Thank you for your patience! It took a bit to get my blog revised for my new email provider. As long as I was doing some maintenance, I took the time to update some other things as well. Add to that some vacation time and well, here we are! So nice to be back, enjoy!
I realized that I talk a lot about birthstones in my blog but have never explained where the concept came from!
The idea of birthstones (a gemstone assigned to each month of the year) is thought to be an ancient one, and scholars trace it back to the Breastplate of Aaron that was described in the book of Exodus in the Bible. The Breastplate was a religious garment set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The gems were set in four rows of three: sardius, (ruby or carnelian) topaz and carbuncle (garnet); emerald, sapphire and diamond; ligure, (no idea what ligure, nor does anyone else, could have been hyacinth or opal) agate and amethyst; and beryl, onyx and jasper.
So how did we get from gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel to birthstones to today? The writings of Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) and St. Jerome (5th century AD) made the connection between the 12 stones in the Breastplate and the 12 signs of the zodiac. The idea was proposed that each of the gemstones had special powers associated with the corresponding astrological sign and that wearing these stones at the right time would have therapeutic or talismanic benefits. Early shades of advertising, build fear, create need and market superstition!
This was still not quite the same idea as our modern concept of the birthstone. Based on this astrological model, one ought to own a collection of the 12 different gemstones assigned to the signs of the zodiac and wear the appropriate gem during the ascendancy of the corresponding sign. This is more like the Vedic astrological tradition of India, which assigns 9 different gemstones to 9 planets and prescribes the wearing of particular gems according to a person’s state of health and the challenges that they face in life.
The idea of each person always wearing a gemstone corresponding to the month of their birth is a distinctly modern idea that scholars trace to 18th century Poland, with the arrival of Jewish gem traders to the region. Yet the modern list of birthstones was not defined until 1912, by the National Association of Jewelers (Jewelers of America) in the USA.
The modern birthstone list has been updated three times since 1912. It was updated in 1952 to add alexandrite, citrine, tourmaline and zircon as birthstones and again in 2002 when tanzanite was added as a birthstone for December. It was updated in June 2016 when spinel was added as a August birthstone.
In 2002 when the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) announced that they had added tanzanite as a birthstone for December, though December already had two birthstones (turquoise and zircon). The Jewelers of America went along with the idea and provided this sound bite for the AGTA press releases: “JA sees the addition of tanzanite for December as a way to build business. Any step that helps retailers sell more jewelry is a good one.” The world had clearly come a long way from the purported magical powers of astrological gemstones.
Modern lists of birthstones have little to do with either the breastplate or the Foundation Stones of Christianity. Tastes, customs and confusing translations have distanced them from their historical origins, with one author calling the 1912 Kansas list “nothing but a piece of unfounded salesmanship.” Yep, welcome to the world of retail!
Here is the current birthstone list, I could not find an updated photo chart with spinel added!
January – Garnet
February – Amethyst
March – Aquamarine
April – Diamond
May – Emerald
June – Pearl, Alexandrite
July – Ruby
August – Peridot, Spinel
September – Sapphire
October – Opal, Tourmaline
November – Topaz, Citrine
December – Turquoise, Tanzanite, Zircon