Birthstones - a gem of a tradition

By Kiren Thandi 

It’s a tradition so ancient that no one is quite sure where or when it began: birthstones, and the idea of precious gems having special powers to bring the wearer luck, ward off evil, and enhance personal qualities.


A common story attributes modern birthstones to the Breastplate of Aaron, a Jewish high priest, with the stones representing the twelve Jewish tribes. It is written in Exodus 28:15:

You shall mount on it four rows of stones; the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald; and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree. The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel; twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes.

Other schools of thought say that Indian and Babylonian cultures embraced birthstones far before biblical times as part of their astrological practices. These cultures used gems corresponding to ruling planets, forming the zodiac system.

Apostles began to be associated with particular stones in the eighth and ninth centuries, and people would wear a different gem every month. The modern practice of identifying with and wearing a single birthstone is a relatively new custom, only established in the last few hundred years. Over time, the list of birthstones has been influenced by religion, culture, customs, mistranslations, and, of course, marketability.


Commonly known for its deep red colour, garnet in fact comes in many different hues. The name derives from the Latin word ‘garanatus’, which means ‘seedlike’, in reference to its similarity to pomegranate seeds. Less romantically, it was also sometimes known as carbuncle, in reference to the colour of boils and blisters.

Garnets are worn to enhance strength, endurance and vigour, relieve skin conditions, inflammatory diseases and haemorrhage, lung and blood diseases, and to regulate the heart and blood circulation. It is also said to have power over mental wellbeing, helping the wearer to resist depression. The stone’s virtues include success, confidence, fidelity, friendship, passion, loyalty, and truth. It is also said to ward off evil spirits. 

An image of a piece of amethyst crystal, the birthstone of February
February birthstone amethyst


Displaying a rich, deep purple tone known as the ancient colour for royalty, amethyst hails from the ancient Greek word ‘amethustos’, meaning sober. Fittingly, the stone is said to prevent drunkenness.

Through the ages, amethyst has been said to enhance bravery, calmness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, hunting, piety, celibacy, humility, modesty, and chastity. It is said to ward off evil thoughts, contagious diseases, thieves, sickness, and passionate anger.

Amethyst earrings are believed to clear the mind and help with headaches, and were recommended for those often under stress, while traditional Chinese medicine saw them being used for stomach pain and bad dreams. The stone said to help with insomnia if placed under a pillow, promoting peaceful and at time prophetic dreams.


Named for its colour, which is similar to seawater, aquamarine is the stone for sailors, keeping them safe and prosperous across the seas. Symbolising youth, health, hope and happiness, aquamarine was also thought to bring victory in battles, win legal disputes, and make it rain, when needed.

As well as being an antidote for poison, the stone was considered effective for problems with the throat, eyes, stomach, liver, and teeth. It was also said to be a good stone to use in fortune telling. Alternative therapists today also use aquamarine to relieve water retention.


Known as the hardest substance on Earth, diamonds were called ‘adamus’ by the ancient Greeks, translating to ‘indestructible’, and are highly prized as the stone of choice for engagement rings the world over.

A symbol of innocence and purity, truth and perfection, diamonds are thought to bring clarity to the wearer’s life, improving their energy, prosperity, love, faith, endurance, strength, courage, harmony, imagination, innocence, power and self-respect. They are said to protect the wearer against thieves, fear, emotional pain, and stress.


Promoting marriage, chastity, and fidelity, emeralds are associated with the goddess Aphrodite, and are said to help the wearer show love and adoration, and protect them from unfaithfulness.

Emeralds have also been known as a healing stone, particularly with the eyes, skeleton, skin, heart and lungs, the kidneys, liver and intestines. Soothing the wearer, the stone promotes harmony and positive energy, as well as a good memory. It is also associated with rebirth, foresight, good fortune and youth.


Ancient Greeks considered pearls to be hardened tears of joy shed by the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Other cultures say they are the tears of the moon.

