August 04, 2020
🕐 10 Min Read
From grassy green to ruby red, these three August birthstones are sure to please. Learn the history and origin of peridot, spinel, and sardonyx birthstones, and find the one that’s perfect for you or your favorite August born friend.
What is the Birthstone for August: Peridot, Spinel & Sardonyx
While some months have only one birthstone option, those born in August are lucky enough to have three. The modern and traditional birthstones for August are peridot, spinel, and sardonyx. Referenced several times in the Bible, sardonyx is the oldest August birthstone on record. It was one of the gems in the high priest’s breastplate (a precursor to birthstones), and one of Jerusalem’s foundation stones.
Also mentioned as one of the original Biblical birthstones is topaz, a gemstone with a history of mistaken identity. Many scholars believe that the topaz referenced in historical texts was what we call peridot today. Similar in color, the name topaz may have been used interchangeably for these two amber to yellow-green gems.
“The topaz of the ancients was usually our chrysolite, or peridot, and the name ‘chrysolite’ appears to have been used to designate our topaz,” writes George Frederick Kuntz in his 1913 book The Curious Lore of Precious Stones. To further complicate things, the island historically known as Topazios never produced the November birthstone that shares the name.
According to the GIA, “Most authorities agree that the name topaz comes from Topazios, the old Greek name for a small island in the Red Sea, now called Zabargad.” The stones mined on that desert island? None other than peridot, our apple green August birthstone. Whew! It’s a lot to process, we know.
So, we’ve got the history to prove that sardonyx and peridot are traditional birthstones for August. But what about spinel? Spinel birthstone is an alternative gem for August, and a very modern one at that. It joined the ranks of the traditional natal gems in 2016 when the Jewelers of America (JA) and the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) updated their birthstone list. First published over a century ago, the addition of spinel to the widely recognized birthstone list was an unprecedented change. Now ladies born in August, and those who buy them gifts, have three gemstones to choose from.
Sticking to Tradition: Peridot Birthstone for August
The classic August birthstone, peridot, is a brilliant green gem with a history as bold as its color. Thought by many to be the “topaz” of scholars like Pliny the Elder, and the “emeralds” of Cleopatra’s legendary collection, the underrecognized peridot is finally getting its due. It’s been around for a long time, and thanks to new discoveries in the American Southwest, peridot birthstone jewelry is more accessible than ever.
Known as “evening emeralds” for their vibrant color in low light, the peridot birthstone ranges from a bright grassy hue to a rich olive green. It’s the gem variety of olivine, a stone valued for its use in meditation and Feng Shui. In her book Love is in the Earth, metaphysical author Melody writes of peridot’s ability to aid the wearer through personal cycles. It can facilitate an understanding of big life changes, help heal bruised egos, and magnify the inner aspects of any situation, she writes. Peridot’s warm, friendly energy is used to create a protective field around the body, and bring good luck to mothers during delivery, writes Hall.
Peridot History: Germany, England & Egypt
“Perhaps because of its rarity, few superstitions are associated with the peridot,” writes Willard Heaps in his book Birthstones. “Romans wore it to repel terror, enchantment, and melancholy. In the Middle Ages it was a charm against the ‘evil terrors of the night,’” he continues. Long thought to be emeralds, over 200 carats of peridot are featured in the Three Holy Kings shrine in Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 1248. If “terrors of the night” were a concern in Medieval Germany, the grand Gothic cathedral seems like the perfect place to take refuge.
Fast forwarding a few hundred years in European history, Heaps brings us to Victorian England where royals have taken a shine to the August birthstone. Not just for women, Victoria’s son King Edward VII tapped into the protective properties of peridot and named it his personal talisman.
Peridot’s history dates back even farther in Africa and the Middle East. Known as “the gem of the sun” to ancient Egyptians, the bright green peridot birthstone takes its name from faridat, the Arabic word for gem. Found on Topazios (modern day Zabargad or St John’s Island), this early source of the green gem was closely guarded by soldiers, and allegedly snakes. Luckily, for fans of the green August birthstone, they’re a little easier to come by today.
Peridot Origins: Beaches, Volcanoes & Space
Like diamond, peridot is one of the only gemstones to form entirely under the earth’s crust. A product of immense heat and pressure, the glassy green gemstones catch a ride on magma and make their way to the surface intermixed with volcanic rock. Harder than neighboring grains of sand, tiny pieces of peridot are often excavated in ant hills, and left over when other minerals break down. Green sand beaches occur in areas where the peridot or olivine remains intact when its volcanic host materials erode away. Hawaii’s Papakolea Beach and locations in Norway, the Galapagos, and Guam showcase this fascinating phenomenon.
To nab a chunk of raw peridot for yourself, take a trip to Peridot, Arizona - a small town on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. The Native American owned mines outside of Peridot are home to the largest modern cache of the green crystal in the world. Peridot is found embedded in basalt in the surrounding desert mesas, and is sold as souvenirs in local gift shops.
