The Origin of Birthstones

June 14, 2017 Allison Bray

Pictured above: the Reeves & Reeves Birthstone Pendant collection

The idea of the twelve birthstones, one for each month of the year, may sound like a modern day marketing stunt. It might surprise you to hear that this isn’t actually the case. In fact, many people believe that birthstones actually originate from the bible.

Are birthstones biblical?

In the Book of Exodus, Aaron, Moses’ brother and first high priest of the Israelites, wore a ceremonial breastplate featuring twelve precious stones. These gems are said to have symbolised the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Though these stones are believed to have inspired the modern day Western concept of birthstones,  there is much debate over what the original twelve stones were. During the Ancient Egyptian period, gemstones were described by various names, often relating to their place of origin. Because of this, it has been difficult for translators to agree on what the text says. 

The most common translation names the twelve breastplate stones as: ruby, topaz, beryl, turquoise, sapphire, emerald, jacinth, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, onyx and jasper. 

What about other traditions?

Of course, this is only one theory about the origin of birthstones. Eastern tradition has celebrated birthstones as part of the Tibetan Mythical Birthstone List which dates back for more than a millennium. There is also an Ayurvedic Birthstone List which relates to Ayurvedic Indian medicine and has been dated to around 1500 BC. 

How does this relate to modern day birthstones?

The birthstone lists we typically refer to today have been standardised by the jewellery industry. The American list was decided on in 1912 by the American National Association of Jewelers. Britain’s National Association of Goldsmiths followed suit in 1937 by formalising their own standard list.

That list is:

January - Garnet

February - Amethyst

March - Aquamarine

April - Diamond

May - Emerald

June - Pearl

July - Ruby

August - Peridot

September - Sapphire

October - Opal

November - Topaz

December - Tanzanite

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