Birthstone Facts and Legends

A birthstone is a certain gem associated with the time in which a person is born.  The most traditional birthstone list is based on the calendar month of birth, though some lists are based on the zodiac calendar.

Through the years, many gemstones were associated with health, wealth and good fortune.  Most likely, this reputation was based on the association that those who could afford gemstones already had the good fortune to be wealthy, ate a better diet and could afford medical care.

 

Month

Birthstone

January Garnet
February Amethyst
March Aquamarine (Bloodstone)
April Diamond
May Emerald
June Pearl (Alexandrite)
July Ruby
August Peridot (Sardonyx)
September Sapphire
October Opal (Pink Tourmaline)
November Citrine (Topaz)
December Turquoise (Tanzanite, Lapis Lazuli)

 

 

January – Garnet

 

Garnet is one of the largest families of gemstones and presents itself in a wide range of colors.  The most well-known colors vary from blood red to purplish red.  Garnet was once believed to have healing powers, especially pertaining to diseases related to blood flow.  The January birthstone signifies trust and friendship, making it the perfect gift for a friend.

Garnets

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Toughness: Fair to Good
  • Sources: US, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Scotland, Switzerland, India, Pakistan

 

 

February – Amethyst

With its rich purple hue, Amethyst , a variety of quartz, is one of the most abundant minerals found in nature.  Although purple has come to signify February’s birthstone, amethyst can appear in yellow (Citrine), and green (Prasiolite). 

In addition to February, amethysts are associated with the fourth, sixth and ninth wedding anniversaries.

Historically, amethyst was a symbol of royalty and was believed to have had powers of protection.

Amethyst

 

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 7
  • Toughness: “Good” for everyday wear
  • Sources: Brazil, Russia, Canada, India, Madagascar, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, US

 

 

March – Aquamarine

 

Aquamarine is one of the most valuable members of the Beryl family.  While pure beryl (Goshenite) is colorless, its varieties include Emerald (green), Morganite (pink), Heliodor (yellowish-green), and the rare red beryl.

 

Aquamarine ranges in color from pale, icy blue to sea-foam bluish-green to a deep blue.  The deeper blue stones hold the most value.

 

The name aquamarine is derived from Latin “aqua marina” – literally “water of the sea.”  Ancient seafarers believed aquamarines came from the treasure chests of mermaids and considered the stone to bring good luck on the open seas.

 

Today, it is considered a universal symbol of love, health and youthful energy.


Aquamarine

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 7.5 to 8
  • Toughness: “Good” for everyday wear
  • Sources: Brazil, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and throughout Africa

 

 

March – Bloodstone (alternate)

March Birthstone - Bloodstone

 

Bloodstone, also known as Heliotrope, is one of the many varieties of Chalcedony or microcrystalline quartz.  Bloodstone is typically a semi-transluscnet to opaque dark green stone flecked with  brownish-red spots of iron oxide, or jasper.

 

In Medieval times, the red flecks of jasper were thought to be the blood of Jesus Christ, hence the name “Blood Stone.”  The stone was used to treat ailments such as hemorrhaging, headaches and venomous bites.

 

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5 to 7
  • Toughness: “Fair” for everyday use
  • Sources: Australia, Brazil, China, India, US

 

 

April – Diamond

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend!"

“A Diamond is forever!”

Diamond - April

Diamond is made from pure carbon and is the hardest natural substance known to man. The word "diamond" is derived from the Greek “adamas," meaning unconquerable or untamable. This remarkable hardness influenced the belief that diamond was a gift from the gods, and would impart strength, happiness and long life to its owner. It was not until diamonds began to be cut and polished in the 15th century that mankind discovered the luster and brilliance that diamonds are known for today.

In Medieval Europe, diamonds were thought to be poisonous, and were a well-documented method of assassination. Catherine de Medici, in particular, was known to favor diamond dust as a means of eliminating those who fell out of her favor. She is reported to have worn a trick ring, from which she sprinkled a dust containing ground diamonds into the wine cups of her victims. Though the diamond itself was most likely harmless, the arsenic it was mixed with killed instantly. 

