Know Your Birthstone
January – Garnet
As a January birthstone, Aquarius Zodiac stone, and the second wedding anniversary gem, garnet provides a versatile family of affordable gems that can be enjoyed year-round.
Garnet is actually the group name for a family of gemstones that come in every color except blue. They’re beautiful, durable, and most garnets are very affordable.
The name “garnet” comes from the Roman word granatus meaning “seed,” as the gems were thought to resemble pomegranate seeds. The most common garnets are the red to red-brown varieties that people know best. Red garnets can show almost as much fire as rubies.
Until the 18th century, garnets were often worn by soldiers to heal wounds and stop blood flow, as red stones were thought to influence the blood. They were also said to promote true love, warn of danger by changing color, and protect the wearer’s home from fire and lightning. Garnets in yellow, brown and orange, were believed to stimulate energy, increase sexual vitality, and promote compatibility in lovers.
If you prefer spring or summer greens, tsavorite garnet from Africa comes in clear light greens to rich dark greens and is more affordable than fine emeralds. Yellow-green to mid-green demantoid garnet is mostly found in antique jewelry.
A translucent green garnet, misnamed “Transvaal Jade,” looks like light to medium milky green jade with tiny black spots. Called hydrogrossular garnet, it has often been used as an affordable jade substitute. Mothers in medieval Europe used to hang this garnet above their baby’s cradle for good health and sweet dreams. Green gemstones were also said to bring prosperity, calm the nerves, and protect wearers from emotional stress.
The pink to reddish purple colors are in rhodolite garnet, the largest transparent species. The lighter, sparkling bright pinks can resemble pink sapphires. They were believed to attract romance and cure broken hearts.
Though garnets are tough, like all gemstones, special care must be taken, as some varieties can chip. For jewels worn often, like rings, look for settings that protect the gem with metal.” Also avoid steaming, abrupt temperature changes, and acids, because they might damage gems. Ultrasound or warm water with mild detergent are recommended for cleaning.
February – Amethyst
The royal purple amethyst has one of the most interesting histories of any gemstone. Ever since mankind first discovered amethyst around 3000 B.C., this accessible gemstone has been believed to possess a wide variety of amuletic qualities and properties.
The ancient Egyptians believed amethyst could keep a person from being poisoned. In medieval times, amethyst was often put under one’s pillow to cure insomnia and bring pleasant dreams. Medieval churchmen used amethyst rings and jewels to promote divine revelations and wisdom, since amethyst was considered a symbol of Christian love and sacrifice. Amethyst also was said to enhance courage and creativity, to promote intuition, psychic development and even self-esteem, to deflect anger, and protect the wearer against evil.
Through the ages this lovely purple member of the quartz family has been used for everything from love charms to symbols of royalty. Yet, for all its noble traditions, amethyst is a surprisingly affordable gem.
Amethysts that are heat treated retain their color remarkably well, but it’s still wise to keep any amethysts away from strong heat and steam cleaning. Heat treating is a stable and accepted process, which has been used by the jewelry industry for thousands of years. However, when buying any colored gemstone, ask if the stone is of natural origin or if it has been treated in any way to enhance its beauty.
Traditionally associated with royalty and luxury, the amethyst has become the February birthstone in this century. Amethyst is tough and durable, wears well, and gives modern men and women the look of royalty at very affordable prices.
March – Aquamarine
Aquamarine, the lovely blue-green member of the beryl family, has been used in jewelry since the third century B.C. and is one of the most fashionable gemstones today. For hundreds of years it was called “The Sailor’s Stone,” due to its sea-like colors, ranging from a pale sky blue to a deep blue-green, and was thought to protect sailors and people traveling over water.
The earliest aquamarine probably came from India, where it was highly regarded by Hindu mystics as an aid to promoting mental clarity and to improving one’s public speaking.
Medieval alchemists believed aquamarine would prevent excess water retention in the body and enhance the digestive and eliminative functions. In the medieval alchemical charts of gem properties, aquamarine is shown as ruling the kidneys, bladder and urethra. 19th Century Chinese carvers produced snuff bottles and delicate figurines out of larger pieces of aquamarine, because it is easy to carve and polishes beautifully.
