July 17, 2020
🕐 18 Min Read
Discover the fascinating world of birthstones by month as we explore their history, origins, and meaning. From a Biblical breastplate and the foundation stones of Jerusalem, to Western and Indian astrology, the evolution of month birthstones through the ages has been curious and complex.
Cultural Evolution: The Origin of Month Birthstones
“Perhaps the first arrangement of gems into a group of twelve of which we have any record is that in the Book of Exodus,” writes Oliver C. Farrington in his 1903 book, Gems and Gem Minerals. “Here in the twenty eighth chapter, verses 17-19, are prescribed in order twelve precious stones, which shall be set in the breastplate of the high priest” he continues, linking them to the twelve tribes of Israel and later the foundation stones of the Holy City.
While the names of gemstones have shifted through the ages, and similarly, translations of the Bible, many scholars link the stones in Aaron’s breastplate to some of our modern day month birthstones.
Displayed in a 3x4 grid, the original gemstones of Aaron’s breastplate are believed to be:
(Ruby or Garnet)
(possibly Lapis Lazuli)
Farrington goes on to cast doubt on simple interpretations of the ancient stone names. “It is not probable, however, that these names indicate in each case the corresponding stones of modern usage,” he writes, noting similar lists found in Ezekial and Revelation that already had substitutions by the time each respective book was written. He also struggles to make a concrete association between the high priest’s breastplate and today’s month birthstones.
“Though in each of these lists only twelve precious stones are mentioned, there is nothing to indicate that their use was in any way connected with the months of the year,” writes Farrington. “Just when it became the custom to designate each month by a particular gem, or how the custom originated, it is impossible to determine.”
Farrington posits that the modern list of birthstones by month may have formed from a hybrid of the Hebrew breastplate and Arabic astrology. And, he suggests, alternative birthstones were listed in modern times to make birthstone jewelry more accessible to those who couldn’t afford the rare and often expensive gems from early lists. He suggests that our current birthstone chart was concocted, in part, by clever marketers in the jewelry industry such as Tiffany & Company who had a stake in certain types of stones.
By her who in this month is born,
No gems save Garnets should be worn;
They will insure her constancy,
True friendship, and fidelity.
The glowing Ruby shall adorn
Those who in July are born;
Then they’ll be exempt and free
From love’s doubts and anxiety.
The February-born shall find
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an Amethyst will wear.
Wear a Sardonyx or for thee
No conjugal felicity;
The August-born without this stone,
‘T is said, must live unloved and lone.
Who in this world of ours their eyes
In March first open shall be wise,
In days of peril firm and brave,
And wear a Bloodstone to their grave.
A maiden born when September leaves
Are rustling in September's breeze,
A Sapphire on her brow should bind -
‘T will cure diseases of the mind.
She who from April dates her years,
Diamonds shall wear, lest bitter tears
For vain repentance flow; this stone,
Emblem of innocence is known.
October’s child is born for woe,
And life’s vicissitudes must know;
But lay an Opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest.
Who first beholds the light of day
In spring’s sweet flowery month of May,
And wears an Emerald all her life,
Shall be a loved and happy wife.
Who first comes to this world below
With drear Novembers fog and snow,
Should prize the Topaz’s amber hue -
Emblem of friends and lovers true.
Who comes with summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth,
With ring of Agate on her hand
Can health, wealth and long life command.
If cold December gave you birth,
This month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a Turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate’er you do
List of Birthstones by Month (with Modern Alternatives)
Find your traditional month birthstone using our comprehensive birthstone chart. While there are many ways to determine one’s birthstone, the classic month format rose to popularity in the Victorian era, thanks to Tiffany and other gemstone jewelry purveyors. Fans of astrology and numerology wil be happy to know that birthstones can also be calculated by date, time, day of the week, and zodiac sign.
If you’re not a fan of a particular gem on our birthstone chart, check alternative ways to find a meaningful gift for a friend or a lucky charm for yourself. Once you’ve located your mineral kingdom match, read on to learn more about its history and metaphysical lore.