The first recorded instance of a diamond used as a symbol of betrothal occurred in 1477, when Maxmillian, Archduke of Austria, gave his intended, Mary of Burgundy, a diamond ring upon their engagement. While Mary died only a few months after her marriage, this tradition of a diamond engagement gift continued.  To this day, a diamond is firmly established as THE gemstone representing love and is used for betrothals.

 

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 10
  • Toughness: Good in cleavage directions, exceptional in all other directions.
  • Sources: South Africa, Russia, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Canada

 

 

May – Emerald

Emerald - MayEmerald is the most highly prized gem of the Beryl family. The finest quality material to date comes from mines in Colombia, and is translucent, with a rich green hue and few to no inclusions. These emeralds are extraordinarily rare, and can be more expensive per carat than any diamond.

Most of the emerald mined today is opaque, heavily included and very brittle. Stones lacking any surface breaks are rare and emeralds are usually soaked in oil to fill these fissures and enhance the overall appearance. Oiling, with cedar oil or similar synthetics, is an accepted practice in the gemological community. Unless it is specially noted, every emerald is assumed to have been oiled. Emeralds should never be steamed or cleaned in an ultrasonic, as this shakes the oil out of the fissures, drying the stone out and exposing fracture points.

Emeralds are mentioned as early as 2000 B.C., and were mined by ancient Egyptians, Indians and Incans, including at the famed Cleopatra’s Mines near the Red Sea. Emeralds and other varieties of Beryl have been found in the mountains of North and South Carolina, including the largest gem quality emerald found in North America – the 64.83 carat “Carolina Emperor."

Wearing Emeralds, according to legend, cured a wide range of ailments including low I.Q., poor eyesight, and infertility. With its verdant hue, it is also considered a symbol of good luck and health. Emerald is also associated with the 20th, 35th and 55th anniversary.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 7.5 to 8
  • Toughness: Poor to Good
  • Sources: Austria, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Russia, Norway, India, US

 

 

June – Pearl

Pearls are one of the only gems that are created by a living creature. Pearls occur in nature when a foreign body, such as a grain of sand, finds its way into an oyster's shell. The oyster reacts defensively by secreting nacre to smooth the irritant. Layer by layer, year by year, this tiny grain of sand becomes a pearl.

June - Pearls

Pearls were very popular with the Kings of Europe and Maharajahs of India. Queen Elizabeth I of England especially coveted pearls, and would buy chests of them at a time. By the beginning of the 20th century, this popularity had led pearl-producing oysters to the brink of extinction. Around this time, a Japanese businessman named Kokichi Mikimoto perfected a technique for culturing pearls. Although cultured pearls were initially seen as inferior, the practice slowly took hold, and today virtually all pearls are cultured on vast pearl farms in Japan and the South Pacific. Though Mikimoto is often given credit for the culturing process, there is evidence that it was attempted as early as 1500 BC.

The quality of a pearl is determined by it its luster, complexion, color, overtones of color, size and shape. More valuable pearls are usually a creamy off-white with a pink or rosy overtone, high luster and few blemishes. South Sea Pearls and black Tahitian pearls are notably some of the finest and most expensive pearl varieties.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 2.5 to 4.5
  • Toughness: Good but variable
  • Sources: Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Japan, China, Australia, Tahiti, Mexico, US

 

 

June – Alexandrite (alternate)

Alexandrite is the most rare and famous of the color-changing gems. A variety of Chrysoberyl, Alexandrite appears green in daylight or florescent light and red in incandescent light. This change can vary in intensity and color from a yellowish-green, grayish-green or bluish-green to an orangey-red, brownish-red or purple-red. 

June - Alexandrite

Because natural Alexandrite is rarely found in sizes above one carat, imitations and synthetic stones are common. Synthetic Chrysoberyl as well as Synthetic Spinel and Synthetic Corundum have all been produced to imitate Alexandrite.

Alexandrite was discovered in 1831 in the Ural Mountains of Russia, and named in honor of the young Tsar Alexander II. The Russian mines have historically produced the highest quality Alexandrite with the most vivid color change. However, the Russian deposits are limited, and most of today’s mining has moved to Brazil, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka.

