Birthstone jewelry is often one of the first pieces of jewelry a girl will own. I was scarcely old enough to pronounce “amethyst” when I received a tiny one on a gold chain.
From the dawn of time, people have believed gemstones possess mystical powers, and that the position of the stars on one’s birth date determines personality traits and virtues. (Does “I’m a typical impatient Aries!” sound like a convincing defense against a traffic ticket?)
The new year is a time for resolutions and astrological predictions. We believe today’s women are the luckiest of all because the 18 stones now considered birthstones are cut and appreciated especially for their beauty. The newest and most creative designs using these stones are a far cry from the tiny talismans we received as little girls.
(Note: Because the jewelry shown with this story is for women, we’ve used “she” in our descriptions. Remember, however, that men possess the same personality traits associated with their particular birth sign and they, too, can wear birthstone jewelry.)
Her birthstone, garnet, is the symbol of faith, truth, grace, constancy and fidelity. Legend says garnet protects a house from lightning, dispels sadness and gloom and, like ruby, warns of impending danger by losing its color. Ancient dream interpreters said that dreaming of garnet foretold the accumulation of great riches. The Bible says garnet is the first stone in the breastplate of the High Priest; its blood red color sometimes made the stone a symbol for Christ on the cross. Medicinal legend says garnet and other red stones had a calming influence on quarrels, discords and hot tempers.
Like her birthstone, the January-born Capricorn is a model of constancy and fidelity. Industrious, cautious, practical and realistic, Capricorn is a tower of strength but sometimes takes life way too seriously. She approaches her goals with the determination of the mountain goat that is her symbol.
Utterly unpredictable Aquarius is a visionary, independent thinker who delights in obliterating the status quo, but the results are always progress. Aquarians don’t have ideas, they have explosions. Impulsive, freespirited Aquarius makes a wide variety of friends as easily as Rockefeller makes money, yet finds it hard to express her feelings, which is why she can seem a bit aloof or detached.
Amethyst, her birthstone, is rich with legend. According to the ancient Greeks, amethyst was created when Bacchus, the god of wine, was somehow offended by the goddess Diana. In retaliation, he vowed to set hungry tigers upon the first person he met. That proved to be the beautiful maiden Amethyst, on her way to worship at Diana’s shrine. In terror, Amethyst called to Diana to save her from Bacchus’s tigers and, before his eyes, she turned to a pillar of white stone. In regret, Bacchus poured the juice of a grape over the now-stone maiden, giving amethyst its vibrant violet color. He also promised that anyone who drank wine from an amethyst cup would not become inebriated, and the Greek word amethustos means “not drunk.”
It is natural that aquamarine would be the birthstone for dreamy, romantic Pisces, the sign of the fish. Love and creativity figure strongly in her life, much of which is spent in the pursuit of the perfect relationship and/or artistic expression. Love-smitten Pisces will do almost anything to keep a relationship afloat; likewise aquamarine was believed to help establish happy marriages or reconcile lovers’ differences should harmony flee.
The ancient Greeks used aquamarine often in their jewelry, believing it captured the essence and spirit of the sea. They often carved the gem with the head of Poseidon, god of the sea. It also was said to quicken the intellect. Blood-stone is an alternative birth-stone for March.
Fiery Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac, is a born leader. The ram is highly confident (some call it ego!), dynamic, passionate, impulsive, enthusiastic and ready to grab life by the horns and take charge. Patience isn’t her strong suit – especially in relationships – but underneath her ram’s tendency to head-butt, she’s very sensitive.
What other birthstone but diamond could be hers? Diamond is the emblem of fearlessness and invincibility, undoubtedly because of its unbeatable hardness and fiery sparkle. It was believed to bring victory to the wearer, by giving him strength, fortitude and courage. The Hindus believed diamonds would endow one with power, friends, riches and good luck and success; they also kept the infirmities of old age at bay. Another curious legend connected sex and fertility with the diamond, while the philosopher Cardano cautioned that diamond’s fearlessness could actually harm a wearer, because a certain amount of fear and prudence keeps one safe. He must have known an impulsive Aries or two!
