Bling in the new year with garnet, the January birthstone.
Red garnets have traditionally been linked to loyalty, strength and affection. The stone’s long lifeline dates back to Stone Age cave-dwellers who left behind relics comprising some of mankind’s earliest jeweled artifacts. Millennia later, ancient Egyptians adorned themselves in rich cascades of garnet bead jewelry during that era’s glory days. Noah of Biblical fame was said to harness the light from a massive garnet secured to the bow of his Ark to ensure safe passage in the night. Closer to modern times, Europe’s 18th and 19th century Bohemians strutted their stuff bedecked in garnet confections.
Known as the friendship stone, garnet takes its name from granatum, or pomegranate seed. While such darker-toned reds remain garnet’s most familiar color variety, nature gives birth to garnets in a beguiling range of colors - all colors, in fact, but blue.
In red, garnets mimic the varietal tones of the wine palette as in the deep, syrah-like red of pyrope, the red-brown bordeaux tones of almandine and the pinot noir-like pinkish red of rhodolite.
Beyond red, fancy garnets abound in shades of yellow and orange, often tinged with a whisper of pink. African tsavorites and Russian demantoids fill out garnet’s color wheel in shades of green. At their finest, tsavorites and demantoids can not only approach emerald’s verdant hues but also, the brilliance of diamonds.
Garnets are moderately hard and durable in any color, making this birthstone an easy choice for everyday wear. For evening, luscious orange, green and pink-hued garnets light up the night, especially in the elegant company of diamonds.
Amethyst, the February birthstone, is named after the mythological Roman maiden who captured the heart of Bacchus, the wine god. In legend, the hot-tempered Bacchus accidentally turned his beloved to stone during a fit of anger. Despondent over his thoughtless action, Bacchus shed tears of wine onto Amethyst’s crystallized body, forever staining her purple.
So began the stone’s association with temperance, sobriety and mental clarity. Reveling Romans drank wine from amethyst cups in the belief they would be protected from drunkenness. Healers who believed in the stone’s cleansing powers used ground amethyst in medicinal potions for a variety of ailments.
In reality, amethyst is the purple variety of quartz. Its regal color has been a favorite of popes and princes, emirs and emperors around the world. Russia’s Catherine the Great was an amethyst connoisseur who collected vibrant, violet stones with flashes of red mined from her country’s Ural Mountains, a legendary source of some of the world’s most treasured amethysts.
Before large deposits were discovered in South America during the 19th century, fine amethyst was rare, costly and highly prized. Today, the affordable stone is mined worldwide, making it available in a wide range of light to dark tones, sizes and color depths from pastel lavender to deep, rich purple.
Some amethysts contain alternating bands of lighter or darker color. When choosing an amethyst, especially a larger gem, look for color evenness across and within the stone. Because amethysts can be sensitive to light, stones may fade when exposed to prolonged or bright sunlight.
Two amethyst variants may be of particular interest to February’s children. Ametrine, a bicolor quartz from Bolivia, shows zones of purple amethyst alongside yellow citrine. Prasiolite, a heated or treated variety is emerging in popularity as green amethyst. Only light to moderate in tone, the stone’s soft minty green color makes it an excellent neutral gemstone choice for everyday wear or as an accent stone alongside its purple partners.
Ah, aquamarine − a gemstone with a name as soothing to the ears as its colors are to the eyes. Aptly named after the Latin word for seawater, the March birthstone seduces stone-gazers with its crystal-clear blue hues softened by a hint of green.
Neptune, legendary King of the Sea, chose aquamarines as gifts for his mermaids. Native healers used the gem to soothe ailments of the eyes and lungs, perhaps equating the stone's eye-pleasing pastels with restfulness and its exceptional clarity with purity.
Gemologists consider aquamarine part of the beryl family of gems and thus, a relative to the most well-known beryl of all − emerald. Like its greener cousin, aquamarine is more scratch-resistant than quartz but not as hard, nor as hardy, as ruby or sapphire.
