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The Ultimate Guide to Birthstones

Everything you need to know

The tradition of birthstones has been around for so long you probably think the list of gems is, um, set in stone, right? Wrong. Despite the fact that the concept has roots going back to Biblical times, the list has been updated as recently as two years ago.

The essence of the modern American list was created in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers, the group that is known today as Jeweler’s of America. It was an effort to organize the gems that had been associated with various months over the centuries. After that landmark moment you would think the list still would be complete, but no. In 2016 Jeweler’s of America added spinel to the month of August. JA President and CEO David Bonaparte told National Jeweler, “At certain moments in history, when there is a strong call from gem enthusiasts to expand the list of official birthstones, Jewelers of America believes in recognizing the importance of historically significant gemstones and giving gemstone lovers a choice that suits their preferences.” So, if you are not fond of your birthstone, consider beginning a campaign for a new one.

Among the numerous stories about the therapeutic influence of gemstones, it is generally agreed that wearing a gemstone during the month it is the birthstone heightens its healing powers. Read on to learn what else the gems are thought to do, a little about their histories, where they come from and other fun facts. Since there is no set way to wear birthstones most are illustrated with a historic jewel and a contemporary design as a way of showing a thread line through time of how a gem has been mounted in jewelry.

An array of colorful gems


Birthstone: Garnet

What’s in a Name: Derived from the Latin word for seed, granatum, the seed in the case of garnet is the red shade of a pomegranate seed.

Some Places Where it’s Found: Czech Republic, Greece, Russian, Tanzania, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and India

True Colors: While the most widely known color is the red of the Pyrope Garnet, the stone comes in lots of other shades including orange Mandarin Garnets and green Tsavorite Garnets.


Birthstone: Amethyst

What’s in a Name: The word for sober in ancient Greek, amethustos, oddly enough inspired the word amethyst. While it sounds like the wordsmiths might have been drinking when they came up with this one, the term was actually based on the belief that an amethyst could prevent the person wearing it from becoming drunk.

Some Places Where it’s Found: United States, Canada, Brazil and Zambia

True Colors: Ranging from deep purple to pastel pink, the variety of quartz often occurs in geodes or in the cavities of granitic rocks.


Birthstone: Aquamarine

What’s in a Name: The serenely colored aquamarine invokes the tranquility of the two Latin words that inspired its name: aqua for water and marina, for sea.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Brazil, Nigeria, Madagascar, Zambia, Pakistan, and Mozambique

True Colors: Aquamarines range in color from pale to deep blue with several greenish blue varieties.


Birthstone: Diamond

What’s in a Name: The Greek words adamas meaning unbreakable and diaphanus for transparent were merged together to form the term diamond.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Australia, Botswana, Canada, South Africa and Russia

True Colors: Most diamonds are transparent or white. The gem also comes in all colors of the rainbow. Any diamond other than a white diamond is called a fancy colored diamond.


Birthstone: Emerald

What’s in a Name: Unlike other gems, it is difficult to find the root of the word emerald in the Latin term for the gem smaragdus.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia

True Colors: Emerald ranges from yellow-green to blue-green with the finest being a pure green hue.


Pearl and Moonstone

Birthstone: Pearl

What’s In A Name: The name pearl originates from the Latin word for leg, perna. It rather imaginatively is a reference to the leg-of-mutton shape of an open mollusk shell.

Some Places Where It’s Found: China, Australia, Philippines and Indonesia

True Colors: The only gem made by living creatures, pearls come in a range of colors from white to black Tahitian pearls and rare pink Conch pearls.


Birthstone: Ruby

What’s in a Name: The name ruby comes from the Latin word for red, rubeus.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Middle East, East Africa and the United States

True Colors: The rich red color of the ruby is caused by the element chromium, which also makes the gem glow from within. While it sounds awful, the best color of rubies is called “pigeon’s blood.”


Peridot, Spinel and Sardonyx

Birthstone: Peridot

What’s in a Name: There is some debate about the origin of the term, but most believe it comes from the Greek word for giving plenty, peridona.

Where It’s Found: Arizona, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Africa

True Colors: It is one of the only gemstones that forms in only one color green. The shades range from lime green to olive and brown, depending on how much iron is present.


Birthstone: Sapphire

What’s in a Name: The name sapphire comes from the Latin sapphirus and Greek sappheiros. Both mean blue stone.

Where It’s Found: Kashmir, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and India among other places.

True Colors: Although sapphire is generally understood to mean a blue, the gem comes in every color of the rainbow except red. When the sapphire mineral corundum is red, it is a ruby.


Opal and Tourmaline

Birthstone: Opal

What’s in a Name: The name opal originates from the Greek word opallios, which meant to see a change in color.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Australia, Brazil, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Czech Republic

True Colors: Microscopic silica spheres that diffract light to display various colors of the rainbow create a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind color combination, also called Precious Opals.


Topaz and Citrine

Birthstone: Topaz

What’s in a Name: The name topaz derives from Topazios, the ancient Greek name for St. John’s Island in the Red Sea.

Some Places Where it’s Found: Brazil, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Nigeria, Germany, and the United States

True Colors: Pure topaz is colorless. Impurities tint the stone to a variety of colors like blue, pink, yellow and brown. The most desirable type is the rich orange of Imperial Topaz.


Turquoise and Tanzanite

Month: December

Birthstone: Turquoise

What’s in a Name: The word turquoise comes from the French tourques for Turkish stone. Traders from Turkey introduced the Persian blue stone to Europe via the Silk Road in the 13th century.

Some Places Where It’s Found: Iran and the United States

True Colors: Turquoise ranges in color from powdery blue to greenish robin’s egg blue.

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