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A Gem for Every Month: Birthstone Lore

by Bellflower Bay

Jan 5, 2016

Unlucky opals? Soothing emeralds? Joyce and Jenn of Bellflower Bay share a sampling of the fascinating legends attached to traditional birthstones.

Photo by: Capucinne

Mother-daughter team Joyce and Jenn are the curators behind Bellflower Bay, an elegant collection of antique and vintage jewelry. What began as a quest to share their finds with the world has become a mission to make antique and estate jewelry available at any budget.  As jewelry buffs, we gravitate toward jewelry that has meaning, and birthstones are the first connection many of us make to the world of gems. The origin and history of birthstones is a bit murky; some believe the idea originated with the breastplate worn by Aaron in the book of Exodus, which was set with 12 stones that were said to correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel — or the 12 months and zodiac signs. The modern concept of wearing a gem that represents your birth month can be loosely traced to 16th century Poland, when it became popular to wear a different stone for each month of the year. Later, jewelers seized on the idea as a marketing opportunity, promoting official lists and encouraging the purchase of gemstone-themed jewelry for birthday gifts. No matter the origins, there's something charming about the idea that we each have a special stone associated with the month we were born, and delving into the legends and stories around each gem only adds to the fun. We’ve put a together a list of gemstones currently considered the primary stone for each month, along with a few tantalizing anecdotes — some historical, some apocryphal — about each selection.

January: Garnet

By her who in this month (January) is born No gem save garnets should be worn; They will ensure her constancy, True friendship, and fidelity. In medieval times, glittering burgundy garnets were associated with blood and were thought to speed the healing process of hemorrhages and wounds.

February: Amethyst

The February-born shall find Sincerity and peace of mind, Freedom from passion and from care, If they an amethyst will wear. Everyone’s favorite party god, Bacchus, once hit on a pretty maiden who refused his advances. The maiden, named Amethyste, prayed fervently for protection to the goddess Diana, who responded quickly by turning the maiden to a statue of icy white quartz. Bacchus, sad over the loss of such a lovely lady, solemnly poured his cup of wine over the statue in tribute, which turned the crystal to a purple color. From then on, amethyst was thought to ward off intoxication, and drinking glasses were carved from the gem.

March: Aquamarine

This exquisite stone has long been associated with focus and clarity, and is used in many psychic activities. During the 1500s, famous court astrologer, astronomer, psychic, occultist and royal consultant Dr. John Dee used an aquamarine “crystal” ball to predict the best date for the coronation of Elizabeth the First.

April: Diamond

She who from April dates her years, Diamonds shall wear, lest bitter tears For vain repentance flow; this stone, Emblem of innocence, is known. The word for diamond is derived from the ancient Greek for “unbreakable,” due to the gem’s long history as one of the most resilient materials in the world. Diamonds were first used as tools because of their strength; in the Dark Ages, they were even ingested in the hopes of curing ailments. The current reputation of diamonds as the most valuable and desired gem in the market didn’t really begin until the 1900s.

May: Emerald

Who first beholds the light of day In spring's sweet flowery month of May And wears an emerald all her life Shall be a loved and happy wife. Historically, the emerald has been one of the most valuable gems, even more prized than diamonds. It was claimed that emeralds exert a soothing influence, so much so that the Roman emperor Nero was said to have watched the notoriously tense gladiator fights through a giant transparent emerald.

June: Pearl

Seed pearls, so named due their size and shape (less than 2 mm), became extraordinarily popular in the 19th century and were incorporated into everything from clothing to jewelry. The tiny lustrous pearls were thought to represent purity and innocence, and were also used in mourning jewelry to represent tears of grief.

July: Ruby

The glowing ruby shall adorn, Those who in July are born; Then they'll be exempt and free From love's doubts and anxiety. The stone of devotion, love and romance, the red of rubies has long been adored by Asian cultures. The gem's value is inherent to its color, with the deepest red, called “pigeon’s blood,” considered the most valuable.

August: Peridot

One of the few gemstones that appear only in one color, peridot is said to have been used in jewelry since Cleopatra’s reign. It was often set in gold to enhance both color and power — the stone was thought to dissolve any enchantments that may be cast on the wearer.

September: Sapphire

A maiden born when September leaves Are rustling in September's breeze, A sapphire on her brow should bind `Twill cure diseases of the mind. From the Greek meaning “blue stone,” the sapphire is one of the few gems that can appear in a range of colors, from blue to green to pink. However, it is most famous for the striking blue shade — so bewitching that the ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire, and the blue of the sky was merely a reflection of the stone.

October: Opal

October's child is born for woe, And life's vicissitudes must know, But lay an opal on her breast, And hope will lull those woes to rest. Mined primarily in Australia, the gorgeous rainbows within the opal are caused by light refracting from layers of silica within the stone. It acquired a stigma of bad luck following the 1829 publication of the novel Anne of Geierstein, in which one of the characters wears an enchanted opal that causes her death. However, in the Middle Ages opal was thought to possess all the virtues of every gemstone, as it displayed every color.

November: Citrine

Though the name is derived from the French word for lemon, citron, the citrine actually boasts a beautiful spectrum of yellows, ranging from a bright sunshine to a brownish-wine tone. The color has given the gem a reputation of capturing the power of the sun for the wearer to help ward off depression and ailments.

December: Turquoise

If cold December gave you birth, The month of snow and ice and mirth, Place on your hand a turquoise blue; Success will bless whate'er you do. Most popularly associated with Native American culture, turquoise has actually been used in jewelry for centuries. It gained special prominence in the 1800s, when Queen Victoria attributed sentimental qualities of love and devotion to the stone, going so far as to give each of her ladies-in-waiting a small portrait ring (of her — she was queen, after all!), surrounded by turquoise. Editor's Note: The poetry quotes come from a birthstone pamphlet published by Tiffany & Co. in 1870.

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