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Birthstones

Birthstones have significance in the modern world. Mothers wear them in jewelry to indicate the birth dates and number of their children. Other people associate birthstones with the signs of the zodiac. But the oldest extant writing we have about the gems show them to actually be a representation of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses, in about 1250 BC had a breastplate made for Aaron, the high-priest. Exodus, chapter 28, verse 16 tells us about the breastplate, "It is to be square and folded double, 9 inches long and 9 inches wide. Mount four rows of precious stones on it; in the first row mount a ruby , a topaz, and a garnet; in the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; in the third row, a turquoise, an agate, and an amethyst; and in the fourth row, a beryl, a carnelian and a jasper." Each gem was to be engraved with one of the twelve sons of Jacob.

Over the years, much reference has been made to these verses along with the connection between the twelve tribes, the twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac. In modern times we tend to think of birthstones as a nice gift idea for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. The stone designating particular months has varied over the years. Below we list the twelve months and their associated stones.

The garnet is the stone assigned to January. Garnets are a beautiful red gemstone. However, they can also be "raspberry colored" or even green depending on the minerals they contain. In ancient times they were worn by military men because their red color seemed to hold a mystical warlike quality. They were even used by tribesmen in Kashmir for bullets in a war with Great Britain. The Hanza tribesmen thought that the garnets would cause more damage even than lead.

Amethyst is the February birthstone. Generally purple in color, in ancient times the amethyst was considered the stone of royalty and power. If heated to 4-500 degrees (centigrade) it can lose its coloration. Amethysts are partly made from quartz and are often found in geodes.

Aquamarine the birthstone for March is generally a deep blue, but can even be a blue green. One of its components is beryl and when beryl is heated it can also turn a deep blue. We get our name for the gemstone from the Romans who used their words for "Water" and "Sea". They thought the stone looked like ocean water. Ancient people believed that it was the gemstone of Poseidon, the god of the Sea. Sailors thought they were good luck.

The hardest of gemstones is the diamond, and it is the gemstone for April. It is made up entirely of carbon atoms. Graphite too is made up entirely of carbon. The difference between diamonds and what we think of as pencil lead is the way the carbon atoms bond to each other. In diamonds each atom bonds with four different atoms. In graphite the bonds run in sheets with double bonds between atoms. Diamonds can be made in a laboratory, but they take tremendous pressure and heat. Such diamonds are usually used for industrial purposes, such a saw blades and drill bits.

When people think of green they think of May's birthstone, the emerald. Emeralds may have become associated with May because of the color's association with the spring season. Ireland has become known as the Emerald Isle, not because it has many emeralds, but because it is so lush and verdant. Emeralds are another stone of the beryl family and can also lose their coloration when heated to extreme temperatures. The stone was used by Inca royalty for crowns and headgear.

Pearls are the birthstone of June. They were thought by the people of ancient India to be the tears of heaven. Warriors would encrust the hilts of their swords with pearls to represent the sorrow that comes from the weapon. Unlike most gems pearls have an organic origin. They are made by certain mollusks, a shelled creature. The pearl is actually the result of a piece of sand or rock that gets inside the shell and irritates the mollusk. He responds by coating it with shell making material (aragonite). Pearls can be many different colors depending on the species of mollusk that make them. Pearls have always been highly regarded as can be discerned in the common phrase to denote unappreciated talent as casting "pearls before swine".

July is the month of the Ruby. Large rubies are exceptionally rare so the bigger ones are often valued above diamonds of the same size. Rubies are a form of the mineral corundum, as are sapphires. At one time it was thought that sapphires were immature rubies and could be planted in the ground to make them turn red. The stone was also thought to be able to predict the future of its owner by its coloration. Henry VIII's first wife was said to have predicted her own demise by the darkening of a ruby ring.

Peridot is the stone representing August. It generally has a green cast that indicates the presence of iron. Peridots have often been mistaken for emeralds, but they generally have a more olive hue. They are one of the earliest mined gemstones. They were found in relative abundance on an island in the Red SeaŚnamed Zabargad. The island is barren and actually has a green tinted shore from the peridot fragments that line it. Peridot is often bored through and used as a bead.

The gemstone of September, the sapphire, is related to the ruby. It has traces of titanium and iron within the crystal structure that gives it its color. In Medieval times sapphires were thought to represent purity and so could protect their wearers from impure thoughts and evil intentions. The ancient Greeks believed it to be the gem of Apollo. His worshipers wore the stone at his temple in Delphi. It was also thought that the stone would darken in color if worn by a person who had committed adultery.

Opal is the stone for October. Its makeup includes water, which can evaporate, creating cracks in the stone. It is usually formed near volcanoes where the intense heat breaks down fossils or even wood. These gems have been much admired for their many colors. The stone has a mixed reputation. Once thought of as a stone of hope, during the black plague in Europe (1300's) it was thought to presage the death of its wearer because it would remain bright as long as its wearer was still alive and turn pale when the bearer died. This was actually the result of the fact the opal is very sensitive to temperature.

The gemstone of November, the topaz, gets its name from the Sanskrit word meaning "fire". Topaz can be colorless, but if it has chromium in its makeup, it can be pink or red. It can be other colors, too. Topaz comes in a variety of sizes, from small slivers all the way up to a 600 pound rock that was found in Brazil. Even so, the mineral is rare, and thus precious. It is also one of the hardest of the gemstones.

The gemstone for December is the turquoise. It has long been thought to represent love and affection. In Russia wedding rings are often made with some turquoise. Turquoise is copper aluminum phosphate. It is usually found in arid regions where it is leached out of rock near the water tables by rain and groundwater. This is a fairly soft stone that also contains some water. A very blue coloration represents a high copper content, while greener hues come from iron.


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