Uncovering the Ancient History of Birthstone Jewelry
About the Author:
Julia is the owner and designer of Topaz & Pearl handmade jewlery. She's been a jewelry professional since 2017 and has handcrafted hundreds of pieces of custom birthstone jewelry for her customers.
The birthstones used in jewelry are beauiful and steeped in history.
For centuries, people have used birthstones to symbolize their loved ones and are a popular choice for sentimental gifts.
Although the history of birthstone jewelry as we know it today is ambiguous, the origin of the tradition can be traced back thousands of years.
Since then, the use of birthstones has evolved and the official list has been changed as recently as 2016, but the tradition of using gemstones to represent a special milestone or person remains a meaningful practice.
This article explores the history and evolution of birthstones so that you can feel more connected to your loved ones and your own journey through the rich tradition of birthstone jewelry.
What Are Birthstones?
The birthstones are a list of colorful gemstones that associate a stone (or sometimes several) with each month of the year.
Birthstones are most commonly worn in a piece of birthstone jewelry that celebrates the wearer and/or people close to them.
Birthstones (especially the unique raw stones we use at Topaz & Pearl) are a tangible reminder of our memories and help us feel connected to the people we share our journeys with.
Where did birthstones originate?
The conecept of using gemstones to symbolize family in jewelry can be traced back thousands of years. The Bible actually gives one of the earliest accounts of this practice.
The book of Exodus describes in detail a breastplate that had twelve gemstones set in it. It hung from the neck similar to a necklace and was worn by high priests. The stones symbolized the twelve sons of Jacob and their descendants, and was an important part of ancient rituals.
This biblical reference is the earliest written example we have of stones being used to represent people and their family in a piece of jewelry. Therefore it could be considered the first example of birthstone jewelry!
Some scholars suggest that even earlier cultures such as Ancient Egypt or Babylon may have used symbolic stones in jewelry. Most likely, these ancient civilizations attributed special powers to certain stones and used them in talismanic jewelry believed to protect their loved ones, as many cultures throughout history have done. Later texts from eastern religions dating back to the 19th century also began to associate gemstones with the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Over time, the concept of the twelve birthstones culturally evolved into assigning a special stone to each month of the year. This practice was adopted, influenced, and encouraged by professional jewelers over time.
At first, collectors aimed to own jewelry with each stone to wear in the cooresponding month, rotating it throughout the year.
European jewelry companies in the 18th century introduced the idea of wearing the stone of your birthday month in your own personal jewelry. They were first called “monthly stones”. During the 1800's and 1900's, wearing jewelry with the birthstones of yourself and your loved ones began to catch on as a trend.
While wearing colored gemstones grew in popularity, there was no industry standard or guidance until 1912 when the Jewelers of America standardized the list we use today.
The Modern List of Birthstones
The first official list of birthstones was established by the National Association of Jewelers (now known as Jewelers of America) in 1912 and has been updated periodically since then.
Official Birthstones Timeline
1912: The National Association of Jewelers published the first official list of birthstones.
1952: The first edits to the list added:
- Alexandrite to June
- Citrine to November
- Pink tourmaline to October
- Zircon to December
2002: Tanzanite was added as a birthstone for December. (Tanzanite was only first discovered in 1967!)
2016: Spinel was added to the month of August.
It is unclear when moonstone was added to the list for June, but is recognized by Jewelers of America as an official birthstone.
Birthstone Jewelry and Its Significance Today
Birthstones are intended to tell the unique story of the wearer. Many designers like myself create birthstone jewelry that represents your story, often featuring multiple stones from different months to represent a mix of family members or to combine various personal meanings.
No matter what stone you choose, birthstone jewelry is an enduring way to show your love and appreciation for those closest to you.
The meaning of birthstones has changed over time, but the significance behind birthstone jewelry remains the same.
Birthstone jewelry makes a great gift for any occasion, as it is a thoughtful way to show someone you care and share in their journey.
As a birthstone jewelry artist, I have the pleasure of making special birthstone keepsakes for a number of occasions:
Custom birthstone necklaces are a popular gift for moms- new and experienced. Mothers love to wear the birthstones of their kids and their entire family as a way to keep them close.
- Wearing your own birthstone is a symbol of your individuality and a celebration of the life you have. It's a great investment in your own wardrobe and something to wear every day.
Giving someone the gift of their birthstone in jewelry is a sentimental way to express how much you love and appreciate them.
- Wearing the birthstone of another person can help you feel close to them. Birthstone jewelry is also a popular memorial gift that bring comfort to those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one.
How to Choose the Perfect Birthstone Jewelry
When it comes to choosing the perfect birthstone jewelry for you, there are a few things to consider. First, decide on the type of jewelry you’d like – a ring, necklace, or bracelet.
- A birthstone necklace is best when you want to keep it close to your heart and let others see it.
- A bracelet or a ring can be something you see most often, being a sentimental reminder for you.
Then, take into account the preciousness of the metal and size of the stone – small and subtle or large and dramatic?
Finally, think about who you’re buying for; will they appreciate a timeless classic design or something more unique like a raw birthstone?
Whatever you choose, birthstone jewelry is a sentimental gift that will be appreciated for years to come.
From their ancient origins to the modern day interpretations, birthstones are steeped in history and symbolism. I hope that learning more about the history of birthstones helps you feel connected to this sentimental tradition.
Birthstone jewelry a beautiful way to commemorate the special people in your life. Whether you’re looking for a gift for a friend, family member, or yourself, birthstones are a timeless and meaningful way to do so. With the right knowledge and guidance, you can find the perfect birthstone jewelry to bring joy, luck, and protection. If you're looking for unique and unconventional birthstone jewelry, I'd be happy to create a customized piece for you!
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