Most gem scholars agree that the tradition of birthstones arose from the Breastplate of Aaron: a ceremonial religious garment set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
Many found a correspondence with the twelve signs of the zodiac. In later times, the stones became associated with the twelve months of the year and many believed that the stones possessed power when worn or owned. Thus, the tradition of giving and wearing birthstones began!
Legend has it, that Noah hung a large garnet in the ark for illumination! The garnet was believed to protect from nightmares and give guidance at night. The Crusaders used them as protection against wounds and accidents during their journeys. Today, it is a symbol for guidance and constancy.
The Greeks believed that if an amethyst was placed under the tongue while drinking it would prevent intoxication! For many years the amethyst has been a symbol of peace and tranquility! It is also said to be the stone of Saint Valentine, who wore an amethyst engraved with the figure of his assistant, Cupid. Saint Valentine’s Day is still observed in February.
People believed this stone had the ability to aid seafarers. It was also believed that if you dreamed aquamarine it meant you were going to meet a new friend! Aquamarine has also been a symbol for youth and health for many years!
The diamond is the hardest of all gems. In ancient times they were believed to be hardened dewdrops or splinters of lightning and stars that fell to the earth. Warriors believed if they wore diamonds into battle that the gems would give them strength and courage. In ancient times, only men wore diamonds. The tradition of giving diamond engagement rings came much later. Today, the gem is a symbol that reflects the strength of love!
The Emeralds magnificent color has been said to rest and relieve the eye. Romans dedicated the gem to the goddess Venus because it symbolized the reproductive forces of nature. Early Christians considered the gem a symbol of the resurrection of Christ! In present time, the emerald is a symbol for happiness and fertility.
According to Indian mythology, a pearl was formed when dew drops during a full moon fell from the heavens into the sea and were captured by shellfish. Warriors in India encrusted pearls into the handles of their swords to symbolize the tears a sword can bring. In present time, the pearl is a universal symbol of purity.
The ruby is known as “The Lord of the Gems”! In the Orients it was believed to be the spark of life and was thought to be drops of blood from the heart of Mother Earth! In other parts of the world, the ruby was perceived as self-luminous and was called glowing stone or lamp stone. During medieval times, many thought the ruby could warn of misfortune or illness to its owner by turning a deeper red. Today, it is a symbol for nobility.
The peridot is formed by a volcanic action. Greeks believed it brought royal dignity upon its wearer and it was also considered a symbol for the sun. Ancient legends considered the peridot as a powerful amulet that warded off evil.
It is a common theory that the Ten Commandments were written on tablets made of Sapphire. In ancient times, the sapphire was believed to hold special powers. Many felt the gem gave its owner the ability to foretell the future. It has been a symbol for wisdom ever since!
Throughout history, there are as many different legends about the opal as there are colors in this precious gem. There is an Indian legend about the origin of the opal. Quoted from “Gemstones” by Willard Heaps:
“…the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva once vied in jealous love for a beautiful woman. This angered the Eternal, who changed the fair mortal into a creature made of mist. Thereupon each of the three gods endowed her with his own color so as to be able to recognize her. Brahma gave her the glorious blue of the heavens, Vishnu enriched her with the splendor of gold, and Shiva lent her his flaming red. But all this was in vain, since the lovely phantom was whisked away by the winds. Finally, the Eternal took pity on her and transformed her into a stone, the opal, that sparkles in all the colors of the rainbow.”
In Australia, a legend existed of a huge opal that governs the stars and guides human love, as well as controls the gold in all the mines. The Aborigines have an altogether different legend concerning the opal. They believed it to be the devil that lurks in the ground made up of half man and half serpent that lures men to destruction.
Arabs believed the wearer of an opal had the power of invisibility, hence it became a popular talisman of thieves and spies.
The Romans considered the gem to be a symbol of love and hope. In the orients, it was called the anchor of hope. The two beliefs of love and hope, above all the others has carried over into today’s beliefs.
The name Topaz is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “fire”. In ancient lore, it was believed that topaz could control heat and cool boiling water, as well as calm excessive anger.
During the Middle Ages, the topaz was used mostly by royalty and clergy. A 13th century belief held that a topaz engraved with a falcon helped its wearer cultivate the goodwill of kings and princes. Topaz was once thought to strengthen the mind, prevent mental disorders, and increase wisdom.
Turquoise was used in some of the earliest jewelry known to man. Pharaohs in Egypt have been unearthed wearing turquoise jewelry that date back to 55oo B.C. Native Americans in the southwest called turquoise “Chal-cui-hui-ta” which means “The highest and most valued thing in the world.” They believed the blue represented heaven and the green earth. Turquoise was considered by some as a symbol of good fortune and success. It was also believed to bring prosperity to its wearer.