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Birthstones - A Belief

Mans desire to possess gemstones is as old as history itself. One of the fascinations is the belief that a special stone is dedicated to each month of the year and was endowed with a particular virtue for those born in that month. Since ancient times, colored gemstones have been thought to possess certain mystical powers or the ability to endow the wearer with certain attributes.

Because of these magical powers, they were extensively used as lucky charms and, as predictors of the future or as therapeutic aids.

January Birthstone : Garnet    ( Birthstone Color : Deep Red )

One glance at the deep red seeds nestled inside of a pomegranate fruit explains why the word "garnet" comes from the Latin word "granatus," meaning "grain" or "seed."  This name was given to the garnet because of its close resemblance to the succulent pomegranate seed.  But don't bite into a garnet, because at Moh's hardness 6.5 to 7.5, it will definitely damage the teeth! 

There are many myths and legends surrounding the garnet.  One Biblical legend is that Noah hung this gem on the ark to light his way through the dark and stormy nights of God's wrath.  A Greek myth linked to the garnet is the story of the young goddess of sunshine, Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, god of the underworld. Hades eventually released Persephone, but not before he offered her some pomegranate seeds, which guaranteed her return to him. 

First mined in Sri Lanka over 2,500 years ago, the garnet is also found in Africa, Australia, India, Russia, South America; and in the United States, in Arizona and Idaho.  Although most commonly known as a red gemstone, the garnet comes in a variety of other hues, including muted yellows, vibrant oranges, rosy pinks, lime greens, and violets a virtual bouquet of colors.  This diversity is due to unique combinations of elements within each particular gem, such as iron, calcium, and manganese.  

Archaeologist findings of primitive style garnet jewelry among the graves of lake dwellers dates the early use of this gemstone to the Bronze age.  But not all garnet is of gem quality.   It is also a very effective abrasive and is used commercially for grinding and polishing.  Garnet coated sandpaper is one such industrial use.  

The garnet continues to be the protective gem of journeyers. A gift of garnet is thought to be symbolic of love and the desire for a loved one's safe travel and speedy homecoming.  It is January's birthstone, but far from being only a winter gem, the garnet, with its brilliance and multitude of colors, is truly one for any season.

February Birthstone : Amethyst   ( Birthstone Color : Purple )

If gazing into the sparkling purple depths of an Amethyst suffuses you with a sense of powerful well being, this is only to be expected.  The ancient Greeks believed that this gemstone held many powers, among them protection against intoxication.  In fact, the word Amethyst comes from the Greek word "amethystos," meaning sober.   In ancient Greece, the gemstone was associated with the god of wine, and it was common practice to serve this beverage from Amethyst goblets in the belief that this would prevent overindulgence.  Even today, Amethyst is considered a stabilizing force for those struggling to overcome addictive behaviors. 

February's purple birthstone has been found among the possessions of royalty throughout the ages.  The intense violet hue of Amethyst appealed to early monarchs, perhaps because they often wore this color. Purple dye was scarce and expensive at one time, and so it was reserved for the garments of kings and queens. Amethyst has been found in ruins dating as far back as the ninth century, adorning crowns, scepters, jewelry, and breastplates worn into battle.   A large Amethyst is among the closely guarded gemstones in the British Crown Jewels. 

Amethyst is also symbolic of spirituality and piety.  It has been used to ornament churches and crosses used in religious ceremony, and worn in rings and on rosaries by bishops and priests.   

Once considered more valuable than diamonds, Amethyst is a member of the quartz family, occurring naturally as crystals within rocks.   Deposits of this gemstone are found in Brazil, Canada, Australia, India, Madagascar, Namibia, Russia, Sri Lanka; and in the United States. 

The gift of Amethyst is symbolic of protection and the power to overcome difficulty.  It is said to strengthen the bond in a love relationship, so it is an ideal anniversary or engagement gem.  Whether or not Amethyst holds such power, it's stunning beauty will certainly make anyone who wears it feel like royalty!

