What Your Birthstone Really Means

You know the zodiac like the back of your hand. In fact, you could probably recite your weekly horoscope and list your compatible signs if we asked you to right now. Though, if we were to quiz you on birthstones (a similarly mystical topic), we have our suspicions your score wouldn't be nearly as high as you'd like.
Did you know, for example, the origin of birthstones is actually biblical, being first cited in the Book of Exodus? And, that the first recorded use of gemstones as decorations and symbols was there, where Aaron, a high priest, had a breast plate embedded with 12 unique jewels? Maybe not. Today, this type of jewelry offers a more secular (and aesthetic) connotation. Luckily, we're here to offer a quick crash course on each stones' history, with stops along the way to cover its physical and healing properties, and symbolism, to get you up to speed.
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We enlisted acclaimed jewelry designers like Erica Weiner, Pamela Love, Anna Sheffield, and Melissa Joy Manning and gemologist Elizabeth Doyle to school us in peridots, rubies, emeralds, pearls, sapphires, and so on. As an added bonus: This 101 comes complete with the best jewelry to shop for every stone.
The guide ahead is comprised primarily of genuine stones, and the price points fall largely into the investment-piece category. That said, if you are going to splurge on a piece of jewelry, your birthstone is the perfect place to start. From January's garnet to December's blue topaz, this guide is sure to make a bona fide jewelry junkie of you. We just hope your birthday's coming up.


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The Month: January
The Stone: Garnet

According to Erica Weiner, "Garnets get their name from the Latin granatum (seed) because of their resemblance to the shiny red pomegranate seed." She notes that this gem's earliest use dates back to the Bronze Age (approximately 3300 to 1300 B.C.), though you're likely more familiar with its application in ancient Rome.

A popular stone setting for signet rings, garnets harken back to ancient times when many wealthier families used signets as seals for personal documents, pressing them into hot wax to form a stamp. (Watch basically any Renaissance-period drama to know what we're talking about.) The stone was also believed to relieve fevers.

These days, in addition to being an excellent gift for January-born individuals, it represents eternal friendship and trust.
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The Month: February
The Stone: Amethyst

"Historically, there was a belief that like could cure like," Doyle & Doyle founder Elizabeth Doyle told us. "Therefore, amethyst — the color of wine — was believed to prevent drunkenness." Often associated with Roman god Bacchus (in Greek mythology he's known as Dionysus), the purple stone was thought to make its wearer clearer headed and quicker witted, like an ancient sobriety talisman of sorts. Wine goblets were regularly carved from the material. We wonder how many cups it took for people to realize they were indeed getting drunk.

Amethysts' bold coloring is no mythical coincidence. "The gem is a type of quartz — the most abundant mineral on earth — and the presence of iron gives it its incredible purple color," Doyle adds. In fact, inhabitants of what is now France have been using amethysts decoratively for over 25,000 years. Today, it's not only adorning our baubles, the stone is also a popular home accent.
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The Month: March
The Stone: Aquamarine
Alternate Stone: Bloodstone

Derived from the Latin words aqua (water) and marina (of the sea), it's really no wonder aquamarine was often carried by sailors. "It was widely believed the water-colored stone could ensure a safe and prosperous journey, some claiming that it came from the treasure chests of mermaids," Weiner says. The designer also clued us in on an old wives’ tale encouraging people to immerse an aquamarine in water. The touted result? That the liquid would absorb the stone's curative properties and become healing water.

In fact, aquamarine is thought to have many palliative properties. Unearthen's Gia Bahm notes that it also "fosters moderation, tempers judgmental tendencies, improves self-expression, encourages preparedness, and also carries a calming effect." And you thought it was just a serene color.

Though less popular, the bloodstone is a second birthstone for March. This form of quartz is a dark-green jasper that's flecked with vivid red spots, and it's also thought to have healing powers. Though the red spots are caused by a presence of iron oxide particles, Christian lore claims the bloodstone formed during the crucifixion of Christ; his blood staining jasper that lay at the foot of the cross.
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The Month: April
The Stone: Diamond

"Legend has it that the 'god of mines' called together all precious stones — emeralds, rubies, and so on — and crushed them together to make a stone of more beauty and invincibility than any other," Melissa Joy Manning told us. Diamonds, in addition to being the strongest and most durable of all stones, are a classic choice for engagement rings. They're also lucky April's birthstone.

