What is the History of Birthstones?

What is the History of Birthstones?

Birthstone Jewelry in Washington, DC | Sterling and Burke Ltd

The history of birth stones can be traced back thousands of years.  There are several interpretations as to how birthstones came to correspond with specific birth months and different cultures have different beliefs regarding this.

Gemstones in the Bible

According to the book of Exodus in the Bible, a Hebrew high priest named Aaron was ordered by God to create a breastplate with twelve gemstones. These twelve gemstones have been linked to today's modern birthstones. The stones were set in four rows of three and were mounted in gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes. The stones were:

  • Sardius, topaz, and carbuncle
  • Emerald, sapphire, and diamond
  • Ligure, agate, and amethyst
  • Beryl, onyx, and jasper

Gemstones and the Apostles

During the eighth and ninth centuries, Christians assigned stones to represent the twelve apostles:

  • Simon Peter - jasper
  • Andrew - ruby
  • James and John - emerald
  • Philip - carnelian
  • Bartholomew - peridot
  • Thomas - aquamarine
  • Matthew - topaz
  • James - sardonyx
  • Thaddeus - chrysoprase
  • Simon - zircon
  • Matthias - amethyst
  • Paul - sapphire

Revelations

In the Bible's book of Revelations, the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem are listed in order of the Roman calendar they included:

  1. Jasper
  2. Sapphire
  3. Chalcedony
  4. Emerald
  5. Sardonyx
  6. Sardius
  7. Chrysolyte
  8. Beryl
  9. Topaz
  10. Chrysoprasus
  11. Jacinth
  12. Amethyst

Astrological Birthstones

It is believed that the astrological birthstone list was Tibetan in origin. The Tibetans attributed mystical powers to each gemstone. For example, they believed that if you wore an amethyst, that regardless of how much you drank, it would protect you from drunkenness. Thousands of years ago in India, the Ayurvedic Indian Medicine list was created. Stones were given mystical and medicinal powers. Some were ground up and actually ingested while others were worn.

Modern Birthstones

As of 1912, the Jewelers of America Association formalized a modern birthstone list that is not only accepted in the United States but worldwide. The following list is the one currently used today to identify the particular stones associated with each month.