Some family birthstone jewelry can also be engraved with the names associated with the birthstones. Charms are also available complete with tiny gemstones. Gold or silver birthstone jewelry makes a lovely gift and shows the care you have taken in choosing a gift that is perfect for your loved one.

See Birthstones and Their Meanings for the meanings attributed to individual birthstones.

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