Traditionally, a birthstone is associated with each month of the year. The origin of birthstones is believed to date back to the breastplate of Aaron which contained twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
There are numerous legends and myths about birthstone healing powers and their therapeutic influence. According to these legends, wearing a gemstone during its assigned month heightened its healing powers. For the full effect, individuals needed to own all twelve and alternate them monthly.
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Ancient civilizations prized garnets. Thousands of years ago, red garnet necklaces adorned the necks of Egypt's pharaohs, and were entombed with their mummified corpses as prized possessions for the afterlife. Most consumers associate garnet with the colour red, but the gem's colour palette is broad and includes rich oranges, bright pinks, strong greens and yellows.
Although there are over 20 different varieties of garnets, pyrope-almandite garnets, the attractive slightly reddish brown stones, are some of the biggest sellers today. Mixtures of pyrope and almandite occur on every continent. In fact, they're among the world's most widespread gems. They can even be found in Canada's Slocan Valley.
Throughout history, amethyst's royal purple colour has made it one of the most popular and well-known gemstones. The ancient Greeks thought it had magical and medicinal properties and fine amethysts have been set in royal crown jewels for centuries. The finest amethysts are a strongly saturated, medium-dark to dark reddish purple or purple.
Amethysts were once considered an equal to rubies, emeralds and sapphires. In the nineteenth century, a huge amethyst deposit was discovered in Brazil, and the once scarce purple gem suddenly became plentiful. Due to its availability and affordability, amethyst is a desirable gemstone for jewellery.
The name "aquamarine" is derived from two Latin words: aqua, meaning "water" and marina, meaning "of the sea." Aquamarine's colour range is a cool blue to a slightly greenish blue. It is a variety of the species beryl. In the beryl species, aquamarine is second only to emerald in popularity. Unlike emeralds, however, most faceted aquamarines are eye-clean. The gem also shows its finest colour in large sizes.
Brazil has been the world's most important source of aquamarine since 1811. In 1910, the largest aquamarine crystal ever discovered was found in Minas Gerais, Brazil and weighed 244 lbs. and measured 19 in. long and 15 in. in diameter.
Lucky April babies, your birthstone is the diamond! Although the beauty of a colourless diamond is breathtaking, for those of you who prefer colour in your birthstone jewellery, don't fret. Diamonds come in a variety of beautiful hues such as: yellows, blues, pinks, browns and greens.
Our fascination with diamonds isn't a modern phenomenon. The history of diamonds is entwined with the history of the world. Pliny, a Roman naturalist in the first century AD, described diamond as "…the most valuable, not only of the precious stones, but of all the things in this world."
Diamond is a mineral and is the only gem made of a single element: carbon. Graphite, like diamond contains only carbon, but its formation process is very different. The result is that graphite is so soft that you can write with it, while diamond is so hard that you can only scratch it with another diamond. Features used to judge the quality and value of finished diamonds are known as the Four Cs.
Diamonds don't grow on trees. However, they can be found in the arid deserts of South Africa, the permafrost of Siberia, a barren region of Western Australia and within the frozen tundra of Canada's Northwest Territories. The Ekati mine in Canada, for example, started production in 1998. Current projections are that it will operate for about 20 more years and produce 3 million to 4 million carats of rough diamonds per year.
Emerald, famous for its distinctive green colour, has been admired for thousands of years. It is the one gem that's always associated with lushest landscapes and the richest greens. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. Seattle, in the US state of Washington, is the Emerald City. Thailand's most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha, even though it's carved from green jadeite. Some people believed emerald's green colour represented fertility and rebirth. Others believed you could see the future by holding an emerald under your tongue. The most desirable emerald colours are bluish green to green and the most prized emeralds are highly transparent.
The first known emeralds came from Egypt's Cleopatra mines. However, Colombia has been an important emerald source since the sixteenth century. In 1963, a discovery of emeralds in Brazil's Bahia State opened up a new source for this precious gem.
People have coveted natural pearls as symbols of wealth and status for thousands of years. Members of royal families adorned themselves with natural pearls, treasuring them and passing them from generation to generation. However, soon after 1900, the natural pearl market started to decline. The major influence was the development of pearl culturing techniques. Even though the market for natural pearls has declined, natural pearls still occur wherever there are pearl-bearing mollusks. But today, there's little financial incentive to harvest mollusks for natural pearls. A shell diver might search hundreds or even thousands of mollusks without finding a single natural pearl. Of those found, few would be suitable for jewellery.