Steady and stable Taurus is the salt of the earth. All that hype about being stubborn as a bull, well…it’s true. But she’s also honest, patient and gentle, and her friends know they can depend on her. Her birthstone, emerald, was believed to strengthen one’s psychic abilities, as well as strengthen the memory to produce a more eloquent speaker. An emerald worn by one in love would help identify the truth of her lover’s words. Emerald also had a fine reputation as a cure-all; the ancients’ idea of aspirin, if you will. It was used as an antidote to poison, and reputedly had the power to cure dysentery, leprosy, hemorrhages, eye problems and gastric distress.
June-born Gemini is always enchanted by something new – be it people, places or things. Her astrological symbol, the twins, may inspire an occasional unkind “Jekyll and Hyde” comment from those who just can’t appreciate the never-boring aspect of her always-changing moods. Her chief birthstone is pearl, and the legends ascribed to pearl are just interesting enough to capture her attention – for a while. Ancient writers called pearls dew from heaven, tears of angels or teeth of a slain Indian god. Pearls were beloved by Roman Emperors Caligula and Nero, the latter of whom reportedly built pearl couches for his paramours. Yet pearls were also considered the symbol of chastity and purity.
Pearl swallowing was quite popular. Legend says that after a banquet given by Marc Antony, Cleopatra dissolved one of her pear-shaped pearl earrings in a cup and drank it. During the reign of Elizabeth I of England, Sir Thomas Gresham downed a large pearl at a banquet attended by the queen, herself a great fancier of pearls. Changeable Gemini has two other birthstones, moonstone and alexandrite, for those days when she’s just not in a pearl kind of mood.
Ruby, the birthstone of July, is the emblem of love, which is just right for sensitive, shy homebodies like Cancer. To the ancients, her birthstone represented passion, affection, power and majesty. Through time, rubies came to be credited with attracting and retaining reciprocal love, removing obstacles, giving victory and revealing hidden places of stolen treasures. Her perfect treasure is found in a simpatico partner to share home and hearth, to protect and be protected.
Though her astrological symbol is the crab (and moody Cancer can behave like one!), rubies of old were frequently associated with dragons. To dream of ruby promised success. The rich red of ruby represented stimulation, heat, life and power. Rubies, worn on the left, were believed to bring good fortune and the ancients believed wearing rubies in war brought invulnerability.
The lion in the limelight – that’s a Leo. She is a leader, with a bright and sunny personality that’s generally even-tempered, loyal, loving and not too moody. Sound ideal? Perhaps, as long as her friends remember that lions need constant stroking and the idea of being less than queen of the jungle, even for a short time, is sure to bring a roar of displeasure. But give her lots of attention and she’s purring once again.
The ancients called peridot, August’s birthstone, the “gem of the sun.” This association with the sun probably in-fluenced the belief that peridot could dissolve en-chantments and banish evil spirits – but only when set in gold (just like Leo’s mane!)
Sardonyx is an alternative birthstone for August.
If ruby is the stuff of passion and power, its sister stone, sapphire, is calming and soothing, symbol-izing sincerity, constancy and veracity. Sapphire was considered a remedy for eye ailments and a charm against swellings, boils, ruptures, profuse perspiration, poisons, melancholy, and other bodily malfunctions. What a perfect match for orderly Virgo, who can be a stickler for purity and proper care of the body. Sapphire also was reputed to protect against enchantment, danger, treachery, quarrels and evil suggestions – not that Virgo would ever be likely to encounter any of these. If you know someone who’s compulsively neat, tidy, disciplined and organized at all times, chances are she’s born under September’s sign. Picky Virgo tends to criticize, but is the first to arrive and last to leave wherever help is needed.
Peace, balance and harmony are what Libra seeks. True to her symbol, the scales, she’ll weigh and measure, consider and reconsider until perfect balance is achieved. She’s also a great diplomat, preferring to talk logically rather than fight. So what if people call her a tad indecisive? When she knows what she wants, she can make a decision! It’s just so hard to know exactly what she wants. But whatever it is, it’s sure to involve love and beauty; both are crucial to her happiness.