Unlike emeralds, aquamarines are known for their transparency, if not flawlessness. Gem crystals from Brazil can be enormous, much to the delight of jewelry designers and fashionistas. This winning combination of color, clarity and size makes aquamarine a clear choice for statement pendants and large cocktail rings.
The alternate March birthstone is a spotted variety of chalcedony quartz known as bloodstone. To Christians of an earlier age, the gem's speckled red flecks against a dark green background recalled the blood of Christ. That unusual appearance fueled belief in the stone's special powers as an amulet of healing.
To believers, bloodstone could not only stem bleeding but could also stir passion, which made the tough gem a fitting choice for men's rings since the time of King Solomon. Today, bloodstone is a suitable birthstone alternative for men to sport in cufflinks, rings or neckwear.
The April birthstone is one of nature's most remarkable creations. Although composed of merely the element carbon in its purest state, diamonds' amazing properties set them apart from all other gems on earth.
Diamonds might be the most extreme gem of all. In terms of their geological age, diamonds are old − very old. The stones we admire today were actually formed hundreds of millions to billions of years ago. The famed Hope Diamond that now resides in the Smithsonian Institution is believed to be more than 3 billion years old, or more than half the age of the Earth itself.
For sheer drama, diamonds' fiery beginnings are beyond awe. The dazzlers we wear today were born nearly one hundred miles below the earth's surface in a geologic inferno of turbulence, heat and pressure. After, they rocketed towards the earth's surface in violent eruptions of ancient volcanoes. The remnants of these tracts are mined to this day in South Africa and recently, in subarctic Canada. In other diamond-bearing areas such as western Africa and India, diamonds landed in locales thousands of miles or continents away from where they were first spewed, transported over millennia in colossal movements of landmasses and water.
Hardness is another extreme for which diamond is known. The gem's strong crystal structure is credited with making diamond the hardest substance found in nature. Perhaps it was this unique property that led diamond's earliest admirers to name the gem after adamas, an ancient Greek word meaning invincible or unconquerable. Later coveted for its unparalleled beauty and brilliance, diamonds came to symbolize clarity, strength and eternity in cultures around the world − and have been forever linked to the bonds of love.
The green of emerald is this gem's unique calling card. It is the lively green of nature as in the fresh grass of springtime. Though there are green varieties of sapphire, garnet, diamond, jade and other gems, there is no greener green in the gem world than that of emerald.
The earliest emerald mines were located in the Sinai Desert and were known as Cleopatra's Mines. Named after the ancient Egyptian queen whose love for emerald was legendary, the mines yielded pale and cloudy stones that gemologists today might reclassify as a less exciting variety known as green beryl.
It was the 16th century arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in South America that forever changed the way the world viewed and valued emerald. After discovering remarkable Incan riches of gold and spectacular emeralds, the Spaniards plundered the natives' bounty with abandon. Vast treasures were shipped back to the invaders' European homeland from which traders introduced emeralds to the far reaches of the earth, creating a global fever for the stone that remains heated to this day.
Emerald is the May birthstone and the most famous member of the beryl family of gems. Unlike its higher clarity cousin, the March birthstone aquamarine, emerald is renown for its natural birthmarks or inclusions. To emerald lovers, these birthmarks impart a sleepy quality to the gem and enhance its intrigue, which the French refer to as jardin, or garden.
While such inclusions are a basis for emerald's allure, they can also contribute to its frailty. Inclusions may make a stone brittle, especially if they are large, reach the stone's surface or are located in less protected areas of its jewelry setting.
Contrary to a popular belief that emerald is a soft stone, it is actually relatively hard compared to quartz, some garnets, jade, tanzanite and many other stones. Still, emeralds require gentle care and should be chosen in jewelry settings that offer an appropriate degree of protection for the sometimes-fragile jewel.