March Birthstone : Aquamarine   ( Birthstone Color : Pale Blue )

If you can picture the cerulean blue waters of the Mediterranean, you will understand why the birthstone for March is named Aquamarine.  Derived from the Roman word "Aqua," meaning water, and "mare," meaning sea, this pale blue gem does indeed resemble the color of seawater.  The ancient Romans believed that the Aquamarine was sacred to Neptune, the god of the sea, having fallen from the jewel boxes of sirens and washed onto shore.  Early sailors wore aquamarine talismans, engraved with the likeness of Neptune, as protection against dangers at sea. 

The association with water led to the belief that the Aquamarine was particularly powerful when immersed.  Water in which this gemstone had been submerged was used in ancient times to heal a variety of illnesses of the heart, liver, stomach, mouth and throat.  Aquamarines were also used to reverse poisoning and to aid in fortune telling. 

The Aquamarine is a member of the beryl family.  Beryl is a mineral that crystallizes within large grained igneous rocks on the earth's crust.  It varies in color from clear to vibrantly colored gemstones such as the Emerald.  Beryl was used as far back as 2,000 years ago to correct vision, and it continues to be used today in the manufacture of eyeglasses.  It is a very hard mineral, making the Aquamarine a durable gemstone for use in jewelry. 

Aquamarine varies in color from blue-green to a light sky blue, but gems containing green are often heat-treated to remove this less desirable color.  The majority of Aquamarines, unlike other gemstones, are flawless.  It is a relatively abundant gem, the largest deposits being in Brazil, but other sources of Aquamarine are in China, India, Australia, Africa, and the United States. 

A gift of Aquamarine symbolizes both safety and security, especially within long standing relationships.  Some people even say that the Aquamarine reawakens love in a tired marriage, so if you want to bring back that spark in your partner's eyes, you might consider this gem as an anniversary gift!

Alternate Birthstone 

An alternate birthstone for March is Bloodstone, a dark green opaque quartz flecked with red spots.  The name Bloodstone derives from the legendary belief that the red coloration resulted from the blood of Christ spilling onto green jasper during the crucifixion.  For this reason, too, the stone has been called "martyr's stone."  Bloodstone is mined in India, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia, and the United States.  Ideal for carving into cameos and beads, this stone symbolizes courage.

April Birthstone : Diamond   ( Birthstone Color : White, Clear )

April's birthstone is remarkably simple in composition, yet stunning in its unique ability to reflect and refract light into vivid flashes of brilliant color.  The ancient Hindus called the Diamond "Vajra," meaning lightening, both because of the sparks of light thrown off by this gem as well as its invincible strength.  The Diamond is harder than any other substance on earth. 

Diamonds have been revered throughout history.  Used to embellish such items as crowns, swords and emblems as well as jewelry, they've even been part of national holidays.   Queen Victoria declared the celebration of her 50th year of reign a "Diamond Jubilee."  Diamonds have also been credited for having certain medicinal properties.  During the middle ages, these gemstones were thought to heal illness, but only if the ailing person took the Diamond into bed to warm it up first! 

Formed deep within the earth where there is intense heat and pressure, Diamonds are simply crystallized carbon.  Volcanic activity of centuries ago brought these gemstones to the earth's surface, where they are found either within volcanic rock formations or washed out into rivers.  India is thought to be the first river-bed source of Diamond mining, but today these gemstones are found primarily in Australia, the Soviet Union, and Africa. 

No more notable it its uncut state than a plain pebble upon the beach, the true beauty of the Diamond was not revealed until the 16th century, when gemstone cutting and polishing techniques were perfected.  Prior to this time, it was considered taboo to modify the original state of a Diamond.  Today, the value and appeal of this stone depends largely upon how skillfully it is cut and faceted. 

A gift of a Diamond is symbolic of everlasting love.  There is no more convincing a promise of an enduring relationship than the brilliant gemstone that has endured in people's hearts throughout the ages.