Opal, her birthstone, has a myriad of beautiful colors at play – as though it, too, can’t decide what to be and so blends all together harmoniously. It has symbolized hope, innocence and purity. Ancients considered it a harbinger of good fortune, and it was thought to banish evil spirits and favor children, the theater, amusements, friendships and feel-ings. An opal held between the eyes sharpened one’s sight and gave proper direction to thoughts (useful for Libra!). Magic in the opal was supposed to render its wearer invisible; thus Roman warriors carried opal into battle.
Like the Scorpion that is her sign, November-born Scorpio has a zing in her personality – or sometimes make that a sting. Intensely passionate and with a tendency to be jealous or possessive, she often doesn’t see that others aren’t two-timing her, they just need their private thinking space as much as she does. Fiercely loyal Scorpio can be unforgiving if she feels her loyalty has been tested. Legend says that topaz, her birthstone, was discovered on an island in the Red Sea, so jealously guarded that unauthorized persons approaching it were put to death. Even those authorized to seek topaz on the island could only do so at night; it was believed the gems revealed their radiance under cover of darkness.
Citrine, also a passionate yellow and often mistaken for topaz, is an alternate birthstone for November.
Free-spirited Sagittarius can’t be tied to one place too long. Even if she chooses never to leave the town of her birth, she needs to feel that she can at any time. Independent and gregarious, she’s usually the life of the party and often the class clown. Her willingness to listen and counsel makes her an ideal friend – but her tendency toward brutal honesty (and thinking she’s right all the time!) can ruffle a few feathers. But she’s quick to forgive and forget, so who can stay mad at her for long?
Her birthstone, turquoise, supposedly possessed the power to protect its wearer from falls. The Turks used it as amulets on their horses’ bridles, because it was reputed to render horses surefooted and keep over-exerted horses from becoming ill after drinking ice-cold water. Wandering Sagittarius will appreciate how far the legends spread. The Turkish/Arabic culture of ancient Spain was brought to the New World by explorers who eventually spread through what is today the American Southwest. Remnants of their turquoise traditions still influence the design of much American Indian jewelry.
An alternative birthstone for December is zircon.
THE ORDER OF THINGS
Today’s birthstone tradition dates back to the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus in the first century and of St. Jerome in the fifth. Both authors connected the 12 stones of the High Priest’s breastplate with the 12 months of the year and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. But the wearing of gemstones to signify one’s birth month appears to date from 18th century Poland. Before that, stones were worn as curatives and amulets rather than symbols.
Over the ages, beliefs about which gemstones correspond to which month have varied, and today’s list of gemstones differs significantly from earlier orders. In addition to the breastplate connection, sages have offered other explanations, all of them biblically or spiritually based.
· In the book of Revelation, the order in which the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem are given determines the succession of the birthstones. The first stone was assigned to St. Peter and to the month of March (coincidentally the leader of the Apostles and the Spring Equinox); the second stone to the month of April, and so forth.
· Some ancient Jewish sages corresponded 12 gemstones to the 12 tribes of Israel. They were:
January – Hyacinth – Dan
February – Amethyst – Gad
March – Jasper – Benjamin
April – Sapphire – Issachar
May – Agate – Naphtali
June – Emerald – Levi
July – Onyx – Zebulun
August – Carnelian – Reuben
September – Chrysolite – Asher
October – Beryl – Joseph
November – Topaz – Simeon
December – Ruby – Judah
· Early rabbinical writers described 12 stones engraved with 12 anagrams of the name of God which, by their change in hue, allowed Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to foretell the future. These 12 stones were then believed to have prophetical relationships to the 12 signs of the Zodiac and to 12 angels. They were:
Ruby – Aries – Malchediel
Topaz – Taurus – Asmodel
Carbuncle – Gemini – Ambriel
Emerald – Cancer – Muriel
Sapphire – Leo – Verchel
Diamond – Virgo – Humatiel
Jacinth – Libra – Zuriel
Agate – Scorpio – Barbiel
Amethyst – Sagittarius – Adnachiel
Beryl – Capricornus – Humiel
Onyx – Aquarius – Gabriel
Jasper – Pisces – Barchiel
The stones also had reference to the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 parts of the human body, 12 plants, 12 birds, 12 minerals, 12 hierarchies of devils and more.