By Bob Werber
Adding a birthstone is a great way to personalize a ring, pendant or other piece of jewelry, whether you’re buying for yourself, your love or a good friend. Besides looking great, birthstones carry all kinds of ancient beliefs, and a few superstitions, about how they can affect your happiness, wealth and health.

The history of birthstones is long and complex. Historians have connected them to stones on the breastplate of Aaron, high priest of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, to the Christian foundation of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelations and to the Gregorian Calendar, which has poems that match each month of the year to a birthstone.

Of course, modern jewelry salesmanship plays a part in the story. The birthstone list we generally use today in the U.S. was put together at a meeting of the National Association of Jewelers in 1912. Some other cultures, particularly Hundu, use a different list. But here are the most widely accepted birthstones for an American shopper:

garnet birthstone for JanuaryJanuary: Garnet
A popular symbol of friendship, garnets have had the distinction as being used as a cure for depression, as abrasives and even as the raw material for a particularly dangerous type of bullet. “Garnet” comes from an old word for “seed.” In their raw form, these gems bear a distinct resemblance to pomegranate seeds. They come in just about every color you can imagine including clear, but red garnets are by far the most popular. The ones you find in jewelry today usually come from Russia, Europe or South Africa.

amethyst birthstoneFebruary: Amethyst
The old Romans believed that amethysts protected them from the intoxicating powers of Bacchus. That’s a curious thing, given that they seemed to love getting highly intoxicated and generally misbehaving during their annual Bacchanalian festivals. In the middle ages, these violet or purple gems came to be seen as symbols of royalty – there are many of them in the British collection of crown jewels. A type of quartz, amethysts are found just about everywhere on earth, though they are most frequently mined from volcanic stone in Africa or Brazil.

March: Aquamarineaquamarine birthstone
Aquamarine, a blue or cyan type of beryl, has been associated with all sorts of things over the years. It’s variously known as a symbol of eternal youth, an elixir that creates good sleep (we suppose that good sleep and youthfulness naturally go together), a treatment for anxiety and an aid to intelligence. It’s even said to help people stop procrastinating! Sailors apparently like to carry aquamarines as a good luck charm to ward off accidents. A mineral that can appear in all sorts of colors, it comes most often from Zambia, Nigeria or Brazil, though it has been found in Colorado and Idaho too. Generally, the larger the stone, the more intense the blue color. In medieval times, some believed that aquamarine could help revive the love of married couples.

unusual celtic cross pendant in silver and goldApril: Diamond
Lucky you if you were born in April. The first people to treasure diamonds were apparently priests in ancient India. Today diamonds are perhaps the number one symbol of pure wealth and style in the world of fashion. That’s one reason that people steal them more than any other type of jewel. About $9 billion worth of these sparklers are mined worldwide every year to satisfy the voracious demand for them. Recently, the rise of synthetic diamonds has posed a competitive problem for DeBeers and other diamond miners. Keep in mind that if you have a fancy-colored diamond in your hand, it’s probably synthetic. The word “diamond” comes from an old word meaning “invincible.”

Irish emerald engagement ringMay: Emerald
This symbol of rebirth enjoys huge popularity in the Irish jewelry world because of it’s rich green hue. Emeralds tend to have flaws in them which are covered up with various treatments including oiling. The vast majority of them come from Columbia, which has increased their production tremendously in recent years. Cleopatra apparently adored them (as did Elisabeth Taylor much later on). Aristotle, not known as a slave to fashion, apparently loved them, while other ancient cultures attached all sorts of magic and protective powers to them. Some even believed that the gems had a life of their own, and would deepen in color as they matured. Today emeralds are associated with healing, luck and love. When American movie star Grace Kelly was engaged, she received a 12 carat emerald-cut diamond ring by Prince Ranier.