Alexandrite is believed to assist in centering the self, reinforcing self-esteem and enhancing the ability to experience joy. Alexandrite is looked upon as a good omen in Russia and is sometimes associated with the 45th and 55th wedding anniversaries.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 8.5
  • Toughness: “Excellent” for everyday wear
  • Sources: Russia, Brazil, Madagascar, Sri Lanka

 

 

July – Ruby

Ruby – from the Latin word “ruber” meaning "red," – is one of the most valuable precious gems. While sapphire and ruby are techically both varieties of corumdum, a ruby only refers to a pure red stone. Too much pink or orange and the ruby becomes a sapphire.birthstone - ruby The finest "pigeon's blood" rubies came from the northern valleys of Burma (now Myanmar), but these mines have been almost entirely exhausted. 


Though often confused with red spinel, rubies have enjoyed a history of preeminence, and were associated with royalty, power and wealth. The ancients believed that a ruby thrown into a pot of water would cause it to boil immediately. Ruby is thought to attract and retain reciprocal love, and to bring success and good fortune to its wearer. 
Most modern rubies are now found in Africa, Thailand, India, and even Greenland. A variety of Corundum, ruby is thought to attract and retain reciprocal love, and to bring success and good fortune to its wearer. 

Rubies are associated with the 15th and 40th wedding anniversary.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 9
  • Toughness: Excellent except in heavily included or fractured stones
  • Sources: Thailand, Myanmar, Africa, India, US, Greenland

 

 

August – Peridot


Peridot, a member of the olivine family, is often associated with good luck, peace, and success, good health, protection, and sleep. Ancient Romans called Peridot the “evening emerald” and believed the stone glowed in the moonlight. In fact, many ancient cultures only mined peridot only at night. Peridot was also thought to help make dreams come true, and drive away the evil spirits of the night.

August Birthstone - PeridotAlthough Peridot is one of the only gemstones to occur in just one color – green – its intensity can vary from a light yellow-green to a deep olive hue. Olivine is commonly found in nature, but gem-quality peridot –with few inclusions and a deep green color – is quite rare.

Peridot is used to celebrate the 1st and 16th wedding anniversaries.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5 to 7
  • Toughness: Fair to Good
  • Sources: Australia, Brazil, China, Burma, Norway, Egypt, Mexico, US, and has been found in meteorites.

 

 

August – Sardonyx (alternate)


Sardonyx is one of the many varieties of Chalcedony, or microcrystalline quartz. SardonyxSardonyx, from a combination of ancient Greek words meaning “red claw," is an agate with banded layers (striations) of reddish brown or yellow alternating with white or black. Sardonyx was a commonly used gem in ancient times, and is often mentioned in Roman and Greek writings, even in Minoan Crete. It was thought to increase vitality, stamina, and lend the gift of persuasiveness. Today, it is most commonly seen in estate jewelry, carved as a cameo or intaglio.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5 to 7
  • Toughness: Good
  • Sources: Worldwide including: Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, Pakistan, US, Germany, Mexico, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Africa

 

 

September – Sapphire

Sapphire is the main variety of the mineral corundum, and is found in virtually any color. There are two exceptions – red and orange pink.  When a sapphire has a deep red color, it is called ruby. When a sapphire is found with a bright, pinky-orange color, it is called padparadscha. Padparadscha is the rarest variety of corundum, and natural stones command a higher price than even the finest blue sapphire.

September's Birthstone is Sapphire

Many consumers believe the darker a gemstone is, the more valuable it is – this can be true for some lighter stones, such as aquamarine, but it is certainly not the case for sapphires. The most expensive sapphires display a bright, transparent blue. Sapphires are almost always heat treated to improve strength and appearance. Corundum was one of the first gemstones to be synthesized in a laboratory. 20th century jewelers often used synthetic and natural sapphires interchangeably, and the presence of synthetics in Edwardian and Art Deco pieces is a valuable dating tool.

