Born to Shine: A Complete Guide to Birthstones

Whether you’re searching for a gift for your spouse, sibling, friend, or parent, a birthstone is guaranteed to make birthday wishes come true. You may even want to get one for yourself. Birthstones are a fun way to take pride in your birth month and show off your personal style. 

By Jenn Sutcliffe

Your birthday is cause for celebration – it’s your time to shine. Every month of the year is associated with a unique birthstone that celebrates the month and the people born in it. Birthstones aren’t just a fun way to embrace your birthday – they also give us the perfect reason to acquire some new jewelry!

In this article, we cover the primary birthstones of each of the twelve months – everything from where they’re found to how to shop for them. We’ve done a deep dive into the history, folklore, and fine details of each birthstone to inspire some birthstone pride and give ideas about what to get for yourself or a loved one. If you’ve always wanted to know more about birthstones, this article is for you!

 

The History and Origin of Birthstones

In modern times, birthstones have no direct connection to the Bible or the Foundation Stones. Historians date the wearing of birthstones in honor of one’s own birth month to either 16th century Germany or 18th century Poland. Today, different countries and cultures have designated birthstones chosen by groups or determined by history and folklore.

Perhaps you’re already be familiar with at least your own month’s birthstone. But you might be wondering, “Why does every month have its own birthstone, anyway?” Birthstones are determined by the American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America, two organizations comprised of top jewelers, but they actually have a history dating back long before that organization existed.

While they have no current religious significance, birthstones do have a Biblical origin. Historians believe that the concept of birthstones comes from the story of Aaron, who is described in the Book of Exodus as wearing a breastplate with 12 gemstones that represented the 12 tribes of Israel.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, religious leaders built upon this idea and associated gemstones (called Foundation Stones) with each of the apostles. This lead to the practice of celebrating a particular apostle each month by wearing that gemstone.

In modern times, birthstones have no direct connection to the Bible or the Foundation Stones. Historians date the wearing of birthstones in honor of one’s own birth month to either 16th century Germany or 18th century Poland. Today, different countries and cultures have designated birthstones chosen by groups or determined by history and folklore.

Month-by-Month Birthstone Meanings and More

The current list of birthstones in the United States is the reference point for this article. The first list was created by Jewelers of America in 1912, and it was most recently revised in 2019. Read on to learn about each of the birthstones, which have their own particular history, symbolism, and scientific properties.

We’ve also included information about how to determine gemstone quality and value so you can pick out the best pieces for a gift or your own collection. Most gemstones, unless otherwise noted, are evaluated, and sometimes other factors. These guidelines can help you choose what size and style of birthstone is ideal.

January – Garnet

The calendar year starts off the garnet, which is usually found in a deep red tone. So the origin of the word is fitting, as it comes from the Middle English word gernet, which means “dark red.” That word, in turn, comes from the Latin granatum, meaning “seed,” and it was thought that garnets looked like the deep red seeds of the pomegranate fruit.

Garnets can actually be found in a variety of other colors, including reen, blue, and colorless, but those are more rare and not as instantly recognizable. If you want to show off your January birthstone, we recommend the fiery pyrope garnet, which comes in pale rose, scarlet, and red-violet hues.

A common find in mines across the globe, garnets vary in appearance depending on where the minerals grow; garnets found in Wyoming may have different hues and qualities than those found in Sri Lanka. Mandarin garnets, an orange variety discovered in Namibia, are considered the most rare and valuable.

A durable 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs scale, garnet jewelry has been unearthed from as far back as the Bronze Age. They can be found in ancient Roman signet rings, Victoran collars, and prehistoric amulets worn by warriors. Known in old legends as the “Gem of Faith,” the garnet is a symbol of peace, goodwill, and prosperity. It’s also a token of friendship, and makes a great gift for a close friend or loved one even if they weren’t born in January. It’s also a traditional gift for a second wedding anniversary.