Gem merchants routinely oiled emeralds to enhance their beauty and transparency. Over time, these surface oils may be stripped by routine wear and care. Emerald lovers may wish to consult their jeweler when buying or maintaining emerald jewelry to determine when their stones should be professionally restored.
June is a bonanza month that offers three birthstone choices to the midyear born, each with its own distinctive beauty and nearly magical qualities.
The most traditional birthstone choice is pearl, one of the most beloved gems in history. Cleopatra was said to have won a famous bet with Roman ruler Marc Antony by drinking a pearl-laced libation. Queen Elizabeth I was so loveuck for pearls that she had hundreds of them sewn into her garments. More recently, the late Princess Diana rekindled love for pearls with her signature look bedecked in a pearl choker.
A classic symbol of purity and innocence, pearl is a favorite gemstone choice to mark graduation, marriage, anniversaries and the birth of a child.
Pearls are organic gems that form inside a living thing. Natural pearls are created when an irritant enters the shell of certain mollusks. The mollusk reacts by laying down layer after layer of a substance called nacre around the irritant, forming a pearl. Cultured pearls follow the same natural process, except that humans introduce the irritant into the mollusk, usually a bead or piece of soft mantle tissue, which provokes the same nacre cascade that eventually yields a pearl. Nearly all pearls sold today are cultured.
Pearls vary widely in shape, size and color to accommodate a range of personal tastes and skin tones. From white high-luster round Akoyas to larger golden South Sea and black Tahitian pearls in exotic shades and shapes, there are pearls to match any heart's desire.
By nature, pearls are porous and thus, susceptible to damage from environmental elements such as smoke, beauty products and perfume. Wise pearl lovers remember to put pearls on after completing beauty routines and removing pearls first after wear.
Moonstone is an alternate June birthstone. In Hindu mythology, moonstones were believed formed from moonbeams turned solid. Indeed, the stone's mysterious beauty and inner light resembles a moonlit glow. Across southern Asia, moonstones were once used to foretell the future and remain associated to this day with wisdom and good fortune.
The third June birthstone is the color chameleon alexandrite, a transparent stone that changes color under different lighting conditions. At their most dramatic, alexandrite appears reddish-purple in daylight and bluish-green in artificial or candlelight. Though alexandrite mined today rarely displays the vibrant color change that propelled the stone to fame as "Ruby by day, emerald by night," this rare gem commands an extraordinary allure, notwithstanding its split personality.
Ruby is the color of love, passion and the heart. Known as the King of Gems to ancient Hindus, rubies were the most prized stone of all, coveted far more than diamonds for thousands of years. According to the Bible's Job, "the price of wisdom is above rubies" [Job 28:18].
Ruby's powers were invoked by rulers to give them strength and courage; by the sick to regain health and vitality; and by all wishing success in the battle for love. Those fortunate enough to possess rubies in the ancient world believed the stones brought them peace with their neighbors and enemies. Star rubies were considered especially magical talismans.
The July birthstone is named after rubor, the Latin word for
its signature red color. At its most esteemed, ruby's red is a pure and
vibrant hue favored by romantics and extroverts, known to connoisseurs
as pigeon's blood red.
Ruby is the red variety of sapphire. Its color derives from trace amounts of chromium present within the stone's crystal structure. That same element, when present in a different crystal, colors emerald green.
Burma was the traditional source for many of the world's most prized rubies. Today, rubies reach global markets from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Madagascar.
Peridot is a sun jewel in shades of golden green. Ancient Hawaiians believed the August birthstone represented tears of volcano goddess Pele. Because peridot was once thought to protect children from night terrors and fear of the dark, these gems were sometimes placed inside babies' cribs and swaths.
Peridot originates miles below the earth and rockets to the surface as a hitchhiker embedded in volcanic kimberlite, a rock form better known for its other, more famous passenger − diamond. Peridot has also been found in meteorites, proving origin that is simultaneously out of this world and beyond the deep.
