The Year in Gemstones
For centuries, scholars, mystics and religious leaders have ascribed special properties to gemstones. An early reference to this practice (Exodus 28) can be seen in the Breastplate of Aaron, a vestment worn by high priests. The breastplate contained twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Of special interest is the fact that sapphire was not discovered until the time of the Roman Empire and so it is widely believed that the “sapphire” in the breastplate is in fact lapis lazuli.
Subsequently over the centuries, it became a practice to assign gemstones to signs of the zodiac for good fortune to the wearer but it was not until Eastern Europe in the 18th century that birthstones as we know them were adopted. The modern list in use today was adopted by several industry groups in 1952. Subsequent changes have been made such as the addition of Tanzanite for December.
Here is a brief information glimpse about each month’s stone(s).
Most commonly seen in dark shades of red and orange, garnet can also occur in beautiful greens (Tsavorite) and color change varieties giving the person born in January many wonderful color options. The very bright, often lime green gemstoneobserved in antique jewelry is the demantoid variety of garnet, a particularly treasured gem. Polished surfaces of garnet exhibit adamantine luster, a chrome like shine, sometimes so pronounced it can be used to identify the gem as garnet. Garnet is believed by many to contain healing and spiritual energy.
The violet-purple variety of quartz is called amethyst. The word amethyst derives from the Greek word “amethystos” meaning “not intoxicated”. It is also sometimes called the “Bishop’s stone” because it is often worn by Catholic bishops. Amethyst is found in color tones ranging from very light (rose de France) to very dark velvety purple; a very desirable color (Siberian). Citrine, the yellow and orange variety of quartz, is found to a small extent in nature but most citrine is derived from the heat treatment of amethyst. Amethyst is believed by many to have soothing and cleansing properties as well as healing and protective powers.
The blue or greenish-blue variety of beryl. “Aqua” ranges in color from nearly colorless to fine, rare dark blue known as Santa Maria. Owing to heat treatment thought to “improve” color, modern aquamarines show very little greenish tint. Older stones are often seen that have the true aquamarine, greenish blue color. Ancients believed that aquamarine came from the treasure chests of mermaids and it is frequently referred to as the “sailor’s stone”. Aquamarine it is said, protects the wearer from rough seas and enhances his or her intellectual powers. In May we will revisit the beryl family to discuss emerald.
Arguably, the king of the gemstones. Diamonds will endure decades of wear without problems. They can chip; even though hard, they are lacking in durability especially when a blow is received at a key location in their structure. Size, cutting quality, clarity color and fluorescence all have effects on their value. Consumers need to be especially wary because this valuable gemstone can be altered in color and clarity. A variety of colors of diamond exist in nature; yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and red are all known and can be induced by various treatments. Wise buyers seek diamonds evaluated by the Gemological Institute of America to protect their purchase. So Many proposals concerning the healing and mystical properties of diamond have been made over the years that one could say diamond has any power you want it to have. Strength, clarity of thought and strong energy are a few.
The decidedly green variety of beryl is emerald; light tone gems are properly called green beryl. Buyers are frequently frustrated by the fact that fine emeralds are often associated with numerous internal inclusions. Clean, fine color emeralds are available at upper brackets of price. So frequently have emeralds been cut into cut cornered cushion (rectangular) shapes, that shape for all gemstones is called the “emerald cut”. Emerald has been worn as a talisman (object thought to contain spiritual or healing power). It is thought to bring love, wisdom and hope to the wearer. A plethora of healing properties have been ascribed to emerald including reducing fever, liver illness, genital disorders and skin disease.