Today, there are four major types of cultured whole pearls:
- Akoya (6mm-7mm pearl size most common)
- South Sea (10mm-15mm pearl size most common)
- Tahitian (9mm-11mm pearl size most common)
- Freshwater (6mm-10mm pearl size most common)
Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls are produced on saltwater pearl farms by mollusks called oysters. The mollusks that produce Freshwater cultured pearls are called mussels.
Alternate Gems for June: If pearl is not your favourite stone, alexandrite and moonstone are substitutes for June. However, due to limited supply, alexandrite is extremely rare and valuable. Pink tourmaline is also considered a substitute for June babies.
Red is the colour of our most intense emotions -- love and anger, passion and fury. Humans discovered rubies about 3000BC. Ruby is one of the most historically significant coloured stones. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called "ratnaraj" or "king of precious stones." With the birth of the western world, ruby retained its importance and became one of the most sought after gems of European royalty and the upper classes.
The desire for rubies is just as great today as it has always been. Practically speaking, rubies popularity is also attributed to its hardness (Ruby rates 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, second only to Diamond which rates 10) making it durable enough to be set in frequently worn jewellery.
The finest ruby has a pure, vibrant red to slightly purplish red hue. The ancient city of Mogok, near the historic mining area in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the source of some of the world's great rubies.
Early records indicate that the ancient Egyptians mined a beautiful green gem on an island in the Red Sea. Legend has it that the island was infested with snakes, making mining unpleasant, until an enterprising Pharaoh drove them into the sea. Historically, people confused this stone – now known as peridot – with other gems. Some even believe that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collection might actually have been peridot.
Today peridot is greatly appreciated as the most affordable, untreated green stone. Miners find peridot as irregular masses of crystals in volcanic rocks throughout Africa, Asia and the United states. Tapping these masses with a hammer breaks open the nodule and releases the gem-quality peridot in side. Peridot’s finest colour is a richly saturated green to slightly yellowish green that’s free of brownish tints. As one of the softer gems, peridot requires care when it’s worn.
Blue Sapphire’s hues reflect the sky’s every shade, from blazing afternoon to velvety midnight. Traditionally, the gem symbolizes nobility, truth, sincerity and faithfulness. The most highly valued blue sapphires are velvety blue to violetish blue. It is estimated that at least 95 percent of blue sapphires are treated in some way to improve their appearance. Heating, to improve colour and clarity is by far the most common treatment.
Like ruby, sapphire shares the species name “corundum”, and also rate 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, second only to diamond which rates 10. This makes sapphires durable enough to be set in frequently worn jewellery. Sapphire comes from many locations across the globe, at 5 elevations ranging from sea level to the tops of the highest mountains. Significant sources, past and present, include Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
A fine opal’s beauty is elusive and challenging to capture in words. Writers have compared opals to volcanoes, galaxies and fireworks. In ancient Rome, this gem symbolized love and hope. The Romans gave it a name – opalus – that was synonymous with “precious stone.” The Roman scholar Pliny, marvelled that this kaleidoscopic gem encompassed the red of ruby, the green of emerald, the yellow of topaz , the blue of sapphire, and the purple of amethyst. He was referring to opal’s unique display of flashing rainbow hues, known as play-of-colour.
Although, scientists believe that most opal deposits formed 15 to 30 million years ago; today, due to its wide availability, opal is perhaps the most familiar phenomenal gem. About 90 percent of the world’s total opal supply comes from Australia. The continent produces most of the world’s black, white and boulder opal.
Alternate Gems for October: If opals aren’t your favourite stone, pink tourmaline is a substitute for October babies.
Citrine, the transparent, pale yellow to brownish orange variety of quartz, is rare in nature. Its attractive colour, plus durability and affordability, makes it the top-selling yellow-to-orange gem. Since natural citrine is rare, most of the citrine on the market is the result of heat treatment, which causes some amethyst to change colour from undesirable pale violet to attractive yellow. The deeper the saturation of the original amethyst’s hue, the richer the resulting citrine’s yellow.
The top sources for natural citrine are Bolivia, Spain, Madagascar, Mexico and Uruguay. Amethyst that’s typically heat-treated to a citrine colour is mined mostly in Brazil.
For centuries, topaz was associated with the colour yellow. People assumed that all yellow gemstones were topaz, and that all topaz was yellow. Today, we know that topaz occurs in a broad colour range; and for the December birthstones, the colour is blue.
In nature, topaz is most commonly colourless, and naturally coloured strong blue gems are extremely rare. However, in the marketplace, treatments allow strong blue shades to be plentiful. Treaters use a combination of radiation and heat to produce blue hues in topaz. Brazil is the world’s leading supplier of high-quality topaz, and Sri Lanka is an important source of treatable colourless topaz.
Alternate Gems for December: If blue topaz is not your favourite stone, turquoise and tanzanite are substitutes for December babies.