pearl trinity knot ringJune: Pearl
Unlike most gems, pearls don’t come from deep in the earth. They grow in various oysters and mussels in the sea. The most valuable ones occur naturally, but these are extremely rare. Most pearls are cultured or farmed. A natural pearl can take years to develop, which a cultured one can often be harvested in just a few months. Though we generally think of them as white, they can come in all sorts of colors. Black Tahitian pearls are particularly prized. They figure strongly in many religious texts. The Qur’an says dwellers of paradise will be adored with them. Some people, by the way, prefer to give moonstones for June rather than pearls.

ruby birthstone ringJuly: Ruby
Rubies are second only to diamonds when it comes to hardness. In olden days, peope believed that they could bless a wearer with all sorts of wonderful things from health to wealth, success in romance and even invulnerability on battle. Rubies are almost a lighter red than garnet or a shade of pink. Most come from a single country: Myanmar formerly Burma). The book of Job says that wisdom is more valuable than rubies, but rubies are quite dear. The famous “Sunrise Ruby,” mounted by Cartier, sold at an auction in Switzerland for $30 million U.S. in 2015.

peridotAugust: Peridot
Peridot is a somewhat lesser-known gem that comes from volcanic lava. Historically, it was thought to be capable of curing asthma and fever, as well as the more emotional malady known as jealousy. All peridot is olive green in color. It’s mined all over the world and has actually been found in meteorites, but good quality peridot is actually quite rare. It’s sometimes confused with emeralds.

katesapphireSeptember: Sapphire
The stunning blue sapphire has been treasured for centuries. Today the very best of these stones usually come from Sri Lanka, though they can also be found in Australia, China, Thailand and even in the U.S. These stones, which can also come in purple, green or violet hues, have all sorts of astrological and spiritual connotations attached to them. In old times it was believed that a sapphire could remove any impurities you might have in your eye, that it could be an antidepressant, or that it could help with telepathy and even clairvoyance. The largest gem-quality sapphire on earth is the Black Star of Queensland, which weighs in at an amazing 733 carats. For her engagement, Kate Middleton was given an amazing sapphire ring that had previously belonged to Princess Diana.

opal jewelryOctober: Opal
Opals have an internal structure that makes them refract light. As a result, they can reflect many different colors around them, and can appear to be red, orange, yellow, magenta or many other shades. Generally a black opal is the most rare and precious. Most opals are found in Australia. Named for “opalus,” a Latin word meaning simply “precious stone,” this gem was once believed to make anyone wearing it invisible. The opal did see a falloff in interest around 1830, when Sir Walter Scott published a novel in which an opal turns out to bring bad luck to the heroine. Sales of the stone immediately dropped by 50% in Europe after the novel’s publication. Nowadays, superstitions around opals have faded away, and fashion designers and jewelry collectors have made these luminescent gems super-popular once again.

topazNovember: Topaz
Orange topaz, sometimes called simply “precious topaz,” is your stone if you arrived in November. Strictly speaking, the purest form of topaz is clear. But impurities create all sorts of wonderful color tones in it. Some jewelers even irridate it to give it a strong blue color. Some collectors love to have yellow gems known as Brazilian Imperials, but be careful – the color in this type of stone can fade with long exposure to sunlight. The stone can also split from a hard blow. The history of topaz is a bit confused. It’s mentioned in the oldest versions of the bible, but historians think the writers may have been confusing it with another stone more popular at the time. The name is believed to come from a Sanskrit word meaning “fire.” Prized by kings and princes down through history, topaz is also a favorite of such modern luminaries as Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie.

turquoise necklaceDecember: Turquoise
Possibly the earliest gem ever to be used in jewelry, Egyptian rulers and Chinese artisans prized turquoise more than 3,000 years ago. You’ll see lots of it in Native American art. It’s plentiful in the U.S. (particularly in Arizona) and the world over, and Apaches believed it helped with a hunter’s aim. The old Persian word for turquoise is “ferozah,” which means victorious. Some believe the stone helps to relax the mind, promote healing and create courage. Turquoise is very fragile and sensitive to a number of solvents. Even perfume and cosmetics can damage it. Oddly, it can be damaged by being stored in an airtight container.

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