The History of 12 Birthstones of the Year

faceted gems and birthstones of the year

The wearing and gifting of birthstones is hugely popular and birthstone jewellery makes a touching, thoughtful gift for someones birthday. But where did the birthstones of the year tradition start?

The history of birthstones is a long one, dating back to biblical times. During the time of Moses, a high priest named Aaron wore a breastplate, which was believed to hold incredible powers. It was set with twelve gemstones known as the Tribes of Israel.

In Exodus 28, Moses described how this garment was made. The precious stones were believed to have originated from the throne of God.

The scholar Flavius Josephus, in the 1st Century, and later St Jerome in the 5th Century, both noted how the twelve gemstones on Aaron’s garment corresponded to the astrological months and the zodiac.

The gemstones were said to offer help and therapeutic effects to anyone when worn at the times corresponding to the zodiac months.

Early Christians also believed that certain gemstones were linked to the birth months of the year, although they rejected the idea that the gemstones held special powers. 

As Jewish gem traders travelled the world during the 18th Century these “birthstones” became more well known and accepted. This was particularly so in and around Poland and Germany  and then further across the rest of Europe.

How Were the Birthstones Chosen?

The twelve stones of Aaron’s breastplate were identified only through the descriptions of their colour and were believed to be – carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, jacinth, agate, amethyst, topaz, onyx and jasper.

Over time, these stones became accepted as the birthstone for a particular month.

In 1912 the National Association of Jewellers in the USA laid out the birthstones of the year as we know them today, associating a gemstone (sometimes two or three) with a particular birth month. 

In 1912, when a definitive list was complied by the NAJ, they decided to combine the colours of what were thought of as traditional birthstones with gemstones that would be easily available to modern jewellers. 

The resulting list of birthstones had little to no religious connotations.

The list has changed a little over the years, mainly with additions of different stones. So, although this list does not change each year, it has remained mainly as it is for approximately a century.

For instance, in 2002 the beautiful Tanzanite gemstone was added to the list of birthstones, for the month of December. Some months, like June, has more than one birthstone associated with it.

Traditional, Modern and Alternative Birthstone Lists

The traditional birthstones were arrived at over hundreds of years, whilst the modern list of birthstones has been around for approximately 100 years. There is also an “alternative” list of gemstones associated with each birth month.

Many people chose between the more traditional and modern birthstones with the alternative birthstones giving more choice and availability, as well as suiting personal tastes and the “power” they are believed to hold.

What Are the Birthstones of the Year?

MonthTraditional BirthstoneModern BirthstoneAlternative Birthstone
JanuaryGarnetGarnet
FebruaryAmethyst, Hyacinth (Jacinth), PearlAmethyst
MarchBloodstone, JasperAquamarine, Bloodstone
AprilDiamond, SapphireDiamond, Rock Crystal
MayEmerald, AgateEmeraldChryosprase
JuneCat’s Eye, Turquoise, AgatePearl, MoonstoneAlexandrite
JulyTurquoise, OnyxRubyCarnelian
AugustSardonyx, Carnelian, Moonstone, TopazPeridot, SardonyxSpinel
SeptemberChrysoliteSapphireLapis Lazuli
OctoberOpal, AquamarineOpal, TourmalineTourmaline
NovemberTopaz, PearlTopazCitrine
DecemberBloodstone, RubyTopaz, Lapis Lazuli, TanzaniteTurquoise, Zircon

We have listed the main birthstones below – you can click on each image to bring up their respective blog articles which delve deeper into that particular birthstone.

january birthstone garnet
february birthstone amethyst
march birthstone image
april birthstone diamond
may birthstone emerald
june birthstone pearl
july birthstone ruby
august birthstone peridot
september birthstone sapphire
october birthstone opal
november birthstone citrine
December birthstone tanzanite

How to Wear Birthstone Jewellery

Many people wear their own birthstone, some wear the birthstone of their children, or the gemstones associated with the month they got married. There are no rules and you can wear whichever takes your fancy. There is something very special about owning a birthstone of the month you were born. 

We have written in depth articles on each months birthstones. For instance, if you want to know which birthstone is for January (strangely, of all the months that people seem to wonder about, they ask which birthstone is January’s birthstone, the most!) you can read a full article on its history, where it is found, its colour and chemical composition and fascinating stories and meaning associated with it.

Birth Month Flowers

Birthstones make fantastic birthday gifts and are a very thoughtful present. We are also seeing more Birth Month Flower jewellery available – reviving the much-loved Victorian tradition of the language of flowers – where each month has a few flowers associated with it. 

Following on from this there is now a host of gemstones and other materials associated with anniversaries. Many a time we’ve helped a customer find something where they have been on a mission to purchase something with, for instance, tin or copper for a particular wedding anniversary!

To Sum Up

You should, of course, select the gemstone which you are drawn to the most, in selecting a piece of jewellery – where it’s for yourself or a gift. But birthstones are a fabulous starting point in looking at gem-set jewellery and offer a basis for your creativity.

For some birthstone gift ideas for her see our article here. They make unique and thoughtful gifts.

We hope this has given you food for thought in looking at your birthstones or those of people we love.

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