The origin of the 12 birthstones has a long and symbolic history that dates back thousands of years – often bearing both biblical and astrological meanings.
The first evidence of gemstones being associated with months of the year was reportedly recorded in the Bible. The story tells the tale of high priest of the Israelities, Aaron, who wore a breastplate that hosted 12 gemstones across his chest.
According to the Biblical description, the 12 gemstones had to acquire different minerals, none of them the same, with each representing a tribe of Israel.
Contrastingly, the origin of the birthstones is also linked to astrology. Each gemstone is determined by the position of the planets at the time of birth. This theory coincides with the astrological signs of the zodiac.
Wearers are reportedly supposed to wear the appropriate gemstone during the ascendancy of the parallel sign. This is said to activate the special powers of the stone, all the while being therapeutic and talismanic.
It is the modern list of birthstones however, that most people are familiar with. In 1912 the National Association of Jewelers (Jewelers of America) created the order and selection of the stones we use today. The only stone that has changed since that time is December, which was formerly turquoise and is now Tanzanite.
Below is the contemporary list of birthstones. Click on each to find out more about these striking stones.
PURITY • TRUTH
Deep red is generally the colour that comes to mind when thinking of garnets. The use of garnet dates back to biblical times, with several references to the gemstone in the Bible. Legend has it that a large garnet adorned a pedestal in the middle of Noah's Ark. The brightness of the stone was said to illuminate the sea, allowing the ship to travel safely through the night. Click here for images.
STABILITY • PEACE
This gemstone has been used for thousands of years for magic, healing and psychic empowerment. Amethyst is seen as a spiritual stone because its purple colour is the same as that of the crown (head) chakra. It is also believed to calm the emotions and reduce stress, transmit the healing power of the universe and increase psychic awareness. Click here for images.
FAITH • COURAGE
The word aquamarine is Latin for seawater. Aquamarine's association with the sea comes from the brilliant range of hues in which it appears - from an almost transparent blue to a deep ocean azure. It is renowned for its soothing and calming qualities and is said to bring joy, happiness and peace. Click here for images.
BALANCE • CLARITY
Considered the most famous of gemstones, diamonds have taken pride of place in the hearts of many women throughout recent history. Largely as a result of clever marketing, the diamond is now renowned as "a girl's best friend" and has become the traditional stone used in engagement rings. Click here for images.
LOYALTY • FAITHFULNESS
Emerald, a mystical stone known to soothe weary eyes and instill the wearer with wisdom, has long been perceived as one of the more “talented” stones. With a colour that reflects new spring growth, the emerald was the perfect birthstone choice for May in the Northern Hemisphere. Click here for images.
MODESTY • FRIENDSHIP
Pearls are the most romantic of gemstones, perhaps because of the ancient legend surrounding their first appearance. Myth has it that the first pearls were made when Venus, the Goddess of Love, came out of the sea shaking herself dry. The water droplets that propelled off her body reputedly hardened into pearls and fell back into the sea. Click here for images.
DEVOTION • INTEGRITY
Next to diamonds, the ruby is often referred to as the most expensive gemstone in the world. The vivid red colour of the ruby is the most attractive characteristic of the stone. Often associated with fire and blood, the gemstone invokes powerful feelings of warmth for mankind. Click here for images.
LOVE • TRUST
Known as the gemstone born in fire, Peridot can be found in volcanic rock. The Romans called it the evening emerald, whereas the Greeks believed it bestowed royal dignity upon its wearer. However, the Egyptians dubbed it the gemstone of the sun because of its ability to ward-off anxiety. Click here for images.
TRUTH • SINCERITY
So well-reputed is the sapphire’s radiant blue colour that, according to legend, a giant sapphire, upon which the Earth reportedly rested, was believed to have given its reflection to the sky. The French believed that the sapphire transformed stupidity to wisdom, and petulance to good temper, while warriors presented their wives with sapphire necklaces so they would remain faithful; the stone's colour was thought to darken if worn by an adulterer. Click here for images.
HAPPINESS • CONFIDENCE
Is there any other gemstone more mysterious and captivating than the opal? An Aboriginal dreamtime legend has its own explanation for the creation of opals, which tells the tale of the creator coming to earth on a rainbow in order to bring the message of peace to all human kind. When his foot touched the ground, the stones were awakened and started sparkling in every colour of the rainbow. Click here for images.
FRIENDSHIP • LOYALTY
Sparkling gems make everyone smile, but Citrine is the true “happy stone”. It gets its name from the French word “citron”, meaning lemon, and emanates a yellow that's not dissimilar to the warmth of sunshine. Click here for images.
PROSPERITY • SUCCESS
Tanzanite was discovered in 1966 close to Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Often mistaken for sapphire, Tanzanite adopts a purple tinge upon closer inspection. The stone gained worldwide recognition when the founder of Tiffany & Co, Louis Comfort, began using it in his jewellery pieces. Click here for images.