The only stone made by living creatures, with the rarest made in the wild, cultured pearls can be dyed yellow, green, blue, brown, pink, purple or black. Wearers of pearls are thought to have increased personal integrity and growth. Pearls are also associated with purity, chastity, and marriage.

An image of freshwater pearls, the birthstone of JulyJune birthstone pearl


Associated with the sun, and said to help mental and physical health, rubies have been a popular stone with the upper echelons of society right around the world.

Rubies are thought to enhance youth, vitality, heart, brain, memory, liver health, energy, passion, balance, and love. They are also associated with prophecy, and in assisting with setting goals. They are said to assist in detoxifying the blood, treating fevers and diseases, and stimulating reproductive organs.


Associated with beauty, strength and morality, peridot is the stone of friendship, happiness and love, said to free the wearer of jealous thoughts and protect them from the evil eye. Peridot is thought to assist with curing liver disease, digestion problems, helps kidneys, bladder, gall bladder, stomach as well as ulcers, constipation skin disease and insect bites. The stone is also said to help with depression, countering negative emotions.

Peridot is not only made on Earth; it has also arrived here from outer space. A meteorite which landed in Siberia in 1749 was found to contain peridot crystals large enough to be set into jewellery.


Named after the Greek and Latin words for ‘blue’, perhaps the world’s most famous sapphire features in the engagement ring Prince Charles gave to Lady Diana, now worn by their son William’s wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Representing the blue of the sky in some traditions, sapphires were worn to protect the wearer from harm and envy, while attracting favour from God. Associated with chastity, piety, wisdom, dignity truth and justice, the sapphire was said to ward off sorcery and promote a sincere and peaceful life. The stone was also thought to enhance romantic love. Ancient Persians used ground up sapphire as an all-purpose medicine.


Derived from the Sanskrit ‘upala’, meaning ‘precious stone’, and the Greek “opallios”, meaning ‘to see a change of colour’, the colourful and beautiful opal has had more than its fair - and false - share of unfounded superstition attached to it by the Western world, but it has always been seen as a symbol of hope in Asia.

There are some interesting stories about opals. For example, blonde maids in medieval times would wear an opal necklace to guarantee that their hair would not fade or darken. Another myth says that the opal stone would make a person invisible, so it was known as the patron stone of thieves.

An amplifier of existing traits, opal jewellery can enhance self confidence, and help you realise your full potential. A stone of creativity, opals help stimulate originality and bring out the wearer’s inner light and spontaneity.

Opals are a symbol of fidelity, assurance, justice, loyalty, harmony, love, passion, desire, and seduction. They are said to protect against dangerous places, infections, fevers, and against chemical dependencies.

Wearing them close to the face, such as opal earrings or an opal pendant, is said to help with eye disease, emotional stability, and memory; while an opal ring is said to promote blood purification, help kidney function, ease childbirth, helps with PMS, and support the immune system.

An image of citrine tumbled stonesNovember birthstone citrine


Ancient cultures called citrine ‘the stone of the mind’ as they believed that placing it on an elder’s forehead would increase his psychic power. It is also known as the Merchant’s Stone by some, thought to bring luck to those in sales.

Said to increase self esteem, promote clarity, open the mind, and protect the wearer from negative energy, the stone is said to bring love and joy to the wearer. Known to strengthen and heal the body and mind, citrine is also thought to help with the digestive system, and to help ease stress and depression.


A relatively new discovery, tanzanite was first found in Tanzania in 1967 by an Indian prospector named Manuel D’Souza, who had been searching for sapphires. Tiffany & Co soon created a marketing campaign to tell the world about the stone, and it is now among the most popular precious stones available.

Said to help you realise your own ideas, tanzanite changes destructive urges to constructive ones, showing the wearer the difference between how they live and how they want to live. Those who wear tanzanite are said to find their true calling. Tanzanite also wards off lethargy in the wearer, and helps bring us back on track if we have gone off the path, removing old patterns for healthier new ones.

Tanzanite is said to help recovery from illness, strengthening the immune system and regenerating cells. It is said to aid the heart, lungs, spleen, pancreas, head, throat and chest, and also in detoxing the body.