Pale to rich purple gemstone; part of the Quartz family; name origin linked to a cure for drunkenness; mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate: also a 6th wedding anniversary gift
Aqua or pale blue gemstone; name origin linked to water and sea; linked to mermaid and Posiedon in ancient lore; also a 19th wedding anniversary gift;
Dark green gemstone with red “blood” spots; related to Chalcedony and Jasper; also called heliotrope - meaning “to turn the sun”
Rich jungle green gemstone; part of the beryl family; name origin from smaragdos - “green gem;” mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate; also a 20th and 35th wedding anniversary gift
Iridescent gemstone, often light in color; part of the feldspar family; called chandrakanta in India - “moon loved” or “wife of the moon;” also a 13th wedding anniversary gift
Organic gemstone; often white but found in several colors; name origin tied to ham - for the shape of mollusk that contains pearls; also a 30th wedding anniversary gift
Rare color changing gem; ranges from green to purple; part of the chrysoberyl family; named for Russia’s Alexander II;
Striped or banded gemstone; found in many color varieties; part of the chalcedony family; related to jasper and petrified wood; often cut to reveal stripes or rings; mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate
Rich red gemstone; part of the corundum family; name origin from ruber - Latin for “red;” historically tied to royalty; also a 15th and 40th wedding anniversary gift
Apple green gemstone; historically confused with topaz and emerald; part of the olivine family; found in meteorites; name origin tied to faridat - Arabic word for “gem,” also a 16th wedding anniversary gift
Red to hot pink gem; also found in purple and blue; often mistaken for ruby (including in the Crown Jewels); name origin from the Italian for “thorn;” also a 22nd wedding anniversary gift
Banded gemstone consisting of sard and onyx: usually red, brown, white, black; similar appearance to jasper and agate; mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate (also called sardius);
Deep blue gemstone; part of the corundum family; name origin tied to Sanskrit sanipriya - “precious to the planet Saturn;” mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate; also a 5th and 45th wedding anniversary gift
Iridescent gemstone; name origin linked to Greek opallios - to see a change of color; part of the silica family; objects can become opalized (similar to petrified wood); also a 24th wedding anniversary gift
Multicolored gemstone; found in many solid colors and color combinations (like watermelon tourmaline); forms in long tubular crystals; name origin tied to Sri Lankan word for “mixed gems”
Yellow or amber gemstone; part of the quartz family; often seen in terminated crystal form; closely related to amethyst; name origin linked to citrus - for its yellow color
Amber to yellow orange gemstone; historically confused with peridot; mentioned in the Bible as part of Aaron’s breastplate; name origin tied to Sanskrit for “heat” and “fire;” also connected to the island Topazos
Teal to robin’s egg blue gemstone; opaque with solid color or matrix of brown or black; name origin linked to Turkish traders who brought it to Europe; prized by Egyptians, Persians, and Native Americans; also an 11th wedding anniversary gift
Cobalt to sky blue gemstone; state gem of Texas; name origin tied to Sanskrit for “heat” and “fire” (when yellow); historically connected to the island Topazos; also a 4th wedding anniversary gift
Teal to cerulean blue gemstone; ranges in color; occurs naturally (no relation to synthetic cubic zirconia); name origin tied to words for gold and vermillion (when orange);
Royal blue to violet gemstone; recently discovered (in the 1960s); named for Tanzania (where it was found); also a 24th wedding anniversary gift
Behind Month Birthstones: Gemstone Properties and Trivia
If you’ve pinned down your month on our list of birthstones, or you’re still looking for the perfect piece of jewelry that resonates with you, it can be fun to dive into the history and lore of precious gems. From myths about Moonstones to the history of how Fire Opals got their name, we love learning about gemstone jewelry and sharing it with you.
January’s birthstone is Garnet. This juicy red gemstone is often confused with Ruby, and may have been used in its stead in jewelry pieces throughout history. It has been called the “stone of commitment” and the “stone of health” in metaphysical circles, and is said to stimulate the Kundalini.
February’s birthstone is Amethyst. It’s a purple colored version of the Quartz crystal, and gets its natural hue from iron and in some cases, manganese. In spiritual practice, it is favored for its intense meditative applications. Amethyst forms in crystal clusters and geodes large enough to stand in.
March’s birthstone is Aquamarine. It takes its name from the Latin for water and the sea, so it’s double the fun for ocean loving ladies. Legends about Aquamarine tell of mermaids, sailors, Poseidon, and stormy seas. This “stone of courage” was said to calm troubled seas (and stomachs), and encourage the wearer’s innate ability to “always be prepared.”