The Persians believed the Earth rested on top of a Sapphire causing the blue color of the sky. Sapphire was also believed to give its wearer tranquility, peace and amiability and suppress wicked, impure thoughts. Sapphire is a symbol of loyalty and trust, and was thought to have the ability to make peace between warring parties. Blue-toned sapphires are most associated with the month of September. 

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 9
  • Toughness: Excellent
  • Sources: Australia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Brazil, Tanzania, US

 

 

October – Opal

Mexican Fire Opals

Opal is a unique mineral with a high percentage of water. Dihydrogen monoxide (H2O) typically accounts for 20% of an opal’s weight.  Opals can be transparent to opaque in virtually any body color, but are most commonly found in whites, blues or reds. Australia supplies more than 97% of the world’s gem-quality opals. Mexican Fire opals, transparent to opaque yellow and red stones, are the only non-Australian opals.

October's Birthstone - Opal

Opals have traditionally been symbols of hope and were often reserved for use of royalty alone. However, in 1829, Sir Walter Scott published Anne of Geierstein, a novel which he portrayed opal as a symbol of misfortune. After the novel's publication, sales of opals fell more than 50%. Opals’ reputation was saved by Queen Victoria, who commonly gave opals as wedding gifts. This royal commendation brought opals back into popularity, and they are prominent in Late Victorian and Art Nouveau jewelry. However, opals have never been able to fully shake this unlucky reputation, and to this day many people still consider them unlucky to anyone not born in October.  Opals are also associated with the 12th, 14th and 18th wedding anniversary.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 5 to 6.5
  • Toughness: Very Poor to Fair
  • Sources: Australia, Mexico, US

 

 

October – Pink Tourmaline (alternate)

October Birthstone - Pink TourmalineTourmaline occurs naturally in a wide variety of colors: Rubellite refers to stones in the pink to red range; Verdelite refers to yellowish green to bluish green; Indicolite refers to violetish to greenish blue; Chrome refers to the fine intense green; Cat’s Eye typically has a green, blue, or pink body color with chatoyancy; Watermelon is pink in the center and green at the edges, though bi-colored stones that are half green and half pink are referred to as watermelon as well; Parti-colored are other combinations of bi-color Tourmalines.

Pink Tourmaline is a common substitute for October’s birthstone. Although Rubellite refers to stones in the pink to red range, it is more commonly used in conjunction with the red Tourmalines. As with many gem stones Tourmalines are often heated to improve their color. Both red and green Tourmalines were long mistaken for rubies and emeralds. Tourmaline has only been recognized as a separate gemstone for about the past 250 years. The name tourmaline is derived from the Sri Lankan word tura mali which means stone of many colors.

Pink Tourmaline

It has been considered a lucky gem often referred to as the stone of wisdom, and it is supposed to protect the wearer from ill fortune. It has also been suggested that Tourmaline may promote healing and strengthen the body and spirit and possibly even inspire creativity.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 7 to 7.5
  • Toughness: Fair
  • Sources: Russia, Madagascar, Brazil, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Nigeria, India, US

 

 

November – Citrine

November Birthstone - CitrineCitrine is the name for the yellow and orange varieties of quartz. Commonly mined in Brazil, citrine has become the most commonly used birthstone for the month of November. This is likely due to the fact that citrine is considerably less expensive than precious topaz. Natural Citrine is often a pale yellow shade and is exceedingly rare in nature. Most of the citrine used in modern jewelry is actually heat-treated amethyst.

 The name Citrine is derived from the Latin "citrina," meaning yellow. The words "citrus" and "citron" are also related to this term. There is very little lore related to citrine. As with many other gemstones, it has been said to promote better health, specifically of the heart, kidney, digestive tract, liver and muscles.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 7
  • Toughness: Good
  • Sources: Brazil, Russia, Canada, India, Madagascar, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, US

 

 

November - Topaz (alternate)

November Birthstone - Golden Topaz

An aluminium silicate, topaz is another gemstone with a wide color range. Pure topaz is colorless, but other, well-known varieties include: Imperial topaz (pink to orange, rare when natural), Precious topaz (golden yellow), blue topaz (almost always irradiated), and pink topaz. Precious topaz is the traditional birthstone for November, while the red variety is typically the most valuable.

