This month Gemstones Brazil has decided to bring you a post about a subject that fascinates many jewel connoisseurs: birthstones!
As you might have guessed from the name, birthstones are the gemstone(s) associated with one's date of birth - typically, this means one birthstone for every month, but some months have more than one. These have been traditionally thought to bring good luck and health, as birthstones are often said to have supernatural powers.
The Western origin of birthstones is thought to come from the Biblical Breastplate of Aaron. Aaron was the brother of Moses, a prophet in his own right and the first High Priest of the Israelites. His ceremonial breastplate is said to have had four rows of three gems, symbolising the twelve months of the year (and signs of the zodiac).
If you would like to browse our selection of birthstones, just click the name of each gemstone in the section headings!
The word 'garnet' comes from Middle English 'gernet', meaning 'dark red'. 'Garnet' is in fact the name of a group of minerals that vary widely in colour, from deep red to bright green. Some very rare garnets can even be blue or colourless. However, the most common colour is the deep red that most people are familiar with.
The garnet is a durable gemstone, measuring 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. It is found all over the world, from North America to Asia.
Legend has it that garnets bring peace, prosperity and good health. It has been believed that if one wears it and does good deeds, more good will come to that person (and the inverse will happen if you wear it and commit bad deeds). It also symbolises deep and lasting friendship, and is a wonderful gift for a valued friend with a January birthday!
Amethyst is a beautiful purple quartz, with the name coming from the Ancient Greek 'methustos', meaning 'intoxicated'. This is because wearers in Ancient Greece believed that it would protect them from drunkenness!
Amethyst is generally purple, but can range from light pink to deep purple that almost appears dark blue or red. Amethyst gets its colour from irradiation, iron impurities and trace elements in the gemstone. It measures at 7 on the Mohs scale, making it a durable option for jewellery.
Amethyst commonly occurs in geodes or granitic rock cavities, and can be found all over the world, including North America and Brazil.
Unsurprisingly for this pale blue stone, the aquamarine gets its name from the Latin 'aqua', meaning 'water', and 'marina', meaning the sea. It is generally light in tone and ranges from greenish-blue to blue-green, but darker blue stones tend to be very valuable.
This beryl gemstone is mined mainly in Brazil, but can be found in Pakistan and parts of Africa. Because aquamarine grows in very large, six-sided crystals of up to a foot in length, it can be an excellent gem for large carat, statement pieces. It is a durable gemstone, measuring 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale.
There are many myths and legends associated with aquamarine. It has been seen as a symbol of happiness and everlasting youth, and in medieval times it was thought to strengthen married love and even render soldiers invincible!
The secondary birthstone for March is the bloodstone, a form of crypto crystalline quartz that is most prized in a deep green colour with visible red veins.
April - Diamond
You have probably already heard of the diamond's famous toughness: made of carbon, it's the hardest material on earth, measuring a maximum 10 on the Mohs scale. This means it can only be cut with another diamond!
Diamonds are found in at least 35 countries around the world and come in lots of colours, including yellow, red, pink, blue and green. Their intensity ranges from faint to vivid. As a rule, the more saturated the colour, the more valued the gemstone will be.
The unique diