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The History of Birthstones

September 16th, 2011 Jewelry

Birthstones have been around for centuries. The specific stones corresponding with each month vary between ages and cultures, but for the most part, scholars agree that the use of birthstones was prompted by the Breastplate of Aaron, a religious ceremonial garment described in the Bible. The cloth had four rows of three stones mounted in gold filigree that represented the twelve tribes of Israel and were engraved with the corresponding seal. In an earlier Biblical passage, each tribe was paired with a specific gemstone as follows:

Reuben - Carnelian Simeon - Peridot Levi - Emerald Judah - Garnet Issachar - Lapis lazuli Zebulun - Rock crystal Joseph - Zircon Benjamin - Agate Dan - Amethyst Naphtali - Citrine Gad - Onyx Asher - Jasper.

Writers Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome are believed to be the first people to connect the 12 stones on the breastplate with the 12 signs of the zodiac. They thought each of the gemstones had special powers based on its astrological sign and that wearing these stones during their corresponding months would have benefits. Today, rather than owning 12 different stones to wear for each month, people tend to choose the stone that corresponds with the month in which they were born.

The modern list of birthstones was defined in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers (Jewelers of America). The months, names and mythical properties of the stones are as follows:

January - Garnet. These stones come in many colors, such as red, yellow, orange, brown and green. Historically, they were used to prevent bleeding and ward off the plague. Riches, good health and happiness are believed to come to wearers.

February - Amethyst. This stone was believed to be created by Bacchus to prevent intoxication, poison and to quicken the wits. It is supposed to be set in silver or gold in order for the wearer to receive maximum benefits.

March - Aquamarine. Wearing this stone was believed to prevent spasms and liver ailments. Seafarers carried it for protection from storms, and some people drank water that a stone had been dipped in to cure the hiccups.

April - Diamond. This stone was believed to represent faith and strength. It was used to ward off poison and was thought to be deadly when swallowed. It is supposed to be set in steel for the wearer to receive maximum benefits.

May - Emerald. This stone was worn to protect against disease and venom. It was believed to help predict the future when placed under the tongue.

June - Pearl. These stones were symbols of purity and virtue, used to cure headaches and impotence. People also used them to clean their faces and teeth. Defective pearls were thought to be bad luck.

July - Ruby. These stones were said to give youth. They have been used to drive away sadness and bad elements, as well as bring good harvests. People believed rubies could boil water.

August - Peridot. This gem was used to banish nightmares and protect against evil. Wearers were said to be gracious and loving. The traditional way to wear a peridot is on the left side of the body and set in gold.

September - Sapphire. These stones were a symbol of purity. Wearers were said to be wise, virtuous and strong. Many religious connotations are attached to these stones.

October - Opal. This stone was said to reflect its owner's moods and health, glowing to indicate joy and darkening to represent death. Opals were a symbol of hope, and black opals were considered lucky.

November - Citrine. These yellowish stones were named after the French word for lemon. They are said to protect against venom and evil thoughts.

December - Blue topaz. This stone was a symbol of friendship, said to calm anger and prevent envy. It was thought to give the wearer long life, beauty and intelligence.