May Birthstone : Emerald   ( Birthstone Color : Deep Green )

Spring is a time of new growth and rebirth.  And the intense brilliant green of the Emerald, May’s birthstone, is as refreshing to the eyes as a spring garden after a rain.  Within it’s depths are often tiny fractures or inclusions, which the French call "jardin," or garden, because of their resemblance to foliage. The Egyptians were known to engrave Emeralds with the symbol for foliage to represent eternal youth, and to bury these jewels with their dead.  The ancient Romans associated this gemstone with fertility and rebirth, and dedicated it to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.   

The Ancient Egyptians mined Emeralds in the eastern desert region 2,000 years before Cleopatra’s birth, braving extreme heat, scorpions and snakes to search for the beautiful crystals.  During Cleopatra’s reign, she claimed the Emerald mines as her own, as this was her favorite gem.  She often wore lavish Emerald jewelry, and it is said that she bestowed visiting dignitaries with large Emeralds carved with her likeness when they departed Egypt.   

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish Conquistadors were amazed to find the native people wearing Emeralds larger and more magnificent than any they had ever seen. Although the natives attempted to hide their Emerald mines, the Spaniards soon discovered and conquered most of them.  But it took twenty years before they found the abundant mining operation held by the Muzo Indians, and another thirty years to overtake this aggressive tribe.  The Muzo mine was in the area known today as Colombia, and it remains the source of the most prized Emerald specimens.  Other sources of Emeralds are Brazil, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Russia. 

The Emerald is a member of the beryl family of minerals.  The green crystals grow slowly within metamorphic rocks and are restricted in size by the rock, making large Emeralds rare and costly.  Although this gemstone is relatively hard and durable, it must be protected from blows because the inclusions found within make it susceptible to breaking. 

Some people believe that wearing an Emerald brings wisdom, growth, and patience. And as any couple in a long-term relationship would agree, all of these qualities are essential for a successful and lasting love.  This may explain why a gift of Emerald for an anniversary -- or anytime -- is considered symbolic of love and fidelity.

June Birthstone : Pearl   ( Birthstone Color : White )

From one of the humblest of life forms, the mollusk, comes the pearl a gem of unsurpassed beauty and elegance.  Ancient civilizations had many stories to explain the origin of June's birthstone, such as the Greek belief that pearls were the hardened tears of joy that the goddess of love shook from her eyes as she was born from the sea.  According to Arab legend, pearls were formed when oysters were lured from the depths of the ocean by the beautiful moon and then swallowed moonlit dewdrops.  And the Ancient Chinese thought that these gems originated from the brains of dragons. 

The scientific explanation for natural pearls is almost as mystifying as folklore.  When an irritant, such as a small parasite or a fish lodges in the flesh of an oyster, mussel, or clam, a protective substance called "nacre" is produced.  Over years, layer upon layer of shimmering nacre coats the intruder, creating a lustrous pearl.  Natural pearls are relatively rare, so a process evolved in which a piece of shell or bead was placed inside a mollusk to stimulate the production of nacre.  This results in a cultured pearl, which accounts for about 90 per cent of the pearl industry. 

Divers find natural pearls in The Persian Gulf as well as in the waters off Japan, the South Pacific Islands off northern Australia, and the coasts of Panama, Venezuela, and California.  Most of the cultured pearl industry is in Japanese and Australian coastal waters.  These gems come in a variety of colors, from pure white to pink, yellow, gray and black.  They also come in different shapes and sizes. 

Pearls have been a passion and even an obsession of people throughout the ages.  They have been ground up and used in cosmetics and as a medicine to treat heart and stomach conditions.  Some cultures swear by pearls as an aphrodisiac.   These gems have adorned crowns, clothing, and temples, and were said to be a favorite of Cleopatra.   

Only those with royal status once wore pearl jewelry, but eventually these gems were seen among all classes of people.  They continue to be viewed as a mark of taste and refinement as well as a symbol of purity, and they are often given to celebrate a marriage or the birth of a child.  Pearls are nature's perfect gift, suitable for all ages, and elegantly worn with everything from jeans to an evening gown.

