A birthstone is a gemstone that represents your month of birth. The tradition of twelve birthstones is said to have arisen from the breastplate worn by Aaron, the brother of Moses. Aaron became the leader of the Levitical tribe of Israel. It was the Jewish historian, Josephus, who made the connection between the 12 stones of the breastplate, the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
However, we cannot be sure what the twelve precious stones actually were. This is because the translations of the passage in Exodus that describe the breastplate vary. Not only this, but it is thought by some that it was in fact a different breastplate that Josephus saw, not the one worn by Aaron.
The American National Association of Jewellers published an official list of birthstones in 1912. Although this list was described by one author* as being “nothing but a piece of unfounded salesmanship”, it has since been adopted by other jeweller’s associations and updated. The modern list published by the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA) is as follows:
List of Birthstones As Adopted by the JAA
Different cultures have their own birthstone lists, but it is a commonly held belief that birthstones have special powers to heal. It is also thought to be greatly therapeutic to wear your birthstone.
And of course giving a gift of a person’s birthstone is pretty special and thoughtful. Having said that, not all birthstones are suitable for jewellery that is to be worn every day. Really, it is only diamonds and sapphires that we recommend as being suitable for everyday wear, particularly for an engagement ring. This is because an engagement ring is subject to lots of bumps and knocks, no matter how careful you are with it. Stones that are relatively soft can scratch easily. Other stones that are brittle can chip and fracture.
The Birthstone Tradition
Perhaps Rupert Gleadhow was right when he described the birthstone list as being no true reflection of the historical significance of the original breastplate stones. Basically he was saying that the list was just a jeweller’s marketing tool. However, regardless of what the stones were, it is clear that the tradition of wearing a birthstone is one that dates back many hundreds of years. And it is one that I am sure will continue for many, many years into the future.
- Gleadow, Rupert (2001) The Origin of the Zodiac Dover Publications pp 130 – 131
- Many thanks to Wikipedia, the Jewellers Association of Australia and the American Gem Society for the information in this article