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Learning Lounge: Birthstones and Folklore

| Amethyst | | Aquamarine | | Diamond | | Emerald | | Garnet |
| Opal | | Pearl | | Peridot | | Ruby | | Sapphire | | Topaz | | Turquoise | | Birthstone Birthday Guide Chart


January: Garnet January: Garnet
February: Amethyst February: Amethyst
March: Aquamarine March: Bloodstone
April: Diamond April: Diamond
May: Emerald May: Emerald
June: Pearl, Moonstone June: Alexandrite
July: Ruby July: Ruby
August: Peridot August: Sardonyx
September: Sapphire September: Sapphire
October: Opal, Tourmaline October: Tourmaline
November: Yellow Topaz, Citrine November: Citrine
December: Blue Topaz December: Turquoise, Zircon


Month: February
Meaning: Symbolizes deep love, happiness, humility, sincerity and wealth.

Amethyst is a variety of quartz that ranges in colour from transparent light to dark purple. It has long been treasured for its rich, royal hues.

Amethyst can be traced back to the Minoan period in Greece (about 2500 BC), where it was used as polished cabochons (dome-shaped stones) set in gold. It can be found in works from many artistic eras since then.

The two main sources of amethyst today are Brazil and Zambia, but it is also found in Uruguay, Russia, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and the American state of Arizona.

Did you know?
The word "amethustos" means "not drunk." The ancient Greeks believed that whoever wore this stone would be protected against the intoxicating effect of wine. Whether or not the Greeks held the key to sobriety is open to question. Roman women claimed the gem could keep their husbands faithful.

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Month: March
Meaning: Believed to ensure continual happiness and constancy in love...symbolizes health, hope and youth

Aquamarine is the emerald's most famous sister. It is simply a different colour variety of the mineral beryl: blue-green beryl is called aquamarine. Advances in modern technology have made it possible for aquamarine to be heat-treated to remove the green and leave a more pleasing blue. This is a permanent treatment and has become accepted in the jewellery industry. The historical source of aquamarine is Madagascar, which produces stones of a medium dark blue. Today most aquamarine comes from Brazil. The natural colour of Brazilian gems leans toward blue-green. Other sources of aquamarine are Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Russia.Did you know?Aquamarine is one of the few gemstones that look beautiful with both white and yellow gold or platinum. Yellow gold adds a warm touch to jewellery. White gold or platinum accentuates the coolness of the gem's colour.

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Month: April
Meaning: Symbolizes brilliance, constancy, excellence, innocence, invulnerable faith, joy, life, love and purity.

Diamonds contain pure carbon and are the simplest of all gems. The only difference between a diamond and the graphite in a pencil is the bonding of the atoms.

Diamond is the hardest substance on earth. Only another diamond can scratch it. However, a diamond can chip or cleave if given too hard a knock, so it shouldn't be worn during strenuous work or play.

In an engagement, wedding or anniversary ring, diamonds are the established symbol of marital love. The tradition began in the 15th century, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria sealed his engagement to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring.

Did you know?
Some famous large diamonds have altered the course of history. The Orloff, now in the Romanoff sceptre, was a gift of love to Catherine The Great from Prince Gregory Orloff. The Regent (or Pitt) owned by France was pledged to Holland for war funds and later redeemed by Napoleon I, who mounted it in the hilt of his state sword.

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Month: May
Meaning: Symbolizes spring, rebirth, hope, peace and tranquility...believed to endow its wearer with an accommodating and pleasing disposition.

Like many other gems, the emerald had to share its earliest fame with other green gems. The ancient Romans also referred to green sapphire, turquoise, smithsonite, malachite, jasper and glass as emerald. According to the historian Pliny, the Romans believed that the colour of emeralds grew deeper with age. All gems with light patches or consistent paleness were considered immature.

The finest emeralds come from Colombia. The Incas refused to reveal the source of these coveted gems to the Spaniards when they were conquered and the jungle quickly grew over the paths to the mines. The precious treasure was safe from the plunderers until 1555, when one of the mines of Muzo was discovered by accident and the Spanish began mining.

Colombian emeralds are a relatively clear, pure green, with a slight yellow or blue tint. Brazil is also an important emerald source. Emeralds are found in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well.

Did you know?
The most popular cut for emeralds is a rectangular step cut, often called the "emerald cut." This cut shows off the fine colour of the stone.

