Birthstones with their vibrant colors are considered a medium to connect our birth month with unique gemstones. They are extremely appealing and equally interesting is the history of their genesis. Birthstones trace their origins to a biblical source, where the book of Exodus in the Bible and specifically the breastplate of Aaron were inlaid with 12 gemstones that each represented the twelve tribes of Israel, at the time.
This specific breastplate was adorned with the gems such as emerald, sapphire, diamond, topaz, carbuncle, sardius, agate, ligure, amethyst, onyx, jasper, and beryl. Eventually, two scholars from the 1st and 5th century AD, Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome, attached the 12 breastplate gems with the 12 signs of the zodiac. Initially, the thinking was that each person would own all 12 birthstones and wear each gem on the corresponding month.
The modern variation we know today came about in the 18th century in Poland where Jewish gem traders marketed each gemstone based on a person’s birth month. In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers solidified the practice in the United States. The twelve birthstones have largely remained the same since then. However, in Hindu cosmology, the birthstones hold different significance all together and are believed to uphold tremendous religious value. To know more, click here.
Birthstones: Are they gemstones or minerals?
Rocks are essentially minerals and geologists have a precise definition for them, i.e. in order to qualify as a mineral, a substance must meet five requirements. These are: the substance must be naturally occurring and not man-made, it should be inorganic, solid, it should have a definite chemical composition, and a structured internal composition. As such, most of the birthstones listed above are gemstones that are technically classified as minerals. However, a pearl is not. It is because pearls are not inorganic as they grow inside a mollusk.
Additionally, opal, in some cases, can either be organic or inorganic. And, hence, the organic version of opal would not be considered a mineral. On the other hand, gemstone is a more generic term used largely by the jewelry industry to denote a precious stone that has been given a certain dimension and has been cut, polished, and used in jewelry. The stone can either be made up of minerals such as rubies or diamonds or other substances such as pearls or opal. It is because gems are often hard to find, they hold an economic value that is largely dependent on their rarity.
Birthstone Jewelry Guide
Birthstones are considered to be a meaningful gift for your parents, spouse, friends or other family members. Gifts of gemstone jewelry are very popular because of a general desire to wear beautiful color, as well as something which has personal connotation. You don’t need to become a gemstone or birthstone expert to find the perfect gift. Whether you’re looking for a gemstone ring adorned with the birthstone of a child, or a beautiful set of birthstone earrings, we’re here to help!
January | Garnet
Garnet, the birthstone of January, is typically a deep red gem that goes with just about any type of jewelry. From the fiery orange of Mandarin Garnet to the rich green of Tsavorite Garnet and to the most widely recognized color of Pyrope Garnet, it is considered a great gift to symbolize friendship and trust. The name ‘Garnet’ is derived from the Latin word granatum, which means seed (of a pomegranate). Garnet is actually a group of several minerals and can be found in metamorphic, igneous, or sedimentary rocks. Thus, a garnet can be of various grades, depending on which they are used both as gemstones and abrasives. If they have a combination of minerals such as – pyrope, almandine, spessartine, grossular and andradite – they are considered as gems. Hence, the garnet family is considered one of the most complex in the gem world. It’s not a single species rather consists of several species and varieties.
The different types of garnet range between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness which means they are more vulnerable to damage than rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Hence, not all garnets are recommended for daily wear however, they are ideal for jewelries such as earrings, brooches or pendants. While storing a garnet jewelry, if it is left to rub against harder gems such as diamonds, rubies and sapphires – it can get scratched. On the other hand, garnet has the potential to cause scratches on softer gems, such as opals or pearls.
For cleaning, use of a soft brush with warm soapy water is always recommended for garnets. Ultrasonic cleaners are usually safe, except for particular stones that have fractures or have been fracture filled. Steam cleaning is not recommended for garnet. Major sources of garnet include countries such as Brazil, India, Madagascar, and the United States.
February | Amethyst
Amethyst, the birthstone of February, is a variety of quartz that carries a spectacular purple color ranging from a blend of deep violet and red to a lighter lilac hue. The name ‘Amethyst’ is derived from the Greek amethystos, which means “a remedy against drunkenness,” also a benefit long ascribed to the purple birthstone. Because of its wine-like color, early Greek mythology associated the gem with Bacchus- the god of wine. Amethyst complements both warm and cool colors, helping it look fabulous set in both yellow and white metals. Specifically, an amethyst is produced when there are certain impurities in quartz that results in purple coloration.
