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The Origin of Birthstones & The Official Birthstone List

The origin of birthstones are somewhat murky, but most theories have spiritual, religious and/or astrological roots. In addition, the concept of birthstone jewelry can be found in both Western and Eastern traditions. Over the centuries, people have believed stones associated with your birth month are a source of good luck and are beneficial to the wearer. Furthermore, this tradition dates back centuries and spans many different cultures.

bellarri tuscany bracelet
Bellarri Tuscany bracelet: golden citrine, blue topaz, amethyst, aquamarine and smoky quartz

Where Did The Idea of Birthstones Come From?

One popular belief dates back to the breastplate of Aaron described in the book of Exodus as being encrusted with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

  • So, beliefs developed about a connection between the twelve months of the year, the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve stones in the breastplate and the Twelve Apostles.
  • Around the 3rd or 4th century, it became customary for people to have one of each stone and to wear a different one each month.
  • Eventually, around the 18th century, people began wearing only the stone that corresponded with their own birth month. Historians don’t agree, but some believe this particular practice began in either Germany or Poland.

Obviously, cultures aside from the Judeo-Christian have contributed to our modern idea of birthstones as well.

  • For instance, a Hindu text from 1879 lists twelve stones to correspond with rashis, or Hindu zodiac signs.
  • The tropical zodiac (the one most Americans are familiar with) also has a stone associated with each of its signs. Due in part to supposed relationships between certain gems and the planets of the solar system.

Current Official Birthstone List

Here is the current official birthstone list as it stands in 2019. See more lists we have compiled for you below under Two Lists Are Better Than One, including the modern and the traditional lists.

January Birthstone: Garnet

February Birthstone: Amethyst

March Birthstone: Aquamarine

April Birthstone: Diamond

May Birthstone: Emerald

June Birthstone: Pearl / Moonstone / Alexandrite

July Birthstone: Ruby

August Birthstone: Peridot / Spinel

September Birthstone: Sapphire

October Birthstone: Opal / Tourmaline

November Birthstone: Topaz / Citrine

December Birthstone: Turquoise / Tanzanite / Blue Zircon

The Conception of Our Current Birthstone List

As you may have noticed, there can be a variance in the gems listed as birthstones for each month. For example, you’ll find December’s birthstone could be turquoise, tanzanite, blue zircon, lapis or blue topaz. Since ancient times, during the origin of birthstones, colors have been highly symbolic and significant. So, people chose their stones based on a specific color and availability. And so, myriad of stones have been recognized over the centuries by many groups. Therefore, leading to the idea to organize a standardized birthstone list.

  • Today’s modern American birthstone list was created in 1912 by the American National Retail Jeweler’s Association, known today as Jewelers of America.
  • Created to organize and standardize the stones that had been associated with various calendar months over the centuries.
  • Notice how the modern day list includes only transparent gemstones? Consequently, making it easier for a jeweler to design birthstone jewelry for mothers. Rather than having to deal with both transparent and opaque stones to create a design, you can now use all transparent gemstones for your mother’s ring.

Updates to the Current List

We’ve come a long way from the origin of birthstones to our current modern list. However, the current list is not fixed. There are still occasional additions or changes. For example, the Jewelry Industry Council of America has updated the official list three times, as posted below. Once in 1952, 2002 and 2016.

Changes and additions:

In 1952

  • added alexandrite to the month of June
  • citrine added to November
  • added pink tourmaline for October (pink was key)
  • replaced alternate lapis with zircon in December
  • switched March’s primary and alternate gemstones of aquamarine and bloodstone

In 2002

  • tanzanite was added as a December stone

In 2016

  • spinel, that comes in a variety of colors, was added to the month of August

With 2016’s addition of spinel,  JA’s President commented that, “At certain moments in history, when there is a strong call from gem enthusiasts to expand the list of official birthstones, Jewelers of America believes in recognizing the importance of historically significant gemstones and giving gemstone lovers a choice that suits their preferences.”

Birthstone Jewelry

No matter the origin of birthstones, many people like to wear jewelry that bears their birthstones. High school and college students wear them in their class rings. Plus, it’s common for mothers to wear necklaces or rings featuring the birthstones of all their children or to receive baby “bump” gifts incorporating the baby’s birthstone. Currently, one of our favorite pieces of mother’s jewelry is the Tree of Life set with birthstones.

Come into Copeland’s and we’ll guide you to the perfect birthstone creation for yourself or a loved one. Whether you’re wanting a traditional birthstone pendant or mother’s ring or a one-of-a-kind custom piece, Copeland Jewelers is here to help!