February – Amethyst

Regal and feminine amethyst is a gorgeous purple quartz stone that is prolific throughout history as well as modern times. It can be found all over the world, as quartz is the second most common material found on Earth, and is an affordable yet stunning gemstone. Amethyst’s color comes from irradiation, iron and trace elements in area it is found, and can range from a light violet to deep purple with blue or red tones.

The word amethyst comes from the Ancient Greek word “methustos,” which means “intoxicated.” The gemstone was believed to protect against intoxication, so it was likely present at bacchanalia, drinking festivals, and other celebrations. A 7 on the Mohs scale, amethyst is durable and can likely withstand even the most raucous of parties.

The oldest amethyst jewelry unearthed comes from as far back as 2000 BC. With a rich history that spans many cultures and legends, amethyst makes not only a beautiful gift for those born in February, but is also associated with the 6th and 17th wedding anniversary. It can complement warm and cool colors and works beautifully for special occasions and everyday wear.

March – Aquamarine

Light blue-green in tone, aquamarina is reminiscent of a tranquil ocean, and its namesake even comes from the Latin words for water and sea. It is a variety of the mineral beryl, which it has in common with emeralds.

Brazil is the most common source for aquamarine, and many large stones with intense dark blue hues have been found there. One such stone weighed more than 240 pounds! Generally, the darker and more saturated the color, the more valuable the aquamarine. Due to its six-sided shape and abundance of large natural stones, aquamarine can be cut into stand-out statement pieces.


Legends surrounding this gemstone begin with its nautical origins: sailors once believed it would keep them safe while at sea. In addition to calming ocean storms, aquamarine has also been believed to keep the wearer calm, bringing serenity and peace under strife.

While it may not look like it at first, aquamarine is truly a romantic gemstone. Aquamarine is used to commemorate 19th wedding anniversaries, and has historically been a gift for brides at their wedding to symbolize eternal love. Some cultures believed it could rekindle passion and affection in relationships.

April – Diamond

April’s birthstone is the hardest gemstone and one of the most coveted in the world – the diamond. Its carbon structure is 58 times harder than any other substance. No wonder they say, “A diamond is forever!”

The gift of a diamond is the perfect way to add a little sparkle to someone’s life, as they have the best possible luster of any gemstone. It was once believed that diamonds were the embodiment of lightning on Earth. Now we know that diamonds are made when and pressure transformed carbon in the Earth’s mantle billions of years ago.

Most diamonds we see are white, but they can actually be a range of colors including yellow, pink, blue, and green. They make a perfect birthday or other holiday gift for April babies, as well as a classic stone for an engagement ring, or a token of appreciation for a 60th or 75th wedding anniversary.

If you’re buying for someone whose birthday is in April, you might be concerned about how much a diamond will cost. However, diamonds aren’t always expensive – it all depends on the gemstone size as well as the four c’s you may already be familiar with (cut, carat, clarity, and color – both in hue and richness.) A small diamond can be very affordable for any budget – take a look at EXAMPLE.

May – Emerald

Green as the grass on a warm spring day, emeralds symbolize growth, fortune, and prosperity. Its name comes from the Greek word “smaragdus,” meaning “green,” and its color is a result of trace amounts of chromium or vanadium in the mineral beryl (of which aquamarine is also a variant.)

Emeralds range from light green to deep blue-green in color – the deeper the green, the more valuable the gemstone. For the highest quality stones, look for even distribution of color and rich, saturated tones. Small inclusions are to be expected in emeralds, and unlike in some other gemstones like diamonds, do not detract from their value (in fact, they are considered and enhancement to the emerald’s natural beauty).

The first emeralds were mined in Egypt in the 300s BC, and Queen Cleopatra was known for her love of the fine green stone. Today, emeralds are mined throughout the world, with particularly fruitful mines in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Zambia. One of the most famous emeralds is a pendant once owned by Elizabeth Taylor that sold for $6.5 million in 2011.

As a symbol of loyalty and new beginnings, emeralds make a suitable gift not only for a loved one with a May birthday, but also a meaningful expression of devotion or good luck. Emeralds have a wide price range, so there’s one for every budget – check out one like.