Amethyst is a 7 on Mohs scale of hardness which means that it is appropriate for daily use in rings and other jewelry, but over a period of time it may require polishing. Again, storing it together with harder gems is likely to create scratches on your amethyst jewelry.
Amethyst jewelry can be safely cleaned using a soft brush with mild soap. An ultrasonic cleaner could also be used but, steam cleaning is not recommended. Major sources of amethyst include countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Zambia.
March | Aquamarine
Aquamarine, the birthstone of March, has long been a symbol of youth, health and hope. Its mesmerizing color ranges from pale to deep blue and are reminiscent of the sea. Aquamarine’s name comes from the Latin for seawater, and ancient mariners claimed the gem would calm waves and keep sailors safe at sea. Since this gemstone is the color of water and the sky, it was long thought that aquamarine has a soothing influence on married couples, making it a great anniversary gift.
Aquamarines are found in a range of blues, from a pale pastel to a greenish-blue to a deep color. Darker shades of blue are increasingly rare and make the value increase. While the color can be more intense in larger gemstones, smaller aquamarines tend to be less vivid.
With a hardness ranging between 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, this March birthstone is durable enough for everyday wear. Caring for the gem is easy where one can use warm water, mild dish soap and a toothbrush to scrub behind the birthstone where dirt can collect. Ultrasonic cleaners and steam cleaning are also usually safe options as long as there are no fractures or liquid inclusions in the gem. Major sources of aquamarine include countries such as Brazil, Madagascar, the United States, Australia, India, Namibia, and Nigeria
April | Diamond
Diamonds, the birthstone of April, are perhaps the world’s most sought after gemstone. Diamonds are commonly associated with love which makes it the perfect gift for a loved one. While white diamonds are most common, fancy colored diamonds can be found in various colors including yellow, blue, pink and other varieties. What makes diamonds one of the most prized stones is also the fact that they are 58 times harder than any other mineral on earth. Diamonds are carbon that undergoes extreme temperatures and pressures below earth’s surface. They are then exhumed to the surface often times through volcanic magma pipes called kimberlite pipes.
Diamond with a hardness of 10 on the Mohs hardness scal, is usually durable enough to be placed in an ultrasonic cleaner. However, if your diamond birthstone has many inclusions or has been treated, it it is best to clean it with a lint-free cloth, or use warm water, mild soap, and a soft toothbrush or a commercial jewelry cleaning solution. Also, it is advisable to get your diamond jewelry periodically cleaned and its setting examined by a professional jeweler to maintain its beauty and integrity over time.
Diamonds are now widely mined around the world. However, major sources of diamonds include countries such as South Africa, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Russia, Australia, and the United States.
May | Emerald
Emerald, the birthstone of May, radiates a beautiful vivid tone. They are considered to be a symbol of rebirth and love. The word “emerald” comes from smaragdos, ancient Greek for a green gem. Roman author Pliny the Elder, wrote in his encyclopedic Natural History that “nothing greens greener” (than emerald). Similar to aquamarine, an emerald is a green variety of beryl based on the impurities found in the beryl. It picks up its color from trace amounts of chromium or vanadium along with trace amounts of iron to give it a bluish green color.
The emerald is part of the ‘big three’ colored gemstones in addition to ruby and sapphire. These big three gemstones create more economic value than all other gemstones combined.
Emerald is a 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is more susceptible to scratching. This birthstone is often treated to improve its color or clarity. Common treatment methods include: dyeing and fracture filling.
Emerald requires some special care and it is suggestive that one avoid the stones’ exposure to heat, changes in air pressure (such as in an airline cabin) and harsh chemicals. Never put an emerald in an ultrasonic cleaner, as the vibrations and heat can cause the filler to sweat out of fractures. Filled emeralds can also be damaged by exposure to hot water used for washing dishes. The safest way to clean emeralds is to gently scrub them with a soft brush and warm, soapy water.
Major sources of emeralds include countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Nigeria.
June | Pearl and Alexandrite
June birthdays majorly claim two birthstones- pearl and alexandrite. Pearls have been wildly popular in jewelry for centuries because of their natural beauty. Alexandrite gemstones are extremely rare and desirable since they change color based on the lighting.
