The History of Birthstones

The History of Birthstones

The Birth of the Birthstone

Have you ever wondered why certain birth gemstones are related to the month in which we’re born?  The history is not entirely clear, but if we look back to Biblical times, we can see that our modern idea is rooted in spiritual history.

The Ambiguous History of Birthstones

The idea that birth of a certain month is related to a specific gemstone had to have come from somewhere, but the concept’s history and how it has transformed into what it is now is a bit unclear.

Most scholars have traced the origins of birthstones back to the book of Exodus in the Bible.  In this book, a high priest during the time of Moses named Aaron had a special religious garment.  This garment was a breastplate with 12 jewels, each of which was engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The gems in the plate ere said to have been chipped off the throne of God.  According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (1st century AD), the breastplate had miraculous powers.  The special powers associated with each gem corresponded with an astrological sign, and wearing them at the right time would have therapeutic or talismanic benefits.

What the specific stones of the breastplate actually were is disputed, because any list relies upon the translations of archaic terms that are more specific to the color of the jewel than the actual specific gemstone itself.

More Biblical References to Birthstones

In Revelation, John discusses the Foundation Stones of New Jerusalem, which scholars believe was based on the earlier breastplate of Aaron.  The number 12 is connected in the early tribes, the number of apostles, and the 12 signs of the zodiac.  Though the pagan belief of gems having particular powers was scorned, the custom of a month being associated with a particular birthstone was adopted by early Christians.

In this book, John also lists 12 stones that represented certain qualities and were eventually tied to the Julian Calendar, which has 12 months.
Our Modern Perception of Birthstones

The origin of the true modern concept of birthstones is debated.  Some scholars say that a person always wearing a gemstone corresponding to the month of their birth is traced back to 18th-century Poland, with the arrival of Jewish gem traders.

According to the Gemological Institute of America, however, the modern custom can be traced back to 16th-century Germany.

Whatever the origin, the modern list of birthstones that we reference today was defined in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers in the USA.  That list had little resemblance to Aaron’s breastplate, taking over the idea without keeping up the religious tradition.

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