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  : : Birthstone Origins
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?

Garnet - January Birthstone Amethyst - February Birthstone Aquamarine - March Birthstone
January Birthstone
February Birthstone
March Birthstone

Firstly, what are birthstones?
Birthstones are gemstones usually held in the form of jewelry, such as rings, necklaces or pendants. They are precious or semi precious, with each birthstone representing a month, date, day of the week or zodiac sign, all depending on which birthstone chart or list you choose to go by (and there are a few!). Most commonly in the western world a birthstone represents a month of the Gregorian calendar.

What's the difference between a mineral and a gemstone?
With the exception of a few organic gems, such as Pearl, Amber and Coral, the majority of Birthstones are minerals and it’s interesting to see which minerals are classed as gems and which are not. Minerals need to have four basic properties; they must be natural (not man-made), they must be solid (they don’t melt or evaporate), they must be inorganic (as opposed to being carbon based living things), and they must be crystalline (a distinct arrangement of atoms).

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.

Diamond - April Birthstone Emerald - May Birthstone Moonstone - June Birthstone
April Birthstone
May Birthstone
June Birthstone

The Western Birthstone Chart
The traditional astrological concept of birthstone gems is one that dates back to the bible, and in particular the breastplate of Aaron. Aaron, often known as "Aaron the Priest", was the brother of Moses, a prophet of God, and the first High Priest of the Israelites.

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.

Please click here for a list of the modern birthstones and zodiac information

Ruby - July Birthstone Peridot - August Birthstone Sapphire - September Birthstone
July Birthstone
August Birthstone
September Birthstone

Other Origins
In the Eastern world there are other interpretations and listings of birthstones which don't directly relate to the biblical breastplate. Those are most notably the Mythical Birthstone List, which is from Tibetan origin and goes back well over one thousand years, and the Ayurvedic Birthstone List which dates back to around 1500 BC in ancient India, relating to Ayurvedic Indian medicine.

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.

Tourmaline - October Birthstone Citrine - November Birthstone Blue Topaz - December Birthstone
October Birthstone
November Birthstone
Blue Topaz
December Birthstone

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
  • © 2005-2014 all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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