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Month: January
Meaning: Symbolizes constancy, faith, loyalty, and strength...believed to endow its wearer with cheerfulness and sincerity.

The garnet is a family of gems rather than a single gemstone. Most garnets are readily available in fine qualities, so they tend to be priced affordably.

The best-known garnets are deep red almandine and pyrope. The almandine is a dark stone with a slight brown or red hue. Fine-quality pyrope may be confused with a dark ruby, but medium-quality looks much like almandine.

Rhodolite is a very popular form of garnet. Its lively violet and red colour is similar to a glass of rose wine. It may resemble a violet ruby or a plum sapphire.

Spessartite varies in colour from tangerine to cinnamon. The bright golden or burnished hessonite is also a popular variety.

In the late 1960s, a new green garnet named tsavorite, after the Tsavo region of Africa, was discovered. Its colour may resemble a sunlit meadow or the finest emerald. The increasing scarcity of fine emerald has made this new find quite a treasure.

The rare demantoid variety of andradite is an emerald green with diamond-like fire. Uvarovite garnet may also be emerald green, but it is exceedingly rare.

Also included in the world's most precious gemstones is a translucent green grossularite, which resembles fine jade.

Did you know?
Garnet is a favourite in children's jewellery. It is set into dainty swirls, hearts and roses for rings, pendants and earrings. It's often chosen as the starter piece in a young girl's collection.

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Month: October
Meaning:Symbolic of confidence, happiness, hope, innocence, prayer and tender love... believed to endow its wearer with pure thoughts and increased faithfulness.

Opal quality is judged by the number of colours exhibited and the evenness of the pattern. There are several varieties of opal:

  • Black: The most treasured variety of opal. Valued for its brilliant, multicoloured flashes and dark background.
  • White: Light background with pastel hues.
  • Crystal: Colourless background with multicoloured flashes.
  • Fire or Cherry: Also fairly transparent, but background colour may be yellow, orange, red or brown. It does not always have the typical play of colours. Often called Mexican opal because it is found in Mexico.
  • Jelly or Water: Opal that is colourless, transparent or semi-transparent and has little or no play of colour.

Australia is the world's most important source of opal. The gems are usually found in sandstone or clay stone, and deposits are spread over a wide area. Mining is done on a small scale with hand-operated machinery and small tools...a pocket-knife might be the final instrument to loosen an opal from its host rock.

Did you know?
Opal is often called the October birthstone, along with tourmaline. The famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt was born in October and never considered herself well-dressed unless she was wearing opals.

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Month: June
Meaning: Symbolizes beauty, faithfulness, humility, innocence, integrity, modesty, purity, refinement, wisdom and wealth.

A natural pearl (often called an Oriental pearl) forms when an irritant gets into a particular species of oyster, mussel or clam. As a defense mechanism, the mollusc secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, or "nacre," is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.

A cultured pearl is made through a similar process. The only difference is that the irritant is a surgically implanted mother-of-pearl bead or piece of shell. The core is much larger than in a natural pearl. As long as there are enough layers to result in a beautiful, gem-quality pearl, the size of the centre does not affect either durability or beauty.

Fine natural pearls are quite rare. The Persian Gulf is the source of the finest natural saltwater pearls. Other sources are the waters around Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and the Micronesian Islands. Japan is the major source of cultured saltwater pearls, with Burma and Australia contributing to world supply.

Freshwater pearls occur naturally, but in recent years a strong cultured pearl industry has sprung up. Freshwater pearls are generally very irregular in shape.

Did You Know?
The pearl was the favoured gem of the wealthy in the Roman Empire. Crusaders brought pearls back from the Orient. Roman women wore pearls to bed so they could be reminded of their wealth immediately upon awakening

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MONTH: August
MEANING :Symbolizes happiness...believed to discourage betrayal and to encourage friendship and marriage.

Peridot (pronounced pear-uh-doe) is a French word derived from the Arabic faridat, meaning gem. The stone ranges in colour from light yellow-green and bright green to olive. Because of the way Peridot splits and bends the rays of light passing through it, it has a velvety, "sleepy" appearance or a shining rich glow.