The name Topaz is believed to be derived from "topazios," the ancient Greek name for an island in the Red Sea known as a source of clear yellow stones. In India, a topaz was often worn over the heart to insure long life, beauty, and intelligence. The largest faceted topaz ever recorded is the "Champagne Topaz." The gem was mined in Brazil and weighs a massive 36,854 cts - bigger and heavier than a block of cement!

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 8
  • Toughness: Poor
  • Sources: Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Australia, Burma, Pakistan, Russia, US

 

 

December - Turquoise

Turquoise is one of the first minerals known to have been mined and used in jewelry, and was treasured by ancient cultures across the world. Today, it is the national stone of Tibet, and still holds a place of prominence in Native American cultures. Turquoise occurs mostly in shades of blue and greenish blue, and can be mottled and crossed by fine lines of matrix. The most valuable turquoise is a bright, robin's-egg blue, and has no trace of matrix.

Turquoise is usually found in dry, arid regions where acidic groundwater reacts wtih phosphorus and aluminum in the ground. Iran (formerly Persia) has historically produced the finest material, but most of the famous mines are no longer commercially viable. Most new production has moved to the US, Australia, and China.

The word "turquoise" comes to us from the Old French expression pierre torques, or "Turkish stone," as the Turks were the first to bring the stone to Medieval Europe. It is a porous material, and is sensitive to chemicals and skin oils. Like pearls, turquoise should be treated gently, and cleaned with mild soapy water.

Turquoise has been believed to bring prosperity, good fortune and protection from evil. Turquoise is also used to celebrate 11th anniversaries. 

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 5 to 6
  • Toughness: Fine quality is fair to good, low quality material is poor and easily fractures
  • Sources: US, Australia, Chile, China, Iran, Mexico, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Egypt.

 

 

December - Tanzanite (alternate)

Compared with the history and lore of other gemstones tanzanite is just a baby. A variety of zoisite, tanzanite was discovered in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1962. Officially "blue zoisite," Tiffany & Company decided "tanzanite" was a more marketable name, and introduced it to the public with a massive publicity campaign in 1968. Tanzania is still the only source of this stone. With the exception of those very first stones found above ground, almost all rough tanzanite is a dull reddish brown. It must be heated to achieve the purplish blue "tanzanite" color. All tanzanite is assumed to have been heat-treated, and this treatment has no effect on price.

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5
  • Toughness: Poor
  • Sources: Tanzania

 

 

December - Lapis Lazuli (alternate)

Lapis Lazuli was one of the first gemstones used as decoration by humans, and has been found in Neolithic burials in the Caucus Mountains. There is evidence that lapis was being mined in the mountains of Afghanistan over 4 millennia ago, and it was commonly used in amulets and other jewelry throughout ancient Asia and Africa. Cleopatra herself was known to wear eye shadow made of ground lapis, and the headdress of King Tut is primarily inlaid with lapis.

Until the early 19th century, ground lapis was the main ingredient in ultramarine, a unique, vivid blue pigment that did not fade over time like other natural pigments. Ultramarine was incredibly expensive and only used by the most talented painters, like the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

Composed primarily of lazurite, lapis lazuli is a medium to dark blue, almost violetish blue. Lapis that is flecked with yellow pyrite, is the most prized, whereas the presence of white calcite or blue sodite tends to lessen the stone's value. Most modernly produced lapis lazuli has been dyed or sealed with wax to improve color and uniformity of appearance.

It has been said that wearing Lapis Lazuli can help one better understand the mind, and expand your viewpoint. Lapis Lazuli is believed to be a great connector, and is said to assist friendships and link the heart and mind. Lapis Lazuli may also protect the wearer from evil, and some considered it a cure for melancholy and certain types of fever.

Lapis lazuli means "stone of the sky" in Latin. This name became synonymous with the color blue, and the word "azure" can be traced back to this reference.  

  • Mohs Scale Hardness: 5 to 5.5, varies with impurities
  • Toughness: Fair
  • Sources: Afghanistan, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Russia, US.

 

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