Alternate Birthstones 

June has two alternate birthstones.  The first is Moonstone, a type of feldspar named because of its uncanny resemblance to the iridescent sheen of the moon.  Varying in color from clear to blue-white or peach, it was considered by ancient civilizations to be a sacred stone, bestowing the wearer with great spiritual understanding.  Some believed that the Moonstone could even make a person invisible!  Mined in Sri Lanka, Brazil, India, Madagascar, and the United States, a gift of this stone is symbolic of health and longevity. 

The second alternate birthstone for June is the Alexandrite.  A yellowish or brownish green in color, this gemstone has the unique characteristic of changing color to a red hue when exposed to a glowing light source, such as candlelight.  Because of this quality, it  has been characterized by poets as "an emerald by day, a ruby by night." Alexandrite was first discovered in Urals in 1830 but is mined today primarily in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Burma, Madagascar and Tanzania.  It is a rare and expensive gemstone, symbolic of joy and good fortune.

July Birthstone : Ruby   ( Birthstone Color : Red )

Like a perfect red rose, the Ruby's rich color speaks of love and passion.  Called the "Rajnapura" or King of Gems by ancient Hindus, July's birthstone is among the most highly prized of gems throughout history. The Ruby was considered to have magical powers, and was worn by royalty as a talisman against evil.  It was thought to grow darker when peril was imminent, and to return to its original color once danger was past provided it was in the hands of its rightful owner! 

Rubies were thought to represent heat and power.  Ancient tribes used the gem as bullets for blowguns, and it was said that a pot of water would boil instantly if a Ruby was tossed into it.  Ground to powder and placed on the tongue, this crystal was used as a cure for indigestion. 

The word Ruby comes from the Latin "ruber," meaning red.  It is a variety of the mineral Corundum, and is found as crystals within metamorphic rock.  Corundum is the second hardest mineral, after Diamond.  It comes in a variety of colors, and is considered a Sapphire in any color except red, which is designated as a Ruby.  Rubies range in hue from an orangey red to a purplish red, but the most prized gems are a true red in color.  Large sized Rubies are very rare and valuable. 

The history of Ruby mining dates back more than 2,500 years ago.  The most beautiful crystals are thought to be from Burma, but quality Rubies are also found in India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States. 

It has been said that the Ruby's red glow comes from an internal flame that cannot be extinguished, making a gift of this stone symbolic of everlasting love.  With its hardness and durability, it is a perfect engagement gem.  And if worn on the left hand, ancient lore has it that the Ruby will bring good fortune to its wearer, too! 

August Birthstone : Peridot   ( Birthstone Color : Yellow Green )

If fire appears to leap from the vibrant green surface of the Peridot, this may be because this gem is formed as a result of volcanic activity.  Many years ago, natives discovered Peridot crystals in the black sands of Hawaii, explaining their presence as tears shed by Pele, the volcano goddess.  Throughout history, August's birthstone has been used as a means to connect with nature.  Early Egyptian priests drank a stimulating beverage called Soma from cups made of Peridot, believing this practice to draw them closer to Isis, the  goddess of nature. 

The name Peridot comes from the Arabic word "faridat," meaning gem. Ancient Egyptians called them the "gem of the sun," because of their dazzling brilliance when seen in the desert sun.  It was believed that the Peridot glowed with light even as darkness fell, which is why miners were said to have scouted for these gems during the night, marking their location, and returning in the light of day to retrieve them.  Perhaps this legendary mining method is the reason that the Peridot is sometimes called  "evening emerald." 

Peridot is a mineral named Olivine, which is found in a variety of greens, ranging from light yellowish green to a dark olive.  Early mining for this gem was done on Saint John's Island near Egypt around 1500 BC.  The green crystal was considered protective against evil and when set in gold, especially helpful against night terrors.  It was ground to powder and used as a remedy for asthma and as a cure for thirst brought on by fever.  Today, Peridot is mined in Burma, Norway, Brazil, Australia, Hawaii, the Congo, and in Arizona.   

The force of nature is alive within a Peridot, making a gift of this gemstone symbolic of vitality.  It signifies strength, both individual and within a relationship, as well as the promise of new growth in years ahead. 

