How Did Various Gemstones Get Assigned to the Months?


Quick Answer

The tradition of gemstones representing birth months originated in the Bible. Moses' brother Aaron became a high priest, and his breastplate contained 12 gemstones, which symbolized the 12 months and the 12 zodiac signs.

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Full Answer

Although the assignment of gemstones to birth months has biblical roots, it is unclear which gems mentioned in the Bible correlate to modern-day precious stones. For example, color was a noteworthy characteristic in ancient times, so a ruby and garnet may have been interchangeable. Ancient gems likely also had names different from their counterparts today. Biblical diamonds were probably white topaz or white sapphire instead of true diamonds.

In addition, contemporary birthstones vary according to cost and availability. Since the early 20th century, national jewelers' associations have periodically issued a standardized list of birthstones, sometimes with multiple gem options for each month. June, for example, has three acceptable birthstones: pearl, alexandrite and moonstone.

The manner in which birthstones are typically worn has also changed throughout time. In 15th-century Poland, custom dictated owning all 12 gemstones and wearing each in its corresponding month, regardless of the wearer's birth month. In modern Western society, an individual may wear her own or a loved one's birthstone set in a ring, necklace or bracelet.

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