Archaeologists have found valuable peridots in Alexandria, Egypt. They must have come from the island of Zebargad (zebargad is the Arabic word for peridot), which lies about 50 miles from the coast of Egypt in the Red Sea. Faceted stones have also been found in the ruins of ancient Greece.

Zebargad may have been mined as early as 1500 BC. It was called "The Serpent Isle," because of the many poisonous snakes that interfered with mining activity. Eventually, an Egyptian ruler had the snakes killed and kept the miners isolated on the island. Because the rich green stones were so coveted, guards of the deposits were told to kill any unauthorized travellers approaching the island.

The treasure was kept secret from the Western world from Biblical times until the 17th century. The mines were very active from 1906 until World War II.

At this time, Burma became the prime source of peridot.

The stones from the Mogen region of Burma are a slightly lighter green than those of Zebargad.

Another major worldwide source of peridot is the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. Only the Apache Indians may mine there. Lesser sources of peridot are Norway, Brazil, Australia, Hawaii and the Congo. Peridots have also been found in meteorites.

Did You Know?
That it was once thought that emerald was the favoured stone of Cleoparta but today it is believed that the stone she wore was peridot.

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Month: July
Meaning: Symbolizes beauty, charity, daintiness, dignity, happiness, love, and passion...believed to have the ability to dispel discord and sadness, to preserve its wearer from false friendships and to warn of imminent danger.

The price of wisdom is above rubies," says Job in the Bible. This sentiment is a testament to the lasting appeal of this fiery crimson stone.

Ruby and sapphire are both varieties of the mineral corundum, and their exceptional hardness is surpassed only by diamonds. Red corundum is called ruby, and all other colours are called sapphire. Differentiating rubies and pink or plum sapphires has been a subject of controversy. With the classification of ruby, the gem is worth more money.

The different geographical sources of ruby are known for characteristic colours and qualities. Burma is famous for producing top quality ruby - a fine, clear, deep red. Thailand is known for stones with a dark red to brown tint. Typical Sri Lankan rubies are medium-light in tone, and Africa is known for small, sheet-like stones with a purple hue.

Burma is the most important source of rubies today. Other producers are Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Australia, various locations in Africa and North Carolina.

Did You Know?
Some rubies display a luminous star when viewed in the right light. This is caused by the orientation of intersecting needles within the stone. The reflected light forms a star. Stars may be seen on certain translucent stones that have been cut in a dome shape.

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Month: September
Meaning: Symbolizes calmness, constancy, contemplation, hope, innocence, purity, truth, and virtue...believed to bring its wearer comfort, courage, and strength, while pacifying anger, protecting from danger and fostering constancy in love.

The ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire whose reflection gave the sky its colour.

The finest sapphire colour is a rich, velvety cornflower blue. This is called "Kashmir" out of deference to the Kashmir region of India, the traditional source of the finest sapphires. Today, Kashmir is not generally mined because of its physical inaccessibility. Most current production comes from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Montana, Australia and Africa.

Sapphire ranges in colour from various blues to violet, green, yellow and orange. A particularly lovely, coral-coloured form is referred to as "padparadscha," which is taken from the Sinhalese for "lotus-coloured." Although sapphire is found in many colours, these are not all commercially available at any given time. Fine, needle-like inclusions are what give sapphires their velvety quality. When these inclusions are numerous enough to make the stone translucent or opaque and are oriented properly, they allow light to be reflected in such a way that a star floats across the top of the stone with movement. Stars are not visible in faceted stones.

Did You Know?
The historian Damigeron wrote that the sapphire was worn by kings to protect them from harm. It was also believed that sapphires would protect the wearer from envy and attract divine favour. The gem was regarded as a symbol of truth, sincerity and constancy.

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Month: November
Meaning: Symbolizes divine goodness, eager love, fidelity, friendship, gentleness, and integrity... believed to bring its wearer recognition, wealth and protection from evil

The velvety golden gemstone known as sherry topaz is so named because it resembles a light-filled glass of sherry wine. Its richer sister, sometimes called imperial topaz, is the colour of a blazing summer sunset.

The ancients lacked today's scientific sophistication, so they categorized gems according to appearance. Therefore all yellow stones were called topaz.

Although the golden to brown colours of topaz are the most common, blue is gaining popularity. This topaz has a soft sky blue colour and resembles aquamarine. Part of the reason for its increased popularity is the fact that pale stones can now be successfully heat-treated to produce a pleasing blue.