Even today, many people who believe in the spiritual properties of gemstones wear aquamarine to give them religious and mental inspiration, provide inner calm and enhance both verbal and written communication. Aquamarine’s popularity helped make it a March birthstone earlier this century.
Queen Elizabeth II owns a matched set of aquamarine necklace, bracelet and earrings given to her by the Brazilian people shortly after her coronation in 1953. The Queen has added a matching tiara and sometimes wears the entire aquamarine ensemble for state occasions or diplomatic receptions.
Aquamarine has always been available in small sizes from one-half carat up to 10-carat stones. However, finds in Brazil and Africa have made aquamarine of much larger sizes more accessible for use in jewelry.
Aquamarine is tough, durable and takes an excellent polish. Aquas can be worn in rings and bracelets with minimal risk if the settings are designed to protect the gems. Avoid steam cleaning or excess heat. Clear stones, called eye-clean, are free of inclusions to the naked eye and can be worn under most conditions.
Recently designers have begun combining aquamarines with golden citrines, emeralds or tsavorite garnets, sapphires and pink tourmalines to provide fresh fashion color palettes.
You don’t have to be a sailor or a March-born baby to enjoy the beauty and sparkle of aquamarine. It’s a year-round treasure of a gem.
April – Diamond
April is the luckiest month of all, since diamonds are its birthstone. More and more women are dressing in these brilliant, dazzling gemstones as effortlessly as they throw on their favorite sweater. Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry and super models Cindy Crawford and Stella Tennant, among others, are seen everywhere wearing their diamond solitaire necklaces.
Most diamonds are more than 100 million years old, and many are over three billion years old, making diamonds the oldest of all gemstones. They are also the hardest substance known to man, made of carbon that is crystallized deep within the earth.
First discovered over 3,000 years ago in India, diamonds are found today in remote parts of the world, such as Australia, Russia, Botswana, and South Africa. Their unique hardness and high refractive index have inspired legends. To the Greeks, they were teardrops from the gods. To the Romans, they came from the falling stars that tipped the arrow of Eros, the god of love. For Hindus, diamonds were the lightning that armed the hand of the god Indra.
Women are now buying diamonds for themselves. What’s new is that customers are more educated, and as more and more women gain professional ranks, they want quality stones.
When it comes to wearing diamonds, there’s no wrong way. Diamond brooches adorn business suits. Diamond studs are worn to the gym. This ground swell of wearing diamonds every day started a few years back when designers like John Galliano and Donna Karan popularized them on their runways. Most recently, Galliano and other major European designers showed elaborate Belle Époque settings, and Oscar de la Renta showed diamonds exclusively in his collections. A lot of upwardly mobile professional women took note. They are today’s diamond customers who want diamonds, can afford them, and don’t have to wait for an engagement or 25th wedding anniversary to own them.
Nor is there one style or trend that customers want. Never before have so many American designers marketed diamond jewelry under their own names. Noteworthy are Henry Dunay, Whitney Boin, Jose Hess and Michael Bondanza. And at Tiffany’s, their classic six-prong setting is always popular, but the store’s Diamonds By the Yard necklaces of round diamonds set in platinum or 18 karat gold typify the diamonds-for-day trend.
When purchasing diamonds, customers are adhering to the 4 C’s — cut, color, clarity, and carat weight — but increasingly, they seek finer cut stones. Customers should understand that it is the cutting that releases the true brilliance of a stone.
With something so precious, remember to rely on a well-established jeweler, with a wide selection of merchandise, who is qualified to determine a diamond’s value and quality. Little wonder the Greeks named diamonds “adamas.” It means unconquerable.
May – Emerald
How would you like to wear a gemstone that could protect you from illness and let you see into the future? According to ancient belief, an emerald could do just that. Regardless of these legendary attributes, however, few would deny the pleasure and delight of owning May’s mesmerizing green birthstone.