June – Pearl/Alexandrite/Moonstone

Pearls are unique in that unlike other gemstones, which form in the Earth, they are created by living creatures. When mollusks deposit calcium carbonate surrounding small particles that find their way into their shells, the friction causes a pearl to grow over time. While this may be a trivial byproduct to clams and oysters, pearls are treasured for their unique beauty by people across the globe.

Most pearls that form naturally aren’t the perfectly round variations that we often see in pictures. Pearls come in many different shapes – like button, drop, and baroque – and are typically 3-13mm in diameter. Round pearls are the most rare and valuable.

In order to keep up with the demand for pearl jewelry, pearls are often cultured by humans in pearl farms. Although not technically “man-made,” as they still form in mollusks, these pearls are common and less valuable than pearls made in the wild. 

In ancient Greece, Japanese folktales, and other lore, pearls were believed to be the tears of gods, the moon, or mythical sea creatures due to their luster. The most coveted pearls have an iridescent, reflective surface giving it a lush and velvety exterior. Pearls can be dyed a multitude of colors including pink, yellow, and black, making room for a wider variety of looks. Our

July – Ruby

Ruby is another gemstone with a literal meaning, coming from the Latin word “rubeus,” which translates to “red.” Ruby is the red form of corundum, a mineral tinted red and given fluorescence by the element chromium. Fiery and glowing, rubies are prized as one of the most valuable gemstones, even reaching higher prices than diamonds. 

Rubies have been mined since around 200 BC and created synthetically since the 1900s. With a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, rubies stand the test of time are only outmatched by diamonds in terms of durability. They’re also suited for industrial use, such as making watches and medical instruments, and the red fluorescence in rubies was used to make the first laser in 1960.

The ruby’s deep red color has made it a symbol of life, love, and power. In ancient lore, rubies were believed to increase energy and vitality and enhance passion in relationships. For its connection to romance, it’s a popular substitution for diamonds in engagement rings.

A ruby makes a sweet gift for a loved one born in July or as a traditional token for a 15th or 40th wedding anniversary. When shopping for ruby jewelry, consider the 4Cs as well as the ruby’s transparency, size and origin. Rubies that are a deep, rich purple-red with clear transparency are the most valuable.

August – Peridot

Peridot is the gem-quality form of the mineral olivine, which is formed in the Earth’s mantle and surfaces when volcanoes erupt. Not only is peridot’s explosive origin rooted in science, it’s also part of Hawaiian folklore. Legends surrounding the volcano goddess Pele describes her tears as being made of peridot.

But peridot is nothing to cry about – it’s a gorgeous, vibrant green gemstone that is widely available and affordable. Most peridot is mined in the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, and it can also be found in some countries in Africa and Asia. Though rare, peridot can also be found in meteorites.

Unlike most gemstones, peridot only comes in one color because the mineral itself, rather than trace elements, is responsible for the green hue. Peridot gems can vary in shade based on the amount of iron it contains, ranging from yellow-green to dark olive. Peridots were commonly confused for emeralds throughout history until gemology advanced enough to correctly distinguish them.

The 4Cs are used to determine the value of peridot, with lime green the most coveted color. Associated with prosperity and good fortune, it’s also used in celebration for a 16th wedding anniversary. No matter who you give peridot to, everyone else will be green with envy!

September – Sapphire

Like rubies, sapphires are a variant of the mineral corundum. Every other color of corundum of gemstone quality is considered a sapphire, not just the classic deep blue. So, September babies have a lot of options when seeking out a birthstone piece.

Sapphires in colors other than blue are dubbed “fancies,” and are often yellow, purple, green, pink, or orange. The padparadscha (“lotus flower” in Sri Lankan) is a pink-orange variant of sapphire and can fetch some of the highest prices.

The 4Cs are used to evaluate sapphires, as well as their origin. Sapphires can be found in many different places including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Australia, Brazil, and Montana. Like rubies, sapphires are a 9 on the Mohs scale, making them harder than every gemstone except diamonds. 

Symbolic of loyalty, wisdom, and integrity, sapphires are traditionally given as a gift on the 5th and 45th wedding anniversary. However, if you’re like Prince Charles (and later Prince William), you might give sapphire as an engagement ring! The ancient Greeks would wear sapphires when seeking council from the oracle, so you would be wise to consider sapphire for your September sweetheart’s birthday.

October – Opal/Tourmaline

Opals are known for their apparent change in color when placed in the light. This “play of color,” as the ancient Romans described it, is created by microscopic silica spheres on the opal’s surface that create rainbows of light. These brilliant colors have been the source of many legends, including the Australian aborigine myth that their creator rode a rainbow down to Earth and left opals where he walked.

Precious opals create rainbows and are the most valuable, while “common” opals do not. There are many different kinds of opals, such as the Fire Opal, Boulder Opal, and Brazilian Opal, each of which may vary slightly in color, often with a black or white background. Originally discovered in Australia in 1850, most opals still come from the Outback.

The color, pattern, clarity, and matter most when pricing opals. A more delicate stone, opals need to be stored in a soft cloth pouch away from heat and humidity to keep them preserved.

The opal is considered to be a stone that brings good luck and fortune, so send your best wishes to a friend with an October birthday with a necklace or earrings in their birthstone. Opals are becoming more rare as Australia’s mines dry up, so now is a good time to ensure you add them to your collection.

November – Citrine

A variety of quartz with yellow to orange-brown hues, citrine is actually quite rare to find in the wild. The color is a result of iron traces in quartz, but this doesn’t happen frequently, so most citrine on the market is produced by heat treating other quartz gemstones like amethyst and smoky quartz.

Natural citrine can be found in Brazil, Europe, Russia, and the U.S., and each region produces different hues. One of the largest pieces of citrine is a 2,258-carat piece from Brazil at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and other cultures believed that citrine had balancing and calming effects and could also bring wealth and prosperity. They would be worn as protective amulets or carved into images of the gods to channel their power. 

After the discovery that heat-treated quartz turned to lemon and honey colors, citrine became much more affordable. It’s possible to buy even large pieces at a very reasonable price. Citrine is a 13th wedding anniversary staple as well as being November’s birthstone. It makes an eye-catching addition to your jewelry box and is one of the most affordable gemstones on the market.

December – Tanzanite

Most gemstones can be found in multiple places arond the world, but not so wuith Tanzanite. Its name comes from the only country where it originates from – Tanzania, in Africa. A royal blue-purple color, it was discovered in 1967 near Mount Kilimanjaro and soon became a favorite among jewelry lovers.

Tanzanite is a variety of the mineral zoisite, which is more common, but trace elements and heat cause its color to turn the rarer bluish purple. Its mineral properties can sometimes bring out different shades of blue and violet at different angles when cut right.

A 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale, tanzanite is somewhat susceptible to scratching. Be careful not to knock your jewelry against anything when wearing tanzanite, especially on a ring. Color and cut are the most important qualities in tanzanite, with the richest and most saturated colors being the most valuable.

Despite its relative rarity, tanzanite is not nearly as expensive as gemstones like ruby and sapphire, and is often used as a sapphire look-alike. However, a 2012 study showed that tanzanite’s finite supply may run out in as little as a few decades! If you’re interested in owning some tanzanite, or buying for a birthday girl or guy, we recommend not hesitating.

A Fail-Proof Way to Say “Happy Birthday”

Whether you’re searching for a gift for your spouse, sibling, friend, or parent, a birthstone is guaranteed to make birthday wishes come true. You may even want to get one for yourself. Birthstones are a fun way to take pride in your birth month and show off your personal style. 

There are so many different ways to wear birthstones and there are pieces for every price range. We mentioned several options in this post and have included them in the list below for easy reference. When you wear a birthstone pendant, earrings, or bracelet, it’s like everyday is your birthday – go ahead and treat yourself!

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