Gemstones have long been attributed mystical and magical powers in relation to religion and superstition. The notion that a certain gemstone is associated with a specific month, ‘birthstones’, derives from these early beliefs regarding one’s time of birth and its relationship to the planets.
Origin of birthstones
The tradition of birthstones originates from the Jewish astral depiction of gemstones. The high priest and brother of Moses, Aaron wore a breastplate that was covered with twelve gemstones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The stones also corresponded with the twelve signs of the zodiac and later the twelve months of the year. The Breastplate of Aaron is referred to in Exodus 28:17-20 and Revelation 21:19-20.
The belief in a cosmic universe where heaven and earth are connected also includes the supernatural powers of gems. Divine powers are everywhere from macrocosm through the physical elements such as mineral products. In India nine planets – all designated as celestial deities – watch over nine gems; Saturn is the planet for the blue Sapphire, the Moon’s ascending node for Hessonite garnet, the descending node for cat’s eye, Venus for the diamond, the Sun for the ruby, the Moon for the pearl, Jupiter for the topaz, Mercury for the emerald and Mars for the coral. Navaratna jewels (nava= nine; ratna = jewel) contain all nine gems in a specific order.
It is also believed every gem is endowed with different power and symbolism. The oldest crown of England, for example, which is on view in the Tower of London, contains the Black Prince’s Ruby and emphasizes the power of the wearer. This ruby is in fact a huge 170 carat spinel (rubies and spinels were only told apart from the late 19th century when they discovered that spinel is a magnesium aluminum oxide, while ruby (corundum) is an aluminum oxide. )
It is still a common belief that gems hold power and that wearing the gem associated with your birthday functions as a talisman and will bring good luck, health or power. This faith in working power of gems can even be seen as a tool to gain power in the world. In today’s world of danger, uncertainty and less religious belief people tend to reach out to other irrational or magical beliefs such as lapidaria (knowledge of stones).
Birthstone jewelry has become a poetic tradition for gift givers as this Art Déco Cartier catalogue illustrates. Please ignore the old prices!!
|February||Amethyst||Amethyst or hyacinth|
|March||Aquamarine or bloodstone||Jasper or bloodstone|
|April||Diamond||Diamond or sapphire|
|May||Emerald||Emerald or agate|
|June||Pearl, moonstone or alexandrite||Pearl, moonstone or alexandrite|
|July||Ruby||Turquoise or onyx|
|August||Peridot or sardonyx||Sardonyx|
|October||Opal or tourmaline||Beryl or opal|
|November||Topaz or citrine||Topaz or pearl|
|December||Tanzanite, turquoise, zircon, lapis lazuli or blue topaz|