Since approximately 2000 B.C., emeralds have been prized by connoisseurs and sought after by the rich and powerful. They were mined near the Red Sea during the time of Cleopatra, who wore her emeralds lavishly. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers in South America were amazed to find magnificent emeralds in the possession of the Aztecs and Incas.
The source for many of these stones was Colombia, whose emeralds were regarded by experts as the ultimate in quality and color. In fact, the world’s largest emerald crystal, at 7,052 carats, was discovered in 1969 in the Cruces Mines in Gachala, Colombia. Although this country remains the world’s largest supplier of the fascinating green gem, many exceptional emeralds on the market today come from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Brazil.
When buying an emerald, the most important factor is color; the more vivid the green, the more valuable the stone. Don’t be put off by a few fissures, or inclusions, in your stone, experts advise. It is rare to find an emerald without these natural birthmarks, and they do not detract from the stone’s beauty or value as they might with another type of stone. However, these fissures do affect an emerald’s care.
For thousands of years, gem dealers have sought to purify the color of their inclusions by immersing them in clear oils or paraffin. In addition to these ancient methods, clear resins are often used today to enhance the clarity of emeralds. Using hot water, steam, chemicals, ammonia or an ultrasonic cleaner could remove oils or resins and damage the stone.
Emeralds will remain beautiful and durable for years if taken care of properly. Do what the experts advise: Avoid abrupt temperature changes and contact with rough or sharp surfaces, including those of other gemstones. Store your emeralds in a fabric-lined jewelry box or wrap them in a soft cloth or tissue. To ensure a long and safe life, have your jeweler check the setting at least once a year and clean the stone at that time.
Designers of emerald jewelry use a wide variety of different cuts. For example, you can choose from the traditional rectangular step-cut, known as the “emerald cut,” as well as a variety of rounds, ovals, squares, marquises or round-top cabochons. The choice of cut is a personal one and does not affect the stone’s value.
While there is no official alternate choice for May’s birthstone, those seeking a different stone could choose one with an equally vivid shade of green. These include tsavorite garnet, green tourmaline or the less-known, but equally beautiful chrome diopside.
Whether the emerald actually has the power to heal maladies or improve vision as some ancient peoples believed, few can resist its universal beauty. Regarded as one of the rarest and most precious gemstones in the world, a verdant green emerald set into a ring or pendant can bring years of pleasure to the lucky owner.
June – Pearl
For many, June reminds us of the first days of summer and carefree weekends spent at favorite vacation spots. But one of the things least associated with June is the pearl, and for centuries, the pearl has been this month’s official birthstone.
In ancient mythology the pearl has been connected to the moon mainly because of its soft glowing appearance and the belief that pearls were formed from the teardrops of the moon that fell into the sea. The pearl, throughout history, has also come to symbolize various traits thought to reflect those individuals born in the month of June. Such virtues include purity, wisdom, charity and loyalty.
In ancient Greece, it was believed that pearls had the power to prevent newly wed brides from crying and to promote happiness among all those who wore them. More than 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese believed pearls had the power to perpetuate eternal youth. Even to this day, pearls are often ground up and used in Chinese cosmetics and serums to promote youthful looking skin.
The qualities that make the pearl special also make it a perfect gift for the woman born in June. The gift of cultured pearls not only celebrates a woman’s birthday, but gives a woman a lifetime treasure, steeped in historical lore and tradition.
Distinguishing fine quality cultured pearls need not be a mystery for consumers. Jewelry Information Center advises consumers to consider several factors that will help them buy the best quality cultured pearls they can afford.
Luster – The first thing to look for is luster. Luster is the brilliant sheen and deep inner glow that gives a pearl its appeal and, most importantly, its value. Pearls that look too dull or chalky are a sure sign of poor quality.
Clean Surface – The second criteria is a clean surface. Since cultured pearls are grown by live oysters, it’s rare to find a pearl whose surface is completely free of any type of blemish. Blemishes often appear on the surface of a pearl as bumps, cracks and indentations. The less blemishes on the face of a pearl, the prettier and more valuable it will be.