June: ALEXANDRITE AND PEARL
This month brings the first phenomenal gemstone, a variety of chrysoberyl. Alexandrite, wrote the ancients, is the color of ruby in candlelight and the color of emerald by sunlight. While stones with color changes of that degree can occur on rare occasions, the usually observed color change in alexandrite is not as dramatic. Selective absorption gives alexandrite this property. This phenomenon is known as pleochroism. Incandescent light (candle or light bulb) has a spectrum rich in red. Sunlight and fluorescent light has a spectrum rich in the blue and green. After its discovery in Russia (c1830), it was named after Czar Alexander II. It is said alexandrite makes the wearer lucky and protects him/her from blood diseases. The alternative, pearl, is an “organic” gem with compromised durability. Use of pearl is recommended for earrings, necklaces, pendants and infrequently worn rings. The delicate pearl will not withstand long term ring wear.
The red variety of sapphire (corundum) is properly called ruby. When pink it is properly called pink sapphire. In its finer qualities, ruby is a wonderful, bright gemstone whose value is greatly dependent upon size. Fine rubies over 5ct are rare. Rubies have been subject to numerous treatments for color and clarity enhancement; shoppers beware. Ruby symbolizes health and love. Like diamond, many healing properties are ascribed to it most relating the blood, probably related to ruby’s color. It was thought that rubies were the petrified blood drops of dragons slain in battle.
The gem variety of the mineral olivine. Many August birthday celebrants are less than enthusiastic about their birthstone; most have not seen it in its finer qualities. Burmese and specimens from St. John’s Island in the Red Sea off Egypt are well saturated, vibrant gems worthy of the finest jewelry. Peridot is considered a good luck stone with healing properties of the liver, gall bladder and digestive system. Some believe that Peridot will slow the aging process and prevent nightmares.
Normally thought of as the blue variety of corundum, ruby being the red variety. Second only to diamond in hardness, sapphires make excellent ring stones. The two most prevalent color families are Australian color type and Ceylon color type. The former are darker and inkier stones while the latter are a crisper, pure blue. Sapphires can be found in two phenomenal varieties; star and color change. The star variety demonstrates a six ray star under point light. This phenomenal property is called asterism. Similar to Alexandrite, the color change variety of sapphire can look to be a different color under incandescent versus day light. Sapphire is thought to have healing powers for rheumatism and mental illness. Sapphires can be visually improved with heat. True sapphire aficionados often seek so-Called “no heat” stones. These are stones certified to show no signs of heat treatment.
October: OPAL AND PINK TOURMALINE
Those born in October have a choice between opal, a gem usually cut in cabochon style and pink tourmaline, a gem usually faceted. The beautiful dusty rose colored pink zircon has also been used extensively. As a silicate, opal is fragile and great care should be used in jewelry mounting design to protect it from being broken. The name opal derives from the Greek term “opallios,” which translates as “color change.” Nineteenth century diamond merchants created false rumors that opals were bad luck in order to protect their interests against the rising popularity of this beautiful stone. Some ancients believed that opal was a solidified rainbow and that it brought peace and love.
While citrine has been proposed as an alternate to topaz for November, we do not regard it as a suitable alternative. Citrine, most frequently a heat treatment product from amethyst shares some color similarities to topaz but it is an “on the cheap” substitute promoted by less reputable jewelers for years as “topaz”. We feel the majestic topaz should stand alone as the November stone. Imperial precious topaz is one of the most beautiful of all gemstones. The best qualities were mined atOuro Preto mine in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. That location, it is claimed, is now mined out.
December: BLUE ZIRCON, TANZANITE AND TURQUOISE
The alternate stones for December are popular probably owing to the small amount of really fine blue Zircon in the marketplace. In addition to Tanzanite and turquoise, the imaginative client might consider blue tourmaline (indicolite) or one of the teal colored copper containing Tourmalines (“cuprian” tourmaline) as a dramatic and beautiful substitute. Zircon (meaning gold stone) is thought to bring peace and purity to the heart. All of the tourmalines are considered to be “healing crystals”. Turquoise (meaning “Turkish stone”) is thought to empower the wearer and prevent falls when horseback riding. Turquoise found in ancient burials is all green from oxidation. More modern turquoise undergoes “parafinning” (waxing) or pressure treatment with liquid plastic material under vacuum in order to stabilize its chalky nature. Such treated turquoise will never turn green.