Though the history of these beloved gems harks back to the time of Moses, this dazzling dozen remains forever in vogue. Receiving the first piece of jewelry bearing her birthstone is almost a rite of passage for a young girl. As she gazes at that tiny pearl or peridot, she feels both a connection to her own designated gem and a kinship with others who share her birth month.
The history of birthstones can be traced back to biblical times and the breastplate of Aaron, High Priest of the Hebrews. It is described in the book of Exodus as being set with twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Down through the ages, these stones were linked to the signs of the zodiac and credited with talismanic powers. Not until the eighteenth century did assigning a certain jewel to each month become the custom. The official list was adopted in 1912, and though other bijoux have been suggested in recent years, it is the traditional lineup to which the majority of gemologists adhere. Most women wear their own birthstone, but it’s not uncommon for others to honor their offspring. For a time, “mother rings” were quite popular, with bands made up of a rainbow of stones representing a beloved brood.
These colorful gemstones also captivate brides. For example, a ring setting might feature a center diamond with smaller emeralds or sapphires alongside it. “Back in the twenties, engagement rings often had a subtle touch of color,” says Chuck Cooper of Van Atkins Jewelers, “and we’re seeing more of that today as well.” Cooper once found a diamond with a tiny ruby inclusion, and because the ruby is July’s birthstone, that one-of-a-kind find now graces the left hand of a bride married in that month.
From garnet and amethyst to opal and aquamarine, these sentimental gems will always have a special place in women’s jewelry boxes—and in their hearts.
Above left: Vibrant sapphire (September), peridot (August), and garnet (January) are especially fetching in platinum settings such as these. As beautiful as the jewels once ensconced within, antique silver ring boxes have become highly coveted collectibles. Above right: Some pieces of jewelry combine gemstones, such as the pearl (June) and onyx pendant, and the gold bracelet that includes both emeralds (May) and rubies (July) in its art deco design. Pictured below the necklace, a tourmaline ring marks the occasion for October birthdays. Below that, pink ruby earrings give a lovely sparkle in sunlight.