Lovers of fine jewelry often use Birthstones as seasonal guidelines and sources of inspiration. (See Birthstones By Month.) Without knowing the history behind them, one might find the concept just a little arbitrary. However, there is actually a fair bit of a story here. Indulge me, and I’ll tell you all you never knew about Birthstones.
The tradition of Birthstones can be traced all the way back to biblical times. There was a unique breastplate worn by Aaron, the brother of Moses, which was lined with “4 rows of stones” representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Exodus 39:10 through 39:14 lists them off in great detail, although translations differ heavily on the subject of which stones were present, and where they were placed. Early astrologers then got involved and adapted the story of Aaron’s Breastplate to the 12 Month Zodiac. Hence, the earliest known instance of Birthstones.
Since then, all kinds of influences have been working to decide which stones are best for which months. Priests have made various claims. In the 8th century, they began attributing certain stones to each of the 12 Apostles of Christ. Folk Healers have also contributed, believing that gemstones could provide luck and healing in the right circumstances. Fashion, of course, and fashionable women have always had their say when it comes to fine jewelry. And eventually, the jewelers themselves had their own ideas.
In 1870, Tiffany and Co. published a pamphlet of Gregorian Birthstone Poems. No authors are named, and no one is sure if these are truly earlier works or just a marketing tactic. The pamphlet did catch the attention of the jewelry community. So much so that in 1912, the American National Association of Jewelers, now called the Jewelers of America, made an effort to normalize the industry by creating a formal list of Birthstones.
Today, that list has gone through several edits. In 2002, Tanzanite became one of the stones associated with December. In August of 2016, Spinel was announced as a gemstone associated with August. Despite evolving, this list has remained the standard in America for which Birthstones belong to what month, for over a century.
Not surprisingly, there are different lists of birthstones all across the world. Some draw from traditional medicine practices, while others are rooted in cultural figures, local fashions and environmental trends.
But for America, October's Birthstone is the Opal, and the Tourmaline.
Click here to see the official list of the Jewelers of America site.
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