April’s birthstone is Diamond. The most popular engagement gift for young couples, Diamond rings are a relatively new standard, gaining in popularity after a famous advertising push. This crystal clear gemstone takes its name from the Greek word adamas, meaning unbreakable (also the root adamant), and is the benchmark 10 on Mohs’ hardness scale.
May’s birthstone is Emerald. This rich, jungly green gem is one of the four Cardinal Gems (along with Diamond, Ruby, and Sapphire). Emeralds were said to be a favorite of Cleopatra and Incan royalty. Called the “stone of successful love,” Emerald was one of the original stones in the Biblical breastplate of the high priest.
June has more than one birthstone. They are Moonstone, Pearl, Alexandrite, and Agate. Moonstone, the modern alternative to Pearl, displays a special form of iridescence called adularescence when shifted in the light. It is often translucent with a hint of periwinkle blue or green. Pearl - technically formed by an animal - is the only birthstone on the list that is not truly gem or mineral. It has been revered for centuries by ocean cultures, and is a popular bridal accessory. Named for a Russian prince, Alexandrite is a relatively new June birthstone. It changes color from green to purple, and can be prohibitively expensive for most birthstone jewelry shoppers. Agate, one of the oldest birthstones on our list, can be found in colorful striated from, and is sliced thinly to reveal its beautiful rings.
July’s birthstone is Ruby. This luscious red beauty is one of the Cardinal Gems, and has remained a favorite of royals throughout the ages for a reason. Known as the “stone of nobility,” it can be found in the treasures of India and the Middle East, and the Medieval courts of Europe. Perhaps because of its color, Ruby is often associated with lifeblood.
August has several birthstones. They are Peridot, Spinel, and Sardonyx. Peridot is a bright green gem and a member of the Olivine family. It is believed that the stones found on the ancient island of Topazos were indeed Peridot, and no chemically true Topaz was found there. Peridot has been found on meteorites, indicating that it can form in space. Spinel, an alternative August birthstone can be found in several colors, most notably, hot pink. Called the Black Prince’s Ruby, a large spinel stone is the centerpiece of Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Sardonyx is a striped stone comprised of bands of Sardon and Onyx (ahh, we get it). It is believed to be the sardius of the high priest’s breastplate.
September’s birthstone is Sapphire. A richly colored royal blue, Sapphire is tied to Saturn and is one of the original Biblical birthstones. Called “the stone of prosperity,” Sapphires are one of the most expensive birthstones, and like their cousin Ruby, are commonly associated with royalty.
October has multiple birthstones. They are Opal and Tourmaline. Opal, the traditional birthstone for October, was once incredibly hard to obtain. Modern discoveries in Australia and Africa have popularized the stone, which can range in color from white to deep blues with rainbow like qualities called play of color. Opal was once believed to give the wearer powers of invisibility. Tourmaline, a long columnar crystal, comes in many colors. Perhaps most enjoyable are specimens that contain more than one color like the Watermelon Tourmaline.
November has several birthstones. They are Citrine and Golden Topaz. Known for their amber like coloring, both of the November birthstones reflect the leaves of fall. Citrine, the more accessible of the two, is actually a yellow cousin of Amethyst, and a member of the Quartz family. It is known as “the merchant’s stone,” and is said to encourage success in business. Golden Topaz, the more traditional November birthstone is also linked to success (with a side of true love). It is used in metaphysical visualization and meditation.
December has multiple birthstones. They are Turquoise, Blue Topaz, Zircon, and Tanzanite. Named for Turkish traders who brought it to Europe, Turquoise is full of folklore from the Middle East to the American Southwest. It gets its signature color from copper, and the color turquoise actually takes its name from stone. Blue Topaz, another December birthstone, offers a transparent, gemmy alternative to rustic Turquoise. It is thought to stimulate the throat chakra and facilitate communication. Zircon, though naturally occurring, has suffered from the name’s similarity to lab grown Cubic Zirconia. In keeping with the theme, blue Zircon is most often used as this month’s birthstone, though it comes in many colors. Tanzanite, another blue gem (which borders on violet) rounds out the December birthstone blues. A relatively recent discovery, Tanzanite can only be found in Tanzania.
Can’t get enough of our birthstones by month and general gemstone trivia? Dive into our articles on Diamonds, the April birthstone; October’s enigmatic Opal; and mystical June Moonstones. For those of you into baby blues, you’ll love our list of December birthstones, and a spotlight on March’s birthstone, Aquamarine.