Birthstones: Objects of
beauty, power, mythology...*
by Martha Stewart
Since ancient times,
the 12 gemstones that we attach to our modern calendar year
have been worshipped as objects of great power.
The early Persians
believed that the sapphire was a chip from the pedestal on
which the Earth balanced and that reflections from it
produced the color of the sky. Cleopatra ground pearls
into her wine and drank the mixture, believing she was
drinking in their beauty.
Our association of
specific stones with months of the year can be traced - in
one commonly accepted explanation - to the gems affixed to
the holy breast-plate of Aaron, brother of the Israelites
significance, the custom of wearing birthstones as jewelry
originated in Poland in the 1700s. In the early 20th
century in the United States, the National Association of
Jewelers adopted our modern birthstone calendar.
What is a
Birthstones, and all gems, are quite literally pieces of the
Earth, which have been shaped over time. They are
classified by the minerals that make them up.
for example, are composed of carbon. The corundum
group, which includes ruby and sapphire, are crystals of
get their color from the way they absorb waves of light.
If all wavelengths are absorbed by a gemstone, that stone
appears colorless. Impurities can cause variations in
the way a stone absorbs light; that's why so many stones
come in a wide range of dazzling hues.
birthstone calendar includes a bit of mineralogy, as well as
some of the myths and lore surrounding each stone.
This stone gets its
name from the Latin word for pomegranate, since its crystals
often resemble the fruit's deep red color and seeds.
But garnets come in many colors and can even be colorless.
are thought to protect sleepers from nightmares and
travelers from danger.
This gem is made of
quartz, the second-most abundant mineral on Earth. Its
color ranges from wine purple to pale lilac; the deep shades
are most valuable.
to mythology, Diana, goddess of the hunt, turned a maiden
named Amethyst into quartz, saving her from Dionysus, god of
wine. His tears stained her purple. The stone is
thought to represent sobriety.
Aquamarine (alternative: Bloodstone).
Aquamarine gets its blue color from iron; its
crystals can grow as large as 200 pounds. Bloodstone,
sometimes called heliotrope or blood jasper, is opaque
quartz with flecks of red from iron.
is thought to protect ocean voyages, guard against sea
monsters and soothe marital discord. Bloodstone
The hardest natural
substance on Earth, a diamond's colors range from clear to
sooty black. Ancient cultures believed the gems were
crystal lightning, splinters of stars and tears of the gods.
This green stone is often
fragile, due to fissures and fractures. Transparent
gems are extremely rare.
emerald is a symbol of rebirth and romance. It is
thought to soothe the soul, sharpen wit-and change color
Pearl (alternatives: Moonstone, Alexandrite).
The pearl is formed inside the shell of a
mollusk from an irritant coated with calcium carbonate.
Pearls vary widely in color and shape.
can be semitransparent to opaque; alexandrites are very rare
and are known for chameleon like color changes.
is the Chinese symbol of wealth, power and longevity.
Hindus believed that moonstones were bits of moonbeams.
Second only to diamonds in
hardness, rubies can be even more valuable, especially when
they are large and of high quality. The red stone is a
symbol of wealth, health, wisdom, passion and the triumph of
love. It is also said to bring good luck to gamblers.
Period (alternative: Onyx).
Peridot is a green stone with an oily luster. It is
sometimes called the "evening emerald." Onyx is an
an amulet against night terrors. Onyx, carved with
images of Mars, the god of war, supposedly gave Roman
A gem belonging to the
corundum family, sapphire can be any color but red (red
corundum is ruby). Blue gems are the finest.
a symbol and guardian of purity, the stone has been worn by
clergy to avoid temptation.
Opal (alternative: Tourmaline).
Opal is a fragile stone of silica and water.
Tourmaline has many colors and can even be multi-colored
within a single stone.
symbolize magic, love and hope. Some believe that
wearing them is unlucky for those not born in October.
Tourmaline is said to protect against bad decisions.
Topaz (alternative: Citrine).
Trace minerals create topaz gems in colors
from blue to green to pink, sherry and even black.
Citrine is an affordable, yellow-orange gem.
the sun jewel. It reminded the Egyptians of Ra and the
Romans of Jupiter. It is thought to improve eyesight
and break spells. Citrine is believed to guard against
snake venom and evil thoughts.
Turquoise (alternative: Zircon).
Turquoise, a gem mined in arid and semiarid
lands, ranges in color from blue to green. Zircon is
fiery and has a wide range of colors.
third century, turquoise was thought to protect its owner
from falling off a horse. To Native Americans, it
embodies the blue of heaven and green of Earth. Zircon
is thought to heal disease and bring sound sleep.
*The Press Democrat, Saturday, December
28, 2002. Write to Martha Stewart, care of the New
York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New
York, NY 10168 or email