HISTORY OF BIRTHSTONES
Since the first time, lost to us in the midst of prehistory, which a man bent down to pick up a pretty colored stone, mankind has been fascinated with gemstones. The beauty of gemstones has so captivated man’s imagination that throughout the ages, in all societies, gemstones were thought to have special mystical powers. As time went on certain colors of gems became associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac, which approximate the months of the year.
The book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, also tells of the Breastplate of Aaron which was set with twelve gems representing the twelve tribes of Israel. At what point in time the belief that each month had a specific gem, with specific powers, dedicated to it is not known. What is known is that the writings of Josephus, in the first century and St. Jerome in the early fifth century, both clearly talk about the relationship between the high priest’s breastplate, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Despite these early writings, wearing one’s birthstone did not become popular until the eighteenth century. The reason for the delay seems to be that the magical properties, especially the therapeutic ones, of any gemstone required it’s being proscribed for the cure of a particular ailment or to fulfill some dearly held wish. A person’s birthstone would not always have the proper powers one was seeking. It is important to note that the belief in the mystical and curative powers of gemstones was absolute.
The custom of wearing one’s birthstone seems to have originated in Poland, influenced by Jewish settlers who were long familiar with the relationship between gemstones, the twelve tribes, the zodiac, and the months of the year. There is evidence that the early tradition was to have “the whole set” of birthstones. Each gem would be worn at the ascendancy of its zodiacal sign when its magical properties were at their peak. This tradition, at the very least, strikes one as fairly ponderous and probably excluded all but the very rich. At some point, the idea of a birthstone for each month of the year, with virtues associated with one’s individual personality took root and is as popular as ever today. Over the centuries the list of birthstones has changed and evolved. The list below is a more modern one, based on the 1912 American National Retail Jewelers Association list, with recent alternative gemstones added. In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers, known today as Jewelers of America, created a standard list of birthstones. The original list has been updated throughout the years to include additional gemstones.