Shape – The shape of a pearl is equally important. It’s difficult for an oyster to produce a perfectly round pearl, so naturally those pearls are rare and quite valuable. However, slightly off-round pearls can appear to be round from a distance of two feet or more and are a perfectly acceptable substitute. Baroque cultured pearls, or irregularly shaped pearls, have a uniquely interesting look in their own right, and can cost a fraction of what one would pay for a perfectly round pearl.
Knowing the criteria that determines cultured pearl quality will help shoppers feel confident selecting pearls that will give them the most beauty and best value for their budget and personal styles.
July – Ruby
Just as diamonds have become the gem of romance, ruby has been the gem of passion and the heart’s desire since the dawn of time. Because of its lovely red color, ruby has been associated with the heart, the blood and the centers of passion throughout its history.
In ancient India, ruby was highly valued for three distinct purposes. Mystics used rubies to stimulate spiritual creativity and religious devotion. Healers believed that rubies could heal diseases of the pelvic cavity and generative organs as well as the heart and the blood. Soldiers wore rubies to staunch the blood of wounds received in battle and as a talisman against getting shot by arrows.
Many of the Hindu beliefs about rubies were passed along the trade routes to Greek and Roman cultures. Ancient Greek women believed that wearing ruby could bring them love and physical beauty. Many Roman nobles had intaglio rings carved out of ruby to protect their wealth and health.
Rubies were considered the wedding stone through the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, as they were supposed to keep passion alive and promote lasting love and contentment in marriage.
In modern times, ruby has become the July birthstone, fifteenth and fortieth anniversary stone, and the gem of Cancer. Sharing the same physical properties as its fellow corundum sapphire, ruby’s vibrant color and durability make it a popular choice. These days, ruby-lovers are in luck. New sources of supply in India, Africa Vietnam and Thailand have made lovely rubies in all sizes and colors more readily available than in previous years.
Rubies come in many shades of red. Rubies tend to be priced by color. The closer a gem is to the vivid red ‘pigeon’s blood’ color, the higher the price. Many rubies are enhanced by heat treating to improve color, but the color is stable after treatment and does not require special care. Some rubies have fissures or surface breaks that are filled with a glass-like byproduct of the heating process. These stones do require special care in cleaning and wearing, but they are generally more affordable.
For those with a passion for red gems, there are several affordable alternatives to rubies. Garnets offer a wide range of red colors with plenty of fire. Red tourmaline, sometimes called rubellite, provides light to dark purplish reds. And red spinel is sometimes used as a ruby substitute because of its pure medium to deep red colors. Any of these, along with ruby, can satisfy the passion for lovely red gemstones.
August – Peridot
Looking at the popularity and profusion of peridot as August’s birthstone, it’s hard to believe that for almost 2,000 years the original source of this lovely summer gem was lost in the mists of history.
In fact, the island of Zeberget, today called the Isle of Saint John, was literally lost in banks of fog off the coast of Egypt until the early 1900s, making the yellowish green peridot from the island so rare as to become the almost legendary.
In ancient times, mariners and pirates believed that peridot would glow in the dark whenever it was near buried treasure or hidden ore veins, particularly of gold or silver.
Medieval alchemists used peridot in amulets to protect the wearer from demons, but by Renaissance times, peridot had become a love stone, worn to attract romance.
Eastern mystics recommended peridot to stimulate tissue regeneration. More common uses for peridot were to attract wealth and prosperity, or to ward off stress.
In this century, peridot has become the August birthstone, the 16th anniversary gem, and the zodiac stone for Leo. It has also been alleged to encourage a positive emotional outlook on life, to prevent fear or guilt, and to help develop patience.
The good news for peridot lovers is that new American sources for peridot in gorgeous clear yellowish green colors have made peridot both more available and lovelier than ever. Peridot takes a great polish, and it’s easy to match colors in the smaller stones for bracelets, necklace and earrings.
September – Sapphire
Sapphire has held a special place in the hearts and minds of mankind ever since the first pebbles of this lovely blue corundum were found in Indian and Asian rivers centuries ago. Though sapphire grows in the ground like most gemstones, it is often washed down into riverbeds, called alluvial deposits, where its bright blue colors would easily catch the eye of ancient treasure hunters.