Though, Weiner notes that "for centuries, [diamonds] were used, set, and worn in their uncut state." In fact, the glistening diamonds you're accustomed to weren't readily available until the practice of cutting finally evolved in the 14th century, and the potential of the stone was finally unlocked.

To quote from Gems and Jewels by Benjamin Zucker: "[T]he diamond, regarded for centuries as an object of magic and sacred beauty, has in recent times become the object of precise scientific calibration to be possessed by advanced technological means. As such, it represents a paradigm of human thought over the last two thousand years and constitutes — in every sense — the riches of the earth."
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The Month: May
The Stone: Emerald

Sure, emeralds can be worn any time of year, but "they are said to be most powerful in the spring, a fitting choice for May's birthstone," Anna Sheffield concedes. They also serve as a symbol of fertility, renewal, and growth, thanks to their rich, green coloring, which is reminiscent of something freshly bloomed. Apparently the ancient Egyptians were of the same belief, and Cleopatra was a huge fan.

Their historical significance doesn't end in Egypt, either. "In some legends of King Arthur," Weiner adds, "the Holy Grail is described as being fashioned from an emerald." What's more, "in the Middle Ages, emeralds were believed to reveal what was true or false." (Like a medieval version of Veritaserum, for any May babies who happen to be Harry Potter nerds.) "Even more magically, emeralds were said to enable people to foretell the future if [the stones] were put on the tongue or worn on the left side of the body." Coincidence that many R29 editors born in May are also left-handed? We think not.
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The Month: June
The Stone: Pearl
Alternate Stones: Alexandrite and Moonstone

In this guide, you'll notice there are some months that have more than one birthstone. While we chose to highlight only one for each month, we want to provide as full of a picture as possible. (And, as wide a selection as possible for shopping purposes.) "There is some variation in the stones since they relate to both a person's birth month and astrological sign," Sheffield explains. "That said, the stones, though different, do often relate in terms of their mystical properties and color."

June is a perfect example. This month actually has three gems associated with it: pearl, alexandrite, and moonstone. And, all three share similarly lunar properties — they're believed to "enhance female energy, magnify love, and illuminate the way for nighttime travelers," Weiner adds.
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The Month: July
The Stone: Ruby

Second only to diamonds, rubies (a variety of the gem species corundum) are harder than any natural stone on earth. And, it's the ruby's deep red hue that sets it apart from the rest of its gem species; every other color in the family is called sapphire."Rubies are the color of blood, so they have symbolized courage and bravery throughout history," Weiner tells us. "Burmese warriors were said to have implanted rubies under their skin to bring them valor in battle and make them invincible. They were also used as talismans against disaster and to stop bleeding."

The intense color has inspired much gem lore over the centuries. Namely, that it comes from an undying flame inside the stone, "or, as some legends would have it, a piece of the planet Mars," says Weiner. Unsurprisingly, rubies are also closely linked with passion and other matters of the heart — even thought to be an aphrodisiac by some. Red is the color of love, after all.
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The Month: August
The Stone: Peridot

There's a reason there aren't many peridots available to purchase online. The stone is formed deep inside the earth and is only brought to the surface by volcanoes. If that sounds too tricky, maybe you can get your hands on a meteorite, where the green stones are sometimes found inside. Yes, this extraordinary gem is extremely rare. It's also one of a few to appear in only one color, though it ranges from yellowy greens to almost brown shades. The most popular is the brilliant lime hue illustrated here.

The intensity of the green tint corresponds directly to how much iron is present in its crystal structure. "Peridot derives its name from the French peritot (gold) for its golden undertones," Weiner explains. In the Middle Ages, the coveted stone — brought from Egypt to Europe by medieval crusaders — adorned the robes of many a clergyman. Today, we'd settle for necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings.
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The Month: September
The Stone: Sapphire

Sapphire is a variety of gem that occurs in all colors of the rainbow. (Remember, its red version is actually the ruby.) For September, we focus on blue sapphire, which is commonly "associated with truth, wisdom, purity, and sincerity," says jewelry designer Elisa Solomon. "It is also said to help with health ailments and to banish evil." Many ancient civilizations associated the stone with heaven. "In ancient Persia, people believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire and its reflection colored the sky," Weiner adds.