Pearls are gemstones but not minerals as pearls are formed by living organisms, mollusks. A mollusk will form a pearl if there is a nucleus to start, sometimes an individual grain of sand. The mollusk will then corm layers of calcium carbonate around that sand grain sequentially over time. Thousands of years of pearl fishing have decimated the natural pearl beds, so cultured pearls account for the vast majority of pearl sales today. Cultured pearls are a product of human intervention. The majority of pearls we find in the marketplace today are actually cultured in a pearl farm where people artificially induce creation of a pearl through insertion of an irritant into the mollusks shell.
Alexandrite is the rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that changes color in different lighting. Most prized are those alexandrite birthstones that show a vivid green to bluish green in daylight or fluorescent light, and an intense red to purplish red in incandescent light. Major alexandrite deposits were first discovered in 1830 in Russia’s Ural Mountains. The gem was named after the young Alexander II (1818–1881), heir apparent to the throne. Alexandrite caught the country’s attention because its red and green colors mirrored the national military colors of imperial Russia. When certain types of long, thin inclusions are oriented parallel to each other in this birthstone, they can create another phenomenon, called chatoyancy or the cat’s-eye effect. Few gems are as fascinating – or as stunning – as cat’s-eye alexandrite.
Whereas, pearls are 2.5 to 3.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness- hence a comparatively soft gem and require special care; the alexandrite is relatively hard with 8.5 on the Mohs scale. Alexandrite has excellent toughness and no cleavage (which is a tendency to break when struck) hence making it an excellent choice for rings and other mountings subject to daily wear. On the other hand, pearls, as delicate as they are, should be stored separately from other gemstones and metal jewelry to prevent scratching. It is advised not to store pearls in a plastic bag as plastic can emit a chemical that may damage their surface. The best way to clean your pearls is with a soft, damp cloth, ideally after each time the pearls are worn and for your alexandrite stones, it is best to clean in warm, soapy water, also ultrasonic and steam cleaners are usually safe too.
Pearl farming is done popularly in Japan, South China, Australia, Indonesia and parts of Philippines. Alexandrites are found in Brazil, Sri Lanka and East Africa.
July | Ruby
Rubies, the birthstone of July, are considered the ‘king of precious stones’, as per ancient Indian royalties for its rarity, beauty and hardness (second only to diamonds). Even today, ruby is considered the most valuable gemstone and its value increases based upon its color and quality. Fine-quality rubies are some of the most expensive gemstones, with record prices over $1,000,000 per carat. Ruby is a variety of corundum which is then colored to a deep red coloring by chromium. One of the other variations of corundum is sapphire dependent on the impurities within the mineral. The name of ruby comes from the Latin word for red, rubeus.
Rubies are often heat treated to remove purplish coloration, leaving a purer red. The trade typically accepts heat treatment; however, rubies may also be subjected to lattice diffusion treatment and dyeing. In lower-quality material, surface-reaching fractures and cavities may be filled with a glass to decrease their visibility so the gem appears more transparent. Some of these treatments may make the ruby more vulnerable to damage during normal wear and care. It is hence advised to make your purchase only from genuine dealers and insist for an authentic laboratory certification.
In most cases, rubies can be safely cleaned with warm soapy water and a soft brush. Ultrasonic and steam cleaners are usually safe for untreated, heat-treated and lattice diffusion–treated stones. Glass-filled or dyed stones should only be cleaned with a damp cloth.
One of the oldest recorded sources of fine rubies is the Mogok area in Myanmar (Burma) which has produced some of the most sought-after rubies. Rubies could also be sourced from the United States, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.
August | Peridot and Spinel
August claims two birthstones; Peridot and Spinel. Peridot has a signature lime green color, and spinel is available in a brilliant range of colors. Peridot is the yellowish green to greenish yellow gem variety of the mineral olivine, a mineral commonly found in mafic igneous rocks such as basalt, gabbro, and peridotite. Throughout history, peridot has often been confused with other gems such as topaz and emerald. The word “peridot” comes from the Arabic faridat, meaning gem. The name “spinel” comes from the Latin word spina, which means thorn, in reference to the shape of spinel crystals. Spinel comes in a wealth of colors including intense red, vibrant pink, orange, purple, violet, blue and bluish green.
