|Birthstones: The Origins
Birthstones are often the perfect gift for someone we cherish, a loving family member or a close friend, they are precious and personal and hold astrological and mythical meanings; each one is believed to own a unique set of healing powers. You may know someone who owns a birthstone, perhaps you have one safely stored in your dresser, you may even be wearing one right now, but have you ever wondered where birthstones originated from?
Firstly, what are birthstones?
What's the difference between a mineral and a gemstone?
Now what makes a mineral a gem is far less to do with geology and more dependent on human belief and perception. Gems are basically minerals which are considered precious and valuable because of their attractiveness or general aesthetic appearance, rarity, durability, or due to certain cultural beliefs. This can obviously vary depending on the place and time in history, and from country to country, culture to culture.
The Western Birthstone Chart
It was Aaron's ceremonial breastplate which is said to be the origin of the birthstones; the plate held four rows of three precious stones, symbolizing the 12 months of the year and the 12 signs of the zodiac.
"There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes." Exodus 28:17-20
The breastplate itself was said to be square, spanning 22cm in length and width, and the 12 stones were mounted on a gold base, but the ordering and naming of the gems has always been under much debate and varies from translation to translation. This is also partly due to the fact gemstones at the time didn't have specific names; they were usually named by their city or country of origin.
The most common naming of the breastplate stones is as follows; the first row of stones from left to right were a ruby, a topaz and a beryl; the second row being a turquoise, a sapphire, and an emerald; the third row was made up of a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst stone; and the fourth row of gems was set out chrysolite, onyx and jasper.
If we look at the New American Standard Bible reading of the breastplate we get a list that differs in places. It describes the layout of the gemstones as follows: (Row 1) ruby, topaz, emerald; (Row 2) turquoise, sapphire, diamond; (Row 3) jacinth, agate, amethyst; (Row 4) beryl, onyx, jasper.
The Modern Birthstone List was created by the American National Association of Jewelers, Jewelers of America, and was officially taken up in 1912. Despite its controversy and being criticized by purists for moving and dropping some of the original gems, today it is most often seen as the definitive chart of astrological birthstones.
Traditionally people tend to wear their own birthstone, determined by their date of birth, with your birthstone giving you a unique set of mental and medical advantages, but it was in Poland, around the mid 15th Century, that the wearing of birthstones gained notable popularity.
The Polish custom of wearing birthstones was somewhat different, rather than wearing your own unique birthstone people tended to own a set of 12 birthstones. As expensive and romantic as that may seem, each set would cover every month of the year and one would wear each birthstone dependant of the date and regardless of one's own birth date, always wearing the birthstone that held the greatest healing power on that particular day.
- First Published: March-06-2012
- Last Updated: March-08-2012
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