Alternate August Birthstone 

An alternate birthstone for August, Sardonyx is a type of translucent or opaque quartz with alternating parallel bands of brownish red and white. This stone was worn as a talisman by the Egyptians to protect against infections and evil.  Today it is highly polished and carved into beautiful beads and cameos.  Sardonyx is mined in India, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Brazil and Uruguay.  A gift of this stone is considered  symbolic of happiness within a relationship.

September Birthstone : Blue Sapphire   ( Birthstone Color : Deep Blue )

The striking deep blue of a quality sapphire is reminiscent of a cloudless night sky.  Ancient civilizations believed that the world was set upon an enormous sapphire, which painted the sky blue with its reflection.  This legend, as well as the belief that the ten commandments were inscribed upon tablets made of sapphire, gives September’s birthstone a royal place among gemstones. 

Named after the Greek word "sapphirus", meaning blue, Sapphires have long been a favorite among priests and kings, who considered them symbolic of wisdom and purity. These gemstones are prominent among the British Crown Jewels, and Prince Charles chose this as the engagement stone for his fiancée, Princess Diana.  

In ancient times, Sapphires were thought to be protective against envy, and even against poisoning.  A common belief was that a venomous snake placed in a Sapphire vessel would rapidly die!  Ground to a powder, the blue stone was believed to cure colic, rheumatism and mental illness, and to strengthen eyesight.   

Sapphire is a variety of the mineral corundum.  Corundum is found in every color of the rainbow, with red being designated as ruby and all other hues Sapphire.  But the most prized color of Sapphire is a rich, deep blue. These gemstones were mined as early as the 7th Century BC from India and what is now Sri Lanka.  They are found today in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Myanmar, Thailand, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, China, Madagascar, and the United States.  Large specimens of Corundum crystals are rare, although the 563-carat Star of India can be seen in the American Museum of Natural History.  This is the largest and most famous of star Sapphires, which are cut to reflect light from inclusions within the stone, revealing a bright six-legged star pattern. 

The Sapphire is second only to the Diamond in hardness, making it a durable gemstone for setting into jewelry. 
A gift of Sapphire represents sincerity and faithfulness. As nourishing to the soul as gazing up at the sky on a summer day, this brilliant blue gemstone is truly a heavenly choice!

October Birthstone : Opal   ( Birthstone Color : Multi-colored )

October's birthstone treats the eye to an explosion of shimmering colors, not unlike those of a magnificent rainbow following a summer rain.  The Opal derives its name from the Latin word "opalus," meaning precious jewel.  Prized for its unique ability to refract and reflect specific wavelengths of light, the Opal was called "Cupid Paederos" by the Romans, meaning a child beautiful as love.  One legendary explanation for this gemstone's origin is that it fell from heaven in a flash of fiery lightning. 

Ancient monarchs treasured Opals, both for their beauty and for their presumed protective powers.  They were set into crowns and worn in necklaces to ward off evil and to protect the eyesight.  These gemstones were also ground and ingested for their healing properties and to ward off nightmares. 

The Opal dates back to prehistoric times.  It is a non-crystallized silica, which is a mineral found near the earth's surface in areas where ancient geothermal hot springs once existed.  As the hot springs dried up, layers of the silica, combined with water, were deposited into the cracks and cavities of the bedrock, forming Opal.  This gemstone actually contains up to 30% water, so it must be protected from heat or harsh chemicals, both of which will cause drying and may lead to cracking and loss of iridescence.  Opal must also be guarded from blows, since it is relatively soft and breaks easily.  

Most of the world's Opal deposits are found in Southern Australia.  Other sources of this gemstone are Brazil, Mexico, Czechoslovakia and Nevada.  Quality Opal is very expensive, made more so by the caution that must be exercised in cutting, polishing and setting it into jewelry.  

A gift of Opal is symbolic of faithfulness and confidence.  And the powerful energy radiating from this fiery gemstone will surely illuminate any occasion!

Alternate Birthstone 

An alternate birthstone for October, Pink Tourmaline has the seemingly magical property of pyroelectricity.  Scientifically speaking, this means that when heated, the gem takes on a static electric charge, making it capable of attracting lightweight objects. No wonder this gemstone was revered for its mystical properties centuries ago!  Considered the "stone of the muse," it was believed to stimulate the creative process of its wearer. Pink varieties of Tourmaline range in color from pastel pink to ruby red and are mined in Brazil, Afghanistan, Burma, and India.  A gift of this stone is symbolic of hope.

November Birthstone : Citrine   ( Birthstone Color : Yellow Gold )

November's gemstone, Citrine, is as warm as a Van Gogh painting of sunflowers.  The name Citrine comes from an old French word, "citrin", meaning lemon.  One of the more rare forms of quartz, this gemstone ranges in color from the palest yellow to a dark amber named Madeira because of its resemblance to the red wine. 

Perhaps because of its scarcity, there is little mention of Citrine used as a gemstone prior to the first century B.C.  The Romans were thought to be the first to wear the yellow quartz, crafting it into cabochon, or highly polished but unfaceted cuts of stone set into jewelry.  Citrine became more popular during the Romantic Period, when artisans often favored these warm colored gems to enhance gold jewelry.  Citrine, like all forms of quartz, was believed to have magical powers and was worn as a talisman against evil thoughts and snake venom.  It was also considered to have medicinal properties and was commonly used as a remedy for urinary and kidney ailments. 

Sister stone to the purple quartz known as Amethyst, Citrine crystals are found in igneous metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.  It is believed that some Citrine may have actually begun as Amethyst, but heat from nearby molten rock changed it to the yellow form of quartz.  Citrine is known to change color when subjected to heat and is routinely heated in the jewelry-making process to intensify its color.  For this same reason, though, this gemstone should not be left in direct sunlight for a long time because it will permanently alter the color.  Most Citrine is mined in Brazil, but other sources of the quartz are Bolivia and Madagascar. 

A gift of Citrine is symbolic for hope and strength.  With its sunny brightness, this gemstone is ideal for helping anyone to get through the tough times in life!

Alternate Birthstone 

Yellow Topaz is an alternate gemstone for those born in November.  It's golden color was believed by the Egyptians to be the glow cast by the sun god Ra.  Yellow Topaz ranges in color from a peachy blush to a deep cognac.  A gift of this gemstone is said to symbolize friendship and to strengthen one's capacity to give and receive love.

December Birthstone : Blue Topaz   ( Birthstone Color : Blue )

As cool and inviting as a blue lake on a blistering summer day, December's birthstoneis derived from the Sanskrit word "tapas," meaning fire.  This is because Blue Topaz was considered by ancient civilizations to have cooling properties.  Not only was it believed to cool boiling water when thrown into the pot, but to calm hot tempers as well!  This gemstone was credited with many other healing powers, among them the ability to cure insanity, asthma, weak vision and insomnia.  The Blue Topaz was even thought to have magical properties in its ability to make its wearer invisible in a threatening situation. 

Blue Topaz is the hardest of the silicate minerals.  While pure Topaz is colorless, minor changes of elements within the stone result in a variety of other colors, such as blue, pale green, red, yellow and pink. 

The blue hue is created when Topaz is heated, whether the heat source is natural or engineered by man.  The three shades of Blue Topaz are Sky, Swiss and London Blue.  The latter is the deepest blue and is often used as a less expensive substitute for Sapphire. 

Topaz is found primarily in Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Pakistan, China, and the United States. 

A gift of Blue Topaz is symbolic of love and fidelity.  Luckily, this cool blue gemstone has no legendary power to put out the burning flame of love! 

Alternate Birthstone 

An alternate birthstone for December is the Turquoise.  So named because it was initially brought to Europe by way of Turkey, this stone is one of the first gems to be used in jewelry. Turquoise was considered by ancients to be a sacred stone, protective against all manners of evil and ill health. This beautiful gemstone is mined in Iran and the southwestern United States.  A gift of Turquoise represents friendship and luck.


 
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