"For millennia, this blue stone's healing powers have been associated with the eyes: Egyptian physicians created an eye wash with sapphire, and Medieval texts refer to it as an elixir for the eyes (particularly when dissolved in milk). Ancient medicine was often mystical, of course, and the eyes are metaphors for spiritual seeing and vision. Sapphires help us to more clearly 'see' our path and purpose in life."

She goes on to say that sapphires were often linked to telepathy and out-of-body experiences, saying, "Buddhists believed that sapphires had a calming effect on people, which facilitated their devotion to prayer and meditation. In Vedic astrology, sapphires have long been used to protect the wearer by boosting the immune system. They are thought to increase the life span and to end headaches, nightmares, and nosebleeds when placed on the forehead." All the more reason to wear that sapphire pendant you've been eyeing.
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The Month: October
The Stone: Opal
Alternate Stone: Tourmaline

You've probably heard the superstition that it's bad luck for those not born in October to wear opals. This story has been circulating for centuries. "During medieval times, opals were known to be symbols of evil, and said to bring sickness and bad luck to those who carried them. Unfortunately, people tend to remember the ominous stuff over the good," says WWAKE designer Wing Yau. "They also have a history of being symbols of hope, innocence, and purity. The gems are said to protect children and transmit the power of invisibility."

Mania Mania's Melanie Kamsler adds that "opal is said to bring lightness and spontaneity to the wearer. It is emotionally associated with love and passion, and is said to bring loyalty and faithfulness, which made them energetically perfect for use in engagement rings." You've likely noticed the anti-diamond-ring trend taking hold among this season's brides-to-be.

The gem lore doesn't end there. The ambiguous stone is also thought to contain a life of its own — and be reactive to the true character of its wearer. "Therefore, a selfish person may wear opal and be punished with bad luck, but a loving person may be graced with good fortune," says Yau. The list goes on, but all superstitions aside, there's really nothing ominous about a drop-dead gorgeous stone.
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Mania Mania Opal and Diamond Ceremonial Ring, $2,900, available on October 27 at Mania Mania.
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The Month: November
The Stone: Citrine
Alternate Stone: Topaz

November also has two birthstones. The similarities between citrine and topaz — namely their shared orange color — make them equally popular for those born in this month, despite belonging to separate and unrelated mineral species.

"The name topaz comes from a Sanskrit word meaning 'fire.' Centuries ago, the stone was thought to control heat. It was believed that topaz had the power to instantly cool boiling water as well as heated anger," says Weiner. Likewise, citrine is known as the "healing quartz," imbuing health and vitality as well as providing warmth within the wearer. This less common form of quartz gained in popularity during the Romantic Period, when artisans began favoring the warm-colored gem to enhance gold jewelry. Fun fact: Amethyst (also a quartz) is citrine's sister stone. Some heat-sensitive citrine may have actually begun as amethyst, and toasty conditions transformed the purple quartz to this orange form.
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The Month: December
The Stone: Blue Topaz
Alternate Stones: Turquoise and Tanzanite

With three gems vying for December's top spot, the jury is still largely undecided on the month's official birthstone. Whichever you prefer, the consensus has at least landed on the color blue (so as not to be confused with November's fiery version).

According to Weiner, "The stones were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans (probably more so than diamonds), and frequently appeared in the jewelry of the aristocracy during the medieval era." Topaz comes in many colors — the rarer blue tint is sometimes referred to as "pingos d’agua," meaning "drops of water."

Speaking of turquoise (because how can we not?), Nettie Kent explains that "among the Navajo, it is mystically known as 'the sky stone' for its color. They believe turquoise is a part of the sky that fell to earth, and [it] is cherished for its positive healing energy and as a protector." Likewise, Pamela Love says "the stone is believed to bring good fortune and is considered by many to be holy, providing a strong connection to the spirit world."
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