While the Arizona desert is pretty extreme, peridot forms in another area with an even more intense climate – outer space. German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas discovered peridot inclusions in meteorites in the 18th century, and extraterrestrial rocks containing the green crystal bear his name. In addition to Pallasitic meteorites, the August birthstone has another otherworldly claim to fame. In 2003, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor discovered that olivine covered over 19,000 miles of Mars, giving the red planet an undeniable glint of green.
The Way of the Ancients: Sardonyx Birthstone for AugusT
Sardonyx is the oldest birthstone for August on our list. Thanks to a few shoutouts in the Bible, and some fine museum specimens, we know quite a bit about the history of the ancient sardonyx birthstone. Unlike its fellow birthstones for August, sardonyx is not your average colored gem. Instead of a transparent, jellylike appearance, sardonyx joins the ranks of banded gems like agate, jasper, and chalcedony.
Sardonyx birthstone is made up of two types of cryptocrystalline quartz. No, it has nothing to do with Bitcoin. In this case, crypto simply means small. Part of the chalcedony family, sardonyx and its tiny crystals usually show off parallel stripes of white or black and rusty red. The red bands are formed from sard (also called carnelian), while onyx makes up the contrasting color. So mixing stripes of sard and onyx creates sardonyx? Finally, a gemstone name origin that makes sense.
Sardonyx History: Cameos, Courtesans & Wax Seals
Because of its reliable bands of color (unlike the irregular bands of agate), sardonyx was historically favored by gemstone carvers. Perfect for cameos and signets, carved sardonyx features prominently in museum collections from Mesopotamia and early Europe. Sardonyx birthstone carvings can be found in Hebrew temples, and in Greek and Roman wax seals.
“The Romans believed strongly in talismans, objects bearing a sign of character engraved under astrological influence and thought to act as charms to avert evil and bring good fortune,” writes Heaps. “Roman soldiers wore as talismans the sardonyx engraved with a figure of the hero Hercules or Mars, the god of war, hoping the stone would make its wearer as brave and daring as the carved figure.”
“In the Middle Ages the sardonyx was believed to possess healing powers,” he writes, noting its purported applications in fighting infections and venom from insect and snake bites. “During the Renaissance, other powers were attributed to the stone,” he continues. “It was supposed to confer the power of eloquence on the wearer and was therefore valuable to public speakers and orators.” Sardonyx was also said to aid ladies in attracting the object of their affection, and for those born in August, living out a happy married life.
Sadly, for England’s Elizabeth I, marriage was not in the cards. Her beloved Earl of Essex (a suspected lover) wore a gold and sardonyx ring carved with a cameo of the queen. This gift was intended to protect the rouge general in battles, political and otherwise. When imprisoned for treason, the ring - sent as a signal for help from the queen – was confiscated by the wife of a rival, and the poor Earl lost his head (literally).
Centuries later came Napoleon, another ill-fated historical figure with an eye for sardonyx. While many cameos featuring the emperor’s bust can be found in museum collections and fine auction houses, according to Heaps, Bonaparte himself wore a sardonyx fob on his watch chain.
New Century, New Gem: Spinel Birthstone for August
Officially added in 2016, Spinel is the newest August birthstone. Called a “stone of immortality,” this ruby lookalike has gone by many monikers. “As indicated by the names of some of its varieties, such as ruby spinel, balas ruby, and rubicelle, red spinel has often been confused with the ruby,” writes Edward Henry Kraus in Gems and Gem Minerals.
“Spinel has been called ‘mother of ruby,’ on account of this association, and many historic ‘rubies’ were in all probability red spinel,” writes Kraus. While many spinels are red, he also notes that blue spinels are easily mistaken for sapphires. One way to distinguish raw spinel from ruby is its cubic structure (similar to garnet and diamond), which commonly displays twinning crystals. Spinel, which individually, can be found in a range of colors, tends to be one color all the way through. Though always a shade of red, rubies are dichromatic, meaning you can usually see a separate hue when viewed from another angle.
Before modern gemology practices, spinels and rubies were rather difficult to distinguish, especially since they occurred in the same mines. The large red centerpiece of British State Crown has been discovered to be a spinel, not a ruby as previously believed. Similarly, some of the finest “rubies” in Indian collections may very well be spinel too.
Other colors of the alternative August birthstone have been given their own industry names. Rubicelle is yellow-orange, almandine is purple, sapphirine is blue, and chlorospinel is green. Red spinel birthstones, like carnelian and many other blood colored stones, are often associated with the heart. According to author Judy Hall, spinel has refreshing properties, and can renew one’s energy to continue further attempts after failing at difficult tasks. Likewise, she suggests that those who do persevere will accept victory with humility when the battle is won.
Choosing Between the 3 Birthstones for August
Whether you’re shopping for your favorite Leo or Virgo, or hoping to grab a meaningful piece for yourself, birthstone jewelry is always a lovely choice. Choosing which of the three August birthstones suits you is half the fun, and we hope this birthstone buying guide helped you narrow down the search.
For more info on the meaning of birthstones and their role in pop culture, check out the Moon Magic Mag. We took a deep dive into the December blues; shared our knowledge about October’s birthstone, opal; studied Aquamarine, March’s sea green gem; and swooned over Moonstone, the birthstone for June.