Occasionally topaz is found in a lovely light pink. This is considered the most valuable colour. Sherry topaz is sometimes heated to achieve this pink colour.

Much of the topaz we see today is mined and cut in Brazil. Topaz is also found in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, South Africa, Russia, Mexico and Utah.

Did You Know?
The ancient Chaldeans were the first to establish a relationship between the signs of the zodiac and precious gems. Topaz was assigned to Sagittarius, from November 21 through December 20.

Did you know that citrine is also used as the November birthstone

CITRINE is one of the most affordable gemstones, thanks to the durability and availability of this golden quartz.

Named after the French name for lemon, citron, many citrines have a juicy lemon colour. In ancient times, citrine was carried as a protection against snake venom and evil thoughts.

Although the darker orange colour of citrine - sometimes called Madeira citrine after the colour of the wine - has been the most valued colour in modern times, many people prefer the bright lemony shades.

Both colours of citrine blend especially well with the yellow gleam of polished gold.

Because of its unique brilliance and superior hardness, diamond has come to symbolize eternal love.

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Month: December
Meaning: Symbolizes earth, happiness, good health, hope, prosperity, and success...considered to be a pledge of friendship when given as a gift.

Turquoise is said to protect its wearers from danger and to enable them to see into the future. In some countries it is believed to fade when illness or danger is near, or when a lover has been unfaithful.

The oldest source of turquoise is the Wadi Maghara mines in Sinai Peninsula. By 3200 BC, mining expeditions of up to several thousand labourers were sent there annually. They were rediscovered in the mid-19th century and worked on and off until recently.

The mines of Nishapur in Northeastern Iran were described in 1200 AD as having belonged to Isaac, the son of Abraham. They supplied turquoise to Europe and Western Asia for centuries and to the United States for years before production ceased.

While turquoise has been mined in Tibet, China, Australia, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Turkestan and Afghanistan, the principal source today is the Southwestern United States - New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. It has also been found in Texas, Colorado and California.

Iranian turquoise is characteristically an intense medium blue and takes a fine polish. American and Mexican turquoise ranges from light blue to green. Egyptian turquoise contains more green and can contain hues of blue and yellow. The finest colour, sometimes referred to as Persian, is an even robin's egg blue.

Did You Know?
In many cultures, turquoise is regarded as a harbinger of good fortune, success and health. Aztecs and Egyptians considered it a symbol of prosperity. In India, tradition held that to wear a turquoise on the little finger and look at the stone after seeing the new moon meant one would gain great wealth. According to American Indians, the stone brought together the spirits of sea and sky to bless warriors and hunters. A turquoise arrowhead assured accurate aim. It was said that fine turquoise was hidden in the damp ground at the end of the rainbow. A Navaho belief is that a piece of turquoise cast into a river, accompanied by a prayer to the god of rain, will cause rainfall.

However, today blue topaz is most often used as the birthstone for December

The name topaz comes from the Sanskrit and means fire.

Topaz occurs in an array of colors from red, orange, peach, pink, gold, yellow, brown blue and clear. Brown, yellow, orange, sherry, red and pink topaz is found in Brazil and Sri Lanka. Pink topaz is also found in Pakistan and Russia. Blue topaz, which has a pale to medium blue color that is created by irradiation is found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and China. A new type of surface-enhanced topaz made its appearance in 1998 with colors ranging from blue to greenish-blue and emerald green.

Early discoveries from Brazil in rich reddish colors to vivid pinks, were used to grace the jewelry of the 18th and 19th Century Russian Czarinas. This is how topaz gained the name "Imperial Topaz".

There is a beautiful topaz in the Green Vault in Dresden, one of the world's important gem collections and one of the most famous topaz stones is a giant specimen set in the Portuguese Crown, the Braganza.

Topaz is a very hard gemstone, an eight on the Mohs scale of harness, and can be split with a single blow. As a result, it should be protected from hard knocks.

Did You Know?

The ancient Greeks believed that it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink and to cure insomnia, asthma, and hemorrhages.

The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter, who was a sun god, and they believed it had the power to dispel enchantment and to improve eyesight.

The Egyptians believed that topaz was a gemstone colored with the golden glow of the mighty sun god Ra so it was used as a powerful amulet to protect the faithful against harm

Source: The American Gem Society

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