Throughout the ages and around the world, people have appreciated the beauty of gemstones, often assigning these gems special powers. The idea of a specific gemstone being assigned to each month of the year is an ancient one, and can be traced back to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Here, the breastplate of Aaron, the Hebrews' high priest, is described as having twelve specific gems, one representing each of Israel's twelve tribes. The gems were set in four rows of three: sardius, topaz, and carbuncle; emerald, sapphire and diamond; ligure, agate, and amethyst; and beryl, onyx and jasper. Over time, the gems became associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac, which correspond roughly with the twelve months of the year.
In scholarly works written in the first and fifth centuries AD, it was first proposed that each of the gemstones found in Aaron’s breastplate had special powers associated with the corresponding astrological sign and that wearing these stones at the right time would have mystical and therapeutic benefits to the wearer. This is not quite the same concept of birthstones that we know today. According to these ancient beliefs, one would have to own a collection of all twelve gems and wear the appropriate gem during the ascendancy of the corresponding astrological sign.
The custom of always wearing the birthstone of one’s month of birth is a distinctly modern idea that became popular in Poland around the 18th century.
Although the ancient names of the gemstones set in Aaron’s breastplate are clearly stated in the book of Exodus, there is still some modern debate about exactly which gemstones were found there. This is because ancient people did not always classify gemstones by mineral species like we do. Because of this, different cultures around the world have developed different birth stone lists. The modern birthstone list has been in existence since 1912, but it is up to each individual to decide whether the properties of the ancient or the modern birthstone appeals to them.
Each birthstone, whether ancient or modern, has its own special meaning and symbolism. Some represent admirable qualities such as love, fidelity, grace and loyalty. Some offer protection to the wearer or are thought to have special powers, such as the power to heal a broken marriage.
Traditionally, the gemstone associated with the month of January is garnet. This has not changed in modern times, with garnet remaining as the symbolic gemstone of the month. Garnet represents faith, eternity and truth and is regarded as the stone of passionate devotion: to your family, your friends, yourself, and your own purpose in life. Believed to stimulate the senses, and increase vitality and stamina, garnet is thought to attract good luck in business ventures.
Traditionally, the gemstone associated with the month of February is amethyst. This has not changed in modern times, with amethyst remaining as the symbolic gemstone of the month. Amethyst calms the emotions, creates clarity of thought, and assists in attaining wisdom. It is a stone of the mind; it brings calmness and clarity and helps the wearer to get in touch with his or her intuition, feelings and values. It has long been regarded as an aid to sobriety and eases compulsive/obsessive behaviour.
The modern gemstone for the month of March is aquamarine. Aquamarine is associated with courage and the release of anxiety and fear and it is thought to help relaxation on long journeys. It is also believed by many that it protects sailors when they are at sea, and prevents seasickness. Alternatively, the ancient gemstones associated with the month of March are jasper and bloodstone.
The modern gemstone for the month of April is the diamond. A diamond represents love, eternity and courage, and is believed to absorb and heighten the thoughts of its wearer. The ancients also believed that diamonds protected the wearer from poisons and used diamonds for detoxification. Alternatively, the ancient birthstone for the month of April is the sapphire. Sapphire is associated with peace and happiness, and believed to help with communication, insight, intuition, inspiration, and prayer.
The modern gemstone for the month of May is the emerald. Emerald aids fertility, improves eyesight, and is believed to lift depression and relieve insomnia. Emerald also promotes self-knowledge, peaceful dreams, and helps the wearer achieve balance and patience. Alternatively, the ancient birthstone for the month of May is agate. Considered a protection stone, agate is believed to attract strength and offer protection from bad dreams, stress and the draining of energy. Agate is also said to balance energies and awaken talents.
The modern gemstones associated with the month of June are alexandrite and pearl. The pearl is the oldest known gem. Unlike all other gems, it is derived from living tissue, and is only found in oysters and molluscs. A pearl symbolizes peace, virtue, nobility, purity and innocence. Moonstone is a ancient alternative gemstone symbolizing this month. Moonstone is believed to aid communication by promoting clear thinking, inspiration or receptivity as well as to assist in the fulfilment of one's own destiny.
The modern gemstone associated with the month of July is ruby. Considered a protection stone from misfortune and bad health, ruby is also used to open the heart and promote love. When given as a gift, ruby is a symbol of friendship and love. Alternatively, the ancient birthstone for this month is onyx. Black onyx is thought to repel negativity and to deflect the negativity of others. It is a gem thought to enhance determination and perseverance.
The modern gemstone associated with the month of August is peridot. Thought to strengthen life, bring about prosperity, growth, and increase openness, peridot is also believed to help the wearer to understand relationships, and to alleviate depression, anger, fear, jealousy and anxiety. Alternatively, the ancient gemstones symbolizing this month are sardonyx and carnelian.
The modern birthstone for the month of September is the sapphire. Sapphire is associated with peace and happiness, and believed to help with communication, insight, intuition, inspiration, and prayer. Alternatively, the ancient birthstones associated with this month are peridot and lapis lazuli. Peridot is thought to strengthen life, bring about prosperity, growth, and increase openness. Peridot is also believed to help the wearer to understand relationships, and to alleviate depression, anger, fear, jealousy and anxiety. Lapis lazuli is an ancient stone that is said to represent friendship and truth. It is believed to help bring about harmony in relationships and is a stone of wisdom and awareness.
The modern birthstones for the month of October are opal and tourmaline. Opal is regarded as a stone strongly associated with the emotions, including love, passion and spontaneity. It is said to aid in visualization, imagination, dreams, and healing. Tourmaline is said to strengthen both body and spirit and is believed to attract inspiration, aid concentration, encourage balance and promote understanding. It is also thought to calm nerves, soothe grief, promote balance and build self-confidence. Alternatively, aquamarine has also traditionally served as the birthstone for this month. Aquamarine is associated with courage and the release of anxiety and fear and it is thought to help relaxation on long journeys.
The modern and ancient gemstones associated with the month of November are citrine and topaz. Topaz is thought to give wisdom and to calm a bad temper, anxiety and worries. It is said to give strength and courage to the wearer and to improve mental clarity and focus, as well as to increase confidence. Citrine is said to promote optimism, open the mind to new thoughts and balance impatience and restlessness. It is also fabled to attract abundance, and is known as the "merchant's stone," to be placed where one conducts business, not only to acquire positive wealth, but to maintain it.
The modern gemstone associated with the month of December is tanzanite. Tanzanite is thought to bring happiness and luck. Although it is a recently discovered gemstone, it is said to be traditional with the Masai tribe, who give this gem to their newborn children as a bearer of good fortune. Turquoise, blue topaz and ruby are alternative ancient gemstones for this month. Turquoise is believed to attract money, success and love, and is a stone of friendship in many cultures. Ruby is considered a protection stone from misfortune and bad health, ruby is also used to open the heart and promote love. When given as a gift, ruby is a symbol of friendship and love. Blue Topaz is thought to give wisdom and to calm a bad temper, anxiety and worries It is said to give strength and courage to the wearer and to improve mental clarity and focus, as well as to increase confidence. Topaz is also a symbol of love and affection, and has been said to be an aid to ones sweetness and disposition.