A History of Birthstones and Zodiac Stones

by Nancy Plante February 14, 2018

A History of Birthstones and Zodiac Stones

birthstone amethyst necklace earrings bracelet jewelry

Most people have heard about birthstones, the gems that are associated with the month when a person is born, but did you know that the “traditional” list of birthstones is barely a century old? Read on to learn more about the fascinating history of birthstones, as well as some alternative choices for birthstones and zodiac birthstones that you might not know about.

The History of Birthstones

The tradition of wearing birthstones dates back to ancient civilizations. It was commonly believed that certain stones contained powers that could improve the health, fortune, or prosperity of the wearer. Because people of the time classified powerful stones by color, and would not distinguish between rubies and garnets, for instance, the stones that were attributed to a particular month do not necessarily match the list of birthstones that we have today.

The western customs surrounding birthstones have a somewhat biblical origin. In the 1st century, a Jewish scholar named Josephus made a connection between the twelve stones in Aaron’s breastplate (as described in the book of Exodus), the twelve months of the year, and the twelve zodiac signs. Although Josephus translated the list of twelve stones at least two different ways, and there was some disagreement over the source material, this was nevertheless one of the earliest written sources about birthstones.

Later, around the 8th and 9th centuries, a number of religious treatises were written that associated particular stones with specific apostles. These were known as “Foundation Stones,” and a person would own all twelve and wear one each month.

Customs shifted over time, and it gradually became more typical for a person to wear a single symbolic stone, although this tradition is really only a few centuries old. In the 16th century, the Gregorian Calendar contained poems that matched each month to a birthstone. Nearly 300 years later, these poems were published in a pamphlet by Tiffany & Co. in 1870.

During the 18th century, Jewish gem traders in Poland had begun to use birthstones in their marketing, assigning a particular gemstone to a person’s birth month. By this point, birthstones were much like our modern conception of them, and had become entirely removed from any biblical or religious meanings.

Finally, the American National Association of Jewelers (now known as Jewelers of America) convened in 1912 to standardize birthstones. They officially recognized the gemstones that would be associated with each calendar month. The list has only been adjusted three times since then (in 1952, 2002, and 2016), and gives us the “traditional,” modern birthstones that are popular today.

Traditional Birthstones

On the list of traditional birthstones, each month on the calendar is represented by at least one gemstone. Some months have only one associated birthstone, while others have multiple options to choose from. You can read more about the traditional gemstones and their meanings here.

Due to changes over time and across cultures, there are a number of alternative birthstones that have been connected to the twelve calendar months. Below is a list of birthstones that you may find interesting, including Traditional (modern), Historical (15th-20th centuries), British (as of 2013), and even Hindu gemstones and materials for each month.

January

  • Traditional: Garnet
  • Historical: Garnet
  • British: Garnet
  • Hindu: Serpent Stone

February

  • Traditional: Amethyst
  • Historical: Amethyst, Hyacinth, or Pearl
  • British: Amethyst
  • Hindu: Moonstone

March

  • Traditional: Aquamarine or Bloodstone
  • Historical: Bloodstone or Jasper
  • British: Aquamarine or Bloodstone
  • Hindu: Gold

April

  • Traditional: Diamond
  • Historical: Diamond or Sapphire
  • British: Diamond or Rock Crystal
  • Hindu: Diamond

May

  • Traditional: Emerald
  • Historical: Emerald or Agate
  • British: Emerald or Chrysoprase
  • Hindu: Emerald

June

  • Traditional: Pearl, Moonstone, or Alexandrite
  • Historical: Cat’s Eye, Turquoise, or Agate
  • British: Pearl or Moonstone
  • Hindu: Pearl

July

  • Traditional: Ruby
  • Historical: Turquoise or Onyx
  • British: Ruby or Carnelian
  • Hindu: Sapphire

August

  • Traditional: Peridot or Pink Spinel
  • Historical: Sardonyx, Carnelian, Moonstone, or Topaz
  • British: Peridot or Sardonyx
  • Hindu: Ruby

September

  • Traditional: Sapphire
  • Historical: Chrysolite
  • British: Sapphire or Lapis Lazuli
  • Hindu: Zircon

October

  • Traditional: Opal or Pink Tourmaline
  • Historical: Opal or Aquamarine
  • British: Opal
  • Hindu: Coral

November

  • Traditional: Topaz or Citrine
  • Historical: Topaz or Pearl
  • British: Topaz or Citrine
  • Hindu: Cat’s Eye

December

  • Traditional: Blue Zircon, Turquoise, or Tanzanite
  • Historical: Bloodstone or Ruby
  • British: Turquoise or Tanzanite
  • Hindu: Topaz

Zodiac Birthstones

Zodiac birthstones, also called astral stones, are different than monthly birthstones. These are gemstones from the earth that are linked to the twelve astrological signs. It is suggested that by wearing your astral stone, you can tap into its hidden powers -- a concept that dates back to ancient times!

There are many different astral gemstones that are considered to be linked with each of the Zodiac signs. Here is one chart to get you started.

  • Aquarius (Jan. 20 to Feb. 18): Garnet, which brings strength and prosperity.
  • Pisces (Feb. 19 to Mar. 20): Amethyst, associated with spirituality and sobriety.
  • Aries (Mar. 21 to Apr. 20): Bloodstone, representing endurance.
  • Taurus (Apr. 21 to May 20): Sapphire, a gem that symbolizes truth and loyalty.
  • Gemini (May 21 to Jun. 20) : Agate, believed to offer protection from stress.
  • Cancer (Jun. 21 to Jul. 22): Emerald, the gemstone of patience and understanding.
  • Leo (Jul. 23 to Aug. 23): Onyx, a source of relaxation and comfort.
  • Virgo (Aug. 24 to Sep. 22): Carnelian, a totem of good luck and safety.
  • Libra (Sep. 23 to Oct. 23): Chrysolite, also known as Peridot, which confers dignity and success.
  • Scorpio (Oct. 24 to Nov. 22): Beryl, especially its blue variety, and Aquamarine, gems associated with honesty and beauty.
  • Sagittarius (Nov. 23 to Dec. 20): Topaz, a giver of strength and wisdom.
  • Capricorn (Dec. 21 to Jan. 19): Ruby, a gemstone that brings love and passion.

Choosing the Right Birthstone

No matter what jewelry you are wearing, the most important thing is that it speaks to you in some way. Whether you prefer certain styles, metals, or stones, you should always select jewelry that has meaning for you. You can choose a gemstone that makes you feel happy when you wear it because you love its color and beauty. You can also add meaning to your jewelry by choosing a birthstone, an alternative birthstone, or a zodiac birthstone that is specifically connected to you.
It is interesting and fun to wear very unusual gemstones. By incorporating a birthstone or an alternative birthstone into your jewelry rotation, you can add colors and types of gemstones that you might not ordinarily pick. These gemstones vary in hardness, and some may not be suitable for everyday use, but they will all catch your eye every time you wear them.

Birthstones make it easy to shop for your spouse, children, or relatives. Surprise your loved one with an alternative, traditional, or zodiac birthstone gift! Whether you choose a traditional gem set into a simple pendant, a statement ring featuring a zodiac stone, or a custom piece designed with your jeweler, you can give them a uniquely personalized gift they will always treasure.

Birthstones and zodiac stones are beautiful gems that offer a personal connection to your life. Finding a gemstone that you love and combining it with other gems and various metals (such as silver, gold, or platinum) can help you create a memorable and meaningful piece of jewelry that is one-of-a-kind.





Nancy Plante
Nancy Plante

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