Where did the idea of birthstones come from anyway?

Emeralds are the birthstone for May, but how did this come about? Why is it meaningful for us to have our birth month represented by a natural gemstone?   There is an extensive history around gemstones and how they became what we consider birthstones today.

Breast Plate of Aaron

An image of what the Breast Plate of Aaron, the High Priest, could have looked like. There are 12 gemstones representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

The idea of birthstones can be traced back to the Breastplate of Aaron described in the Bible in the book of Exodus 28:17-21. The Breastplate was worn as a religious garment by Hebrews’ high priest.  It was set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel.  Some people of Jewish heritage may still wish to elect to wear birthstones based on his/her tribal name.

Over time, gemstones became associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac through the writings of Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) and St. Jerome (fifth century AD).  They proposed that each gemstone had special powers associated with astrological signs and that wearing these stones at the right time would have therapeutic benefits.  As the years progressed, astrologers designated gems of certain colors to the twelve signs of the zodiac to help people influence the planets in their favor.

Sign Dates Stone
Aquarius January 21 – February 21 Garnet
Pisces February 22 – March 21 Amethyst
Aries March 22 – April 20 Bloodstone
Taurus April 21 – May 21 Sapphire
Gemini May 22 – June 21 Agate
Cancer June 21 – July 22 Emerald
Leo July 23 – August 22 Onyx
Virgo August 23 – September 22 Carnelian
Libra September 23 – October 23 Peridot
Scorpio October 24 – November 21 Beryl
Sagittarius November 22 – December21 Topaz
Capricorn December 22 – January 21 Ruby

In 18thcentury, Jewish gemstone traders arrived in Poland and introduced the idea of people wearing a gemstone corresponding to the month of his or her birth. The modern list of birthstones was defined in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers (Jewelers of America) in the USA and has been unchanged since then, although there have been two attempts to do so.  Here’s a modern chart of birthstones.

Modern Birthstone Chart


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