Spinel too has been mistaken for other gemstones and some of history’s most famous “rubies” have actually turned out to be spinel!
With a hardness of 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale of harness, peridot is softer than many gems and hence is not recommended for daily use in a ring. It can also be damaged by some acids and even by long-term exposure to acidic perspiration. However, a spinel is 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is typically a durable gem for rings and other jewelry. Cleaning peridot is a delicate process and use of steam or ultrasonic cleaner is strictly not recommended for peridot. It is safest to use a soft-bristle brush with mild dish soap in warm water. On the contrary, ultrasonic and steam cleaners can be used for spinel, however, the presence of fractures in the stone could pose a problem. Warm soapy water is always a safe alternative. Spinel is stable when exposed to light and chemicals but, prolonged exposure to high heat can cause some colors to fade.
Peridot could be sourced from countries such as Egypt, Myanmar, United States, Norway, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Australia. Spinel is found in several locations including Tajikistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Tanzania and Pakistan.
September | Sapphire
Sapphire, the birthstone of September, is most desired in its pure, rich blue color but is present in almost every color including pink, yellow and green. Although the term sapphire usually refers to the blue variety of corundum (ruby is the red variety), this birthstone comes in a rainbow of other colors. The corundum takes on the blue coloring from trace amounts of both titanium and iron. “Sapphire” comes from the Greek word sappheiros and blue sapphire is one of the most popular colored stones. Sapphires with a highly saturated violet-blue color and a velvety or sleepy transparency are rarer. The purer the blue of the Sapphire, the greater the price.
Sapphires is relatively hard ranking 9 on the Mohs scale. They are tuff with no cleavage, making it a great choice for rings and other mountings subject to daily wear. However, sapphires are often treated to improve their color or clarity. Less common treatments such as lattice diffusion, fracture filling and dyeing make the precious stone vulnerable. In some cases, the color induced by lattice diffusion is so shallow it could be removed if the stone was chipped or had to be recut. Fracture-filled and dyed sapphires can be damaged by even mild acids like lemon juice!
Warm, soapy water is always a safe choice for cleaning the sapphire birthstone. Ultrasonic and steam cleaners are usually safe for untreated, heat-treated and lattice diffusion–treated stones. But, fracture-filled or dyed material should only be cleaned with a damp cloth.
Deep blue sapphires from Kashmir in India are known as some of the best sapphires in the world. Apart from that, sapphires could also be sourced from countries such as Australia, Madagascar, Thailand and Cambodia.
October | Tourmaline and Opal
October also has two birthstones; Tourmaline and Opal. Tourmaline is a favorite gemstone for many because it’s available in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Opal gemstones are truly unique because each individual gem is adorned with a one-of-a-kind color combination. Both the birthstones have endless color combinations and beautiful coloring characteristics. The name of opal is believed to have originated in India (the source of the first opals brought to the Western world), where in Sanskrit it was called upala, a “precious stone." In ancient Rome, this became opalus. Most opals are valued for their shifting colors in rainbow hues – a phenomenon known as “play-of-color.” Opal forms when water picks up silica dioxide and deposits it into open voids or cavities along with trace impurities. The water then evaporates and leaves the silica dioxide. The name of tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese word tora malli, which means “stone with mixed colors,” because it often has multiple colors in one crystal. Very few gems match tourmaline’s dazzling array of colors. In fact, tourmaline is not a single mineral; it is a group of minerals that have very different chemical compositions and colors. A tourmaline is a boron silicate mineral that occur within igneous and metamorphic rocks.
Opal ranges from 5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness and may be treated by impregnation with oil, wax or plastic. Whereas, tourmaline birthstone is rated 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness and is generally suitable for everyday wear. Opal doublets or triplets are fine slices of opal glued to a base material and covered with a thin dome of clear quartz. The safest way to an opal is with warm, soapy water. Other cleaning methods might damage the opal or filler material. But tourmaline, given their hardness is usually stable enough to withstand light and most chemicals, even though heat can be damaging. Tourmaline too is best cleaned with warm, soapy water and a soft brush. The use of ultrasonic and steam cleaners is not recommended for either stones.
Opal is widely found in Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, Tanzania, and the United States whereas, most of the tourmaline is mined in Brazil.