While the gem's pale, olive or brown-toned varieties appear subtle or neutral, prized peridot also occurs in more attractive lime and brighter green tones. Pakistani peridot is known for its fine quality and livelier, seductive shades. A major global source for the jewel is located stateside within Arizona's San Carlos Indian Reservation.
The alternate August birthstone is the translucent to opaque gemstone sardonyx. This affordable variety of quartz was well known to earlier civilizations as an ornamental stone used in chalices, carvings, cameos, seals and rings.
Sardonyx ranges in color from brown to shades of brownish orange or brownish red. Interesting patterns can occur when sardonyx features black or white bands intermixed with colored zones. This distinctive appearance has made the gem a favorite of jewelry designers, carvers and decorative artists for thousands of years.
September's stone is most beloved in blue, the favorite color of most Americans. Blue's historical popularity coincides with that of sapphire, which civilizations worldwide considered a precious gem, its classic color a beacon of peace and strength.
Ancient astrologers associated sapphire with the planet Saturn. In Judeo-Christian scripture, the Laws God delivered to Moses on the Mount were engraved on a huge sapphire tablet, which scholars today might translate more accurately as lapis lazuli. Sapphire was one of the twelve stones set in the Breastplate of Judgment described in Exodus (Exodus 28: 15-30) to represent the twelve tribes of Israel to Jews or the twelve apostles to Christians.
Star sapphires were considered especially potent as their crossed rays symbolized faith, hope and destiny. Early travelers to the Far East astounded native hosts by revealing their star sapphire talismans, a near-magical sight believed to bring good luck to all.
September's birthstone enjoys a royal heritage. The notion that sapphire attracted the goodwill of man and divine spirits made it a favorite of kings and nobles, who took comfort in sapphire's protective powers against envy and poisoning. Monarchs and traditional Europeans today choose sapphires for engagement rings.
Like ruby, sapphire belongs to the corundum family of gems. All corundum is ranked 9 on the Mohs hardness scale where diamond is 10. Sapphire's ranking might make it seem as though sapphire as nearly as hard as diamond, but in truth a greater degree of difference exists between the two gems' hardness than numbers suggest. In practical terms, this hardness difference means that sapphire can be scratched by diamond jewelry, from which it should be separately stored.
As Nature's second-hardest natural gemstone, tough and hardy sapphire makes an excellent choice for rings and bracelets. The gem's varied color wheel makes it an ideal stone for rainbow jewelry designs. Modern choices abound in Australia's perky pink and inky dark blue-black stones to small cornflower blues mined in Montana's Yogo Gulch region or the color varieties arriving from Madagascar, making sapphire dreams come true for all tastes and budgets.
Opal, the traditional October birthstone, has been treasured by cultures around the world for thousands of years. Ancient Romans considered opals the luckiest of stones as their flashing colors were thought to hold the powers of many birthstones within a single stone. Half a world away, native Australians believed opals were formed when packets of rainbows fell to earth. Closer to home in Mexico, radiant red and warm orange fire opal varieties are beloved to this day for their intensity and, some believe, their ability to spark the imagination.
Though opals are harder than pearls, these singular beauties require a gentle touch. Wear them best in pendants or earrings, made even more luxurious in diamonds settings. If you prefer rings or bracelets, choose protective settings that respect the stone’s delicacy and special care requirements. Use gentle cleaning methods with your opals, avoiding heat, ultrasonics or harsh cleansers. Instead, keep your opal jewelry opulent by wiping it with a soft and damp lint-free cloth.
October’s birthstone alternative is tourmaline, a gemstone better suited to more active lifestyles. The gem’s name derives from an ancient word meaning “of many colors” as tourmaline occurs in every color of the rainbow. Two American locales are famed for gorgeous pink and green tourmaline: nearby San Diego county and the state of Maine. California pinks so enchanted the last dowager empress of China that she imported most of San Diego’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century production for her personal collection.
