There is something fascinating about the world of birthstones. Since ancient times, gemstones were believed to possess magical powers, enhanced if worn in the birth month of the wearer. Birthstones were also believed to have the ability to endow the wearer with certain characteristics. For example, yellow stones were thought to cure jaundice and emeralds to be good for the eyes. A ruby worn by a woman signified pride and obstinacy, whereas when worn by a man, indicated command and nobility.
The phenomena of the birthstone and its perceived special powers are ancient and most probably rooted in several cultures. Some historians believe that the first written record of gemstones is the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, which describes the ceremonial breastplate of Aaron, as having 12 gems, each representing one of Israel's 12 tribes. Many believed these also corresponded to the 12 signs of the Zodiac and the 12 months of the year.
Whatever the origins however, differing geographic regions and cultures have defined differing birthstones, and this also differs for calendar year as opposed to Zodiac year. Today, the general consensus indicates that there are four main birthstone lists:
- The Modern Birthstone List was adopted in 1912 by the American National Association of Jewelers and is used as the official list for the United States.
- The Traditional Birthstone List contains older gemstones, dating back to the 15th century.
- the Mystical Birthstone List which originated in Tibet over a thousand years ago, taking its name for the fact that mystical powers were attributed to the birthstones.
- The Ayurvedic Birthstone List, derived from age-old Ayurvedic Indian Medicine, assigns not only mystical powers to the gemstones but also medicinal powers.
Birthstones come in a surprising range of colours. For example garnet, most commonly red in colour, can also be found in purple, orange, yellow, green, black, brown, transparent and even blue (discovered as recently as 1990 in Madagascar).
The idea that birthstones possess a certain intangible but well documented significance still fascinates people today. What makes a birthstone special is perhaps the sense of identity that the owner is wearing a piece of jewellery which is intimately associated with his or her astrological personality.