November | Citrine and Topaz
November birthdays are associated with two gems; Citrine and Topaz. The warm color of citrine is said to be a gift from the sun and it’s believed to be a healing gemstone. Topaz is most desired in its rich orange Imperial Topaz color but it is found in a variety of rich colors like blue, pink and yellow. It is believe the word “topaz” comes from the Sanskrit word tapas, which means “fire.” Others trace it back to the Greek topazos. Topaz picks up its bright yellow color from impurities, as with most gems. In pure form, topaz is colorless but can take on a variety of colors dependent on certain impurities. The rainbow effect seen in “Mystic Topaz” is created by coating colorless topaz with a thin artificial film. Citrine, is believed to derive from the French word for “lemon” (citron). Today, most of the citrine in the marketplace results from the heat treatment of amethyst. Clever marketing and the rise of “earth tone” fashions have made this durable and readily available gem a popular modern birthstone in recent years.
Whereas topaz is an 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness, but it has poor toughness, so care is required to avoid chipping or cracking; citrine at 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness with good toughness, is usually durable enough for normal wear and care. To clean topaz, it is recommended not to use steam cleaning or ultrasonic cleaners. Warm, soapy water works best. High heat or sudden temperature changes can cause internal breaks in topaz. Similarly, citrine too can be safely cleaned with warm, soapy water. While it is usually okay to clean citrine in an ultrasonic machine, steam cleaning is risky since high heat could cause the stone to crack.
Major sources of citrine include countries such as Bolivia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Peru, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Zambia. As for topaz, Brazil is known for producing high-quality topaz stones but other major sources include Namibia, Nigeria, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the United States, as well as the historic Russian localities. Apart from this, Pakistan is known for producing pink topaz.
December | Zircon, Tanzanite and Turquoise
December birthdays have claim to three gemstones; Zircon, Tanzanite and Turquoise. Each of these gemstones carries a unique blue tone. Zircon can be found in a variety of colors, but blue is the overwhelming favorite. Turquoise is a semi-translucent to opaque gem that ranges from blue to green and often has veins of matrix (remnants of the rock in which it formed) running through it. Tanzanite may be a relative newcomer to the world of colored stones, but it was one of the most exciting gem discoveries of the 20th century. Blue stones emerging from Tanzania were identified as the mineral zoisite in 1962. It was eventually named tanzanite in honor of its country of origin. The name Tanzanite was coined by Tiffany and Company who became the primary distributor of the gem and wanted to showcase the rare geographical source of this stone. Tanzanite gets its deep blue color from trace amounts of vanadium. The tanzanite birthstone is often described as “velvety,” mostly because of its deep and saturated color, which ranges from a pure rich blue to violet, with the blue considered most valuable.
Zircon ranges from 6 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. It is commonly heat treated to produce blue and colorless varieties, as well as orange, yellow and red. Prolonged exposure to heat can alter the color of some zircon. However, the stone is stable when exposed to chemicals. Because zircon tends to chafe, it is best to avoid wearing it in rough conditions.Clean your zircon using a soft brush and mild soap in warm water. Ultrasonic and steam cleaners are not recommended for this birthstone.
Tanzanite is a 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale of harness and is resistant to the effects of normal heat, light and common chemicals. Still, it may crack if exposed to very high temperatures or sudden temperature changes, and it abrades easily. It can be attacked by hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids. Warm, soapy water is the best way to clean this December birthstone and ultrasonic and steam cleaners are never recommended for tanzanite.
As for turquoise, some are treated to improve their durability (it has a Mohs hardness of 5 to 6), appearance and polish. Turquoise can be dyed or chemically enhanced by adding an epoxy or acrylic resin for greater hardness or better color. Cavities in the stones are often seen to be filled with a metal-loaded epoxy to imitate pyrite inclusions, but high heat can cause discoloration and breakage. It can also be damaged by acids, and can be discolored by certain chemicals, cosmetics and even skin oils or perspiration. It’s safe to clean turquoise jewelry with warm, soapy water, but never with steam or ultrasonic cleaners. Heat or solvents can damage the treated surfaces on some turquoise.
Zircon’s major sources include Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Australia, and Canada. Turquoise has been mined in Iran for more than 1,000 years but, China is the world’s largest producer of turquoise now. Additionally, Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia are also the sources of turquoise. As for tanzanite, the Merelani Hills of northern Tanzania is the only place on earth where tanzanite is mined commercially.