Tourmaline is harder than quartz and can better withstand wear in rings or bracelets. Quality stones can be found at attractive prices although Paraíba tourmaline, an exotic electric-blue variety named for the Brazilian region where it was first discovered, can command tens of thousands of dollars per carat. Care for tourmaline as you would moderately durable stones, by washing your jewelry in warm soapy water to keep it looking lively and aglow.
In colors of autumn leaves, topaz is the traditional birthstone for the month of November. Ancient Greeks associated topaz with strength, perhaps in recognition of the gem’s hardness and exceptional clarity. Across the world, topaz has been linked in legend and lore with more curative powers than any other gemstone. A long held belief in India maintains that a topaz worn above the heart assures not only a long life but also beauty and intelligence.
Topaz occurs in a wide range of colors, from colorless to golden tones and sherry browns. Most pretty pink and soothing blue colors seen today have been permanently induced by heating topaz, thus making these popular hues more affordable and readily available. A harder gem than quartz, topaz can still break when struck in its weak plane. Shield topaz with protective settings in rings or bracelets and the stone will show lasting beauty in a variety of cuts and shapes.
November’s alternative birthstone is citrine, a variety of quartz. This sun jewel takes its name from the Latin citrus for its warm shades of yellow to orange. Brazil is a major source for this lemony gem as well as topaz, where both can occur as massive crystals weighing dozens of pounds. Citrine is sometimes confused with topaz but is more abundant in nature and thus, less costly. Lapidaries use large and lovely citrine for gem carvings ranging from decorative perfume bottles to soaring crystal sculptures.
Citrine can be scratched by harder stones such as topaz and sapphires. Large crystals are ideal for unusual cuts and shapes, especially in pendants. While citrine dresses up well with diamonds, its sunny tones can provide contrast in combination settings with cooler red, blue and purple gemstones.
A bounty of birthstones awaits those lucky enough to have been born in December. Four jewels share this month's birthstone stage – all bold, beautiful and blue. Three have storied pedigrees; one is new, yet already infamous.
Turquoise is the classic December stone, a choice befitting one of the world’s most admired gems. Over the ages, turquoise has enjoyed worldwide popularity, from Egypt’s royal families to masterful Chinese carvers as well as the many Native American tribes who attached ceremonial importance to the stone. Whether in sky blue, the most treasured color, to the spider webbed greenish blues popular in American southwestern jewelry, turquoise has long been associated with health and protective powers.
Lapis lazuli is actually a rock composed of many minerals. Its peculiar sounding name simply means blue stone though prized lapis shows speckles of white calcite and flecks of golden pyrite in a background or rich blue azurite. Long before Marco Polo visited Afghanistan’s storied mines, lapis was cherished all over the cradle of civilization. The stone was lavishly set in the mask of King Tutankhamen, perhaps in the belief lapis protected its wearer from evil. Though dropped from the official American birthstone list in the 1950s, lapis remains popular in beads, cabochon shapes and carvings.
Zircon is a gemstone that has been linked to wisdom and honor for centuries, particularly in India and Sri Lanka, where the stone is widely popular and beloved. To Americans, however, zircon's name may cause it to be confused with synthetic cubic zirconia, to which it is completely unrelated. Rather, zircon is a natural gemstone with a lovely, if limited, range of colors. Heating brown zircon produces a permanent, distinctive and lively shade of blue, the stone's most well-known hue. Until the late 20th century, fiery colorless zircon was used as a diamond substitute before good quality synthetics were widely available.
The newest December birthstone was adopted in 2002 by the American Gem Trade Association: tanzanite. As the first gemstone added to the official birthstone list in nearly a hundred years, tanzanite seduces admirers in shades of royal blues to violets. Following its 1967 discovery in Tanzania − the country for which the stone was named and still the only place on earth the blue beauty is found − tanzanite skyrocketed in popularity. Even though the stone’s deepest and captivating colors are best seen in larger sizes, its rich hues have prompted gemologists to wonder whether tanzanite is the blue sapphire always wished it could be.