Blue sapphire was valued by ancient Hindu mystics as the key to developing wisdom and spiritual progress. By Roman times, blue sapphires were used as beads, ring stones, carved intaglios and pendant stones, because they were said to attract divine favor to their owners.
All through the Middle Ages, sapphires were alleged to bring a great destiny to their wearers, and were often used in court and royal jewelry. Alchemists believed that blue sapphires would help them develop clairvoyance, telepathy and divine wisdom.
Today blue sapphire is the September birthstone, the fifth and 45th wedding anniversary gem, and the zodiac gem for Virgo. It has become one of the world’s most popular gems.
Sapphire comes in a wide range of blues, varying from very light blue to a deep blue that is almost black. The very finest sapphires are a velvet, slightly violetish medium to medium dark blue, often called Kashmir blue, after its original location in India. When pricing sapphires, medium blues are usually the most expensive.
One of the most exciting recent developments is the entry of fancy colored sapphires into the jewelry realm. Fancy colored sapphires are those colors of corundum that are not considered ruby or blue sapphire. They can come in green, violet, purple, yellow, gold, pink, light orange, and the famous pinkish-orange color known as Padparadscha, named for the Hindu word ‘lotus.’ Many are affordable and available in large quantities.
To improve a sapphire’s color and clarity, it is often subjected to controlled heating. This is a permanent enhancement that is well accepted by jewelers. Sapphire is second only to diamond in hardness, which made them difficult to facet until modern cutting technology was developed. Cut stones are available in sizes up to 10 carats, with one to five carat gems most common.
Sapphire is remarkably tough and safe in most types of cleaning. However, it should be given the same care as any other precious gem to avoid scratching. Most damage to sapphires occurs from rubbing them against another sapphire or diamond, careless handling and hard knocks directly to the stones.
With the magnificent range of sapphire colors available at all price levels today, sapphire is not just the gem of wisdom, it’s a wise buy as well.
October – Opal or Tourmaline
Many people are unaware that Opal, one of October’s birthstones, is Australia ‘s national gemstone. Australia not only mines 95 per cent of the world’s precious black and white opal but offers opals of many varieties used in jewelry, including milky opal, jelly opal, boulder opal, crystal opal and some fire opal.
Opals have been used for everything from easing childbirth to bringing strength in battle. Long known as the Wish Stone, opal is supposed to promote love and romance and grant wishes and personal happiness.
There was a time, in nineteenth century Britain , when opal was considered bad luck for anyone not born in October. This was largely because Sir Walter Scott, portrayed opal as bringing bad luck and death to one of his fictional heroines, Anne of Girstein. However, Queen Victoria, who adored opals, helped to dispel this notion by giving opals to all of her daughters, whether born in October or not. Thus, opal gained a wider popularity than ever, especially when the brighter gem and black opals from Australia became available.
The most common and affordable variety is milky or white opal because it shows a play of color against a white opaque background. Color patches or tiny flashes called ‘pinfire’ are usually light and bright pinks and greens.
Jelly opals and crystal opals are transparent to translucent, with a subtle sheen of color dancing through the gem, rather than color patches.
The most valuable opals, known as black or gem opals, feature large, luminescent areas of one or more bright colors against a dark background. Opals are rarely treated to enhance their color, however they can be quite delicate and should not be exposed to steam cleaning or excess acids. The best cleaning method is with a soft damp or dry cloth.
Opal has a long history, dating back to the pre-Roman times, milky opals with patches of pastel red, blue and green were mined in what is now Hungary . The more familiar black opal or gem opal, with brilliant flashes of red, blue, green and gold, was not discovered until the late 19th century in Australia . Today opals are also mined in Mexico , Brazil , United States and Canada .
People born in October have tourmaline as another option for their birthstone. Like opal, tourmaline comes in a wide range of colors and sizes, ranging from dainty to huge, at virtually every price level. Also like opal, tourmaline is said to bring high energy, good luck, creativity and romance, depending on its color.
October babies are not the only ones who can enjoy the versatility and variety of opal and tourmaline rainbows available. Both gems are lovely to wear and easy to acquire.
November – Topaz or Citrineopaz
November’s primary birthstone, has one of the most confusing histories of any popular gem. Though topaz has been known since antiquity, it has suffered from considerable misidentification since ancient times, most often being confused with citrine, the alternative November birthstone.
Both topaz and citrine were found on an island in the Mediterranean called Topazios in ancient times. Since the two gems were alike in color, though not in size or form, they were often mixed up. The most common topaz colors are brown, yellow, yellow-gold, and orange, all very similar to the shades of citrine.
The finest reddish orange topaz, called Imperial topaz, can resemble exceptional Padparadscha sapphire. Orange, reds and pinks are the rarest topaz colors, and the light green, purple-red, and colorless varieties of topaz are easily mistaken for other gemstones.
Even with this confusion, topaz accumulated an impressive body of alleged healing properties. Topaz is reputed to increase understanding, strengthen breathing, prevent colds, enhance creativity, bring relaxation, control angry passions, restore energy, and aid in tissue regeneration.
Topaz was often used to promote wisdom in its wearer, which may explain the medieval custom of giving topaz rings to heads of state, diplomats, and royalty. The gems in Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII are most certainly golden brown topazes, as no other gem in that color was considered suitable for royalty at the time.
Blue topaz is the fourth anniversary gemstone, and Imperial topaz is the gemstone for 23rd wedding anniversaries. Topaz is the zodiacal stone for Sagittarius.
Nature rarely produces a blue topaz. However, in the 20th century, due to the advent of safe enhancement technology, blue topaz has become available and a popular gemstone for jewelry. Most blue topaz is colorless topaz that has been irradiated and heat treated to produce its blue color. The blue color created by this treatment process is permanent and stable under normal care conditions.
Blue topaz comes in light to deep blues, which are valued and priced according to the beauty of their color. The more saturated the color, the higher the price.
Topaz can be delicate and requires special care to avoid breaking under rough wear. Look for jewelry with mountings that protect the topaz, so that it’s less likely to break if dropped or hit. Earrings, pins, bangle bracelets and pendants are safer for daily wear than rings or flexible bracelets. Warm, soapy water is the best way to clean topaz jewelry.
With its new beauty and affordable prices, topaz is a gem that any wise buyer can enjoy.
December – Turquoise or Tanzanite
Turquoise is one of the oldest and best-known opaque gemstones, found widely among ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Mesopotamian artifacts dating back before 3000 B.C.
The name turquoise means “Turkish stone,” because the trade route that brought the gem to Europe came through Turkey. The first known deposits were found in ancient Turkey, then later in Egypt. Turquoise, with its robin’s egg blue hue, has graced the necks of Egyptian Pharaohs and adorned early native Americans in their ceremonial dress.
Cleopatra probably used ground-up turquoise for eye paint, as well as wearing turquoise in her jewelry. Tutankhamen’s tomb was filled with examples of turquoise inlay, beads, sculpture, and slabs used in everything from jewelry and furniture to the great sarcophagus and death masks.
From its beginnings, turquoise was not exclusively a gem for the rich. Cavalry soldiers in most ancient armies carried pieces of turquoise or wore turquoise rings to keep them from falling off their horses. Children in several cultures were given turquoise charms to protect them from harm, prevent nightmares, and to grant them restful sleep.
During the 16th century, turquoise was used as currency by the southwest Indians. They believed the gem could bring spoils to the warrior, animals to the hunter and happiness to all. Four centuries later turquoise became December’s best-known birthstone.
Lighter pieces are sometimes impregnated with a colorless wax or plastic to seal the pores and deepen color. As with any gemstone, ask the jeweler if the stone has been treated in any way that might affect its care or cleaning.
Turquoise is as beautiful, popular and affordable as it was 5,000 years ago. With new sources being found in China and Australia, as well as the established mines in the U.S., Mexico and Chile, turquoise will continue to be a gem that is as easy on the budget as it is on the eye.
In 2002, the American Gem Trade Association officially added tanzanite to the traditional list of birthstones for the month of December.