Historical Birthstones, Modern Birthstones: Your Birth Stone
Over the years we have been asked –by, it sometimes seems, everyone– to show examples of the January birthstone, the April birthstone, Mom’s birthstone, Dad’s birthstone, my birthstone: We always answer people the same way, “Pick a stone, any stone. It has probably been (or will be) the birthsone you are looking for at some point in history.”
This is a frustrating answer to a frustrating question. Over the years, in different places and at different times (and sometimes the same time), there have been (and are) many different birthstone lists & accepted birthstones for the various months.
Style, cost, availability & appearance have all played a roll in the development of the various birthstone charts. Until relatively recently most people identified most stones almost solely on the basis of appearance: If a stone was yellow and sparkled people called it a Topaz, if a stone was green and looked like Jade people called it Jade, if a stone was a rich ruby red people called it a Ruby. As a result there are occasionally several different stones that are accepted for a certain month simply because in appearance certain types of each stone are very similar. [Thus Citrine & Golden Topaz may both be acceptable for a certain month, while blue Zircon & blue Topaz may both be acceptable for another month.]
Cost & availability have also played a significant role in the development of historical and modern birthstone lists. Occasionally certain stones are prohibitively expensive for the average person and a less expensive alternate stone is substituted. Occasionally –due to political situations or mine closures– certain stones become unavailable while other stones –due to new mining developments or changed political situations– become readily available.
And, once in a while, a certain stone becomes wildly popular –or someone wants to make it wildly popular– and it is added to the list, or a new niche chart is created. [For instance: There are country and state specific Birth Stone charts that feature stones that can be found in specific countries or states. There are also Birth Stone charts based on different calendar systems (Zodiac signs are a perennial favorite). And there are charts with specific religious focuses.]
Thus said, we don’t ever believe that anyone should feel limitted to a specific birthstone, or compelled to have an example of that birthstone. We don’t use Birth Stone charts as selling aids (a truly cynical person could claim that Birth Stone charts are just a very persistent marketing technique) but we are fascinated by the history and diversity of Birth Stone charts and the idea of Birth Stones. So, in an effort to provide a few more Birth Stone choices, we have compiled a very diverse, very un-authoritative, list that incorporates some of the traditional (popular late 19th century) birth stones and some of the historical (pre 1850s, often country specific) birthstones as well as some modern alternatives that may be slightly more available.
Garnet has been associated with the month of January since biblical times and it is still generally considered the traditional birth stone of January. This is one of the few months for which the historical, traditional & modern birth stones are almost always identical. Significantly, Hyacinth, the gemstone most frequently offered as a January alternative, is in appearance similar to a red garnet. [Hyacinth is an antique name for a reddish-yellow variety of Zircon.] However, while red is traditionally the color associated with garnets, garnets actually occur in a wide variety of colors. Some are extremely rare, but an orangey yellow Hessonite or Spessartite garnet might be a good choice for someone who wants something a little bit different.
Historically Amethyst is the stone most frequently associated with this month. However (since at least the 16th century) Hyacinth, Jasper & Pearl have also been associated with this month. Amethyst is still considered the popular ‘traditional’ choice for the month of February. However, as the deep purple of Amethyst can fade when exposed to sunlight it might be wise to consider Amethyst an evening stone and wear an alternative (more color fast) stone in daylight.
Historically Jasper & Bloodstone have been almost equally popular as the birth stone for this month. However, as both of these stones are hard stones typically cut en cabochon, in modern times (19th c. on) both Aquamarine and Pearl were suggested as alternate stones for the month of March. Currently, Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) is generally considered the traditional choice for March.
Historically, Sapphire was the most frequent birth stone choice for this month. However, both Peridot & Topaz have also been associated with this month. And, beginning in the 18th century (or earlier) diamond was also occasionally listed as a birthstone for this month. Today Diamond is considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month. However, due to the expense of Diamonds in comparison to other stones, throughout the twentieth century both White Topaz and Pearl were occasionally offered as April alternatives. For people who want a little bit more variety, a return to Sapphire (available in many different colors) may be a good choice.
Historically, the Summer months have some of the most diverse birth stone lists associated with them. May has had at least 4 different historically popular gemstones associated with it: Emerald, Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony. Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony are all silicates (and all related). However, they can differ widely in appearance (and none resembles Emerald). Emerald (the green variety of Beryl) has maintained its popularity as a May gemstone for centuries and is today generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone for the month of May.
Historically, Emerald has also been a popular birth stone choice for June. However, Agate (of different types and colors), Chalcedony, Turquoise, Ruby, Pearl, and Cat’s Eye have also been associated with June. In recent years (19th c. on) both Pearl and Moonstone have been identified as ‘traditional’ June birth stones. One of the few characteristics that June birth stones share is the number of different mottled, striped, opalescent or cat’s eye affects apparent in some of these stones. [Agate & Chalcedony are often spotted or otherwise patterned. Turquoise can be multi-colored or have a spiderweb pattern. Chalcedony, Moonstone, Pearl and Cat’s Eyes all have opalescent qualities. And Moonstone may also have a semi-cat’s eye effect.]
Historically, Onyx, Sardonyx, Carnelian, Ruby, Lapis, Turquoise & Sapphire have all been associated with the month of July. Until the Renaissance the darker stones –Onyx, Sard, and more rarely Carnelian and Ruby– were the stones most frequently associated with July. However, from the 16th century on blue stones –particularly Turquoise, Lapis and Sapphire– were also associated with the month of July. In recent years Ruby has been identified as the ‘traditional’ July birth stone.
Historically, Carnelian and Sardonyx are the two stones most commonly associated with this month. However, Moonstone and Topaz have also been (less popular) historical choices while Alexandrite is the Russian stone of choice. More recently Sard, Peridot and Alexandrite have been associated with August.
Historically, Chrysolite, Sapphire & Sardonyx were all associated with this month. More recently Sapphire has been identified as the ‘traditional’ birth stone for September.
Historically, watery blue colors are most frequently associated with this month. Colorless Beryl (also known as Goshenite), Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) and Opal are popular historical choices for October. Coral (not technically a stone) has also been associated with this month. More recently (late 19th c.) Tourmaline was introduced as an alternative gemstone for this month. Currently Aquamarine and Opal are considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choices for this month.
Historically, Topaz has always been the stone most frequently associated with this month. However, beginning in the Renaissance Pearls also became a popular choice for November. Amethyst may occasionally also have been associated with this month. Today Topaz is still generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month.
There are radical differences between the stones historically associated with the month of December and the stones now identified as the ‘traditional’ choice for December. Historically Ruby is the stone most commonly associated with December. However, beginning in the 16th century Turquoise, Chrysoprase, Bloodstone, Topaz and Beryl were also (less frequently) associated with this month. In the late 19th century blue became a fashionable color for winter months. In the twentieth century Blue Zircon, Blue Topaz and Turquoise were all identified with December. Currently Turquoise is generally considered the ‘traditional’ choice for this month. Natural Turquoise is now one of the rarest and highly sought after of the semi-precious gem. (While there is a significant amount of altered, manufactured or simply fake “Turquoise” on the market we at Nagle Forge & Foundry still take a great deal of pride sourcing the majority of the Turquoise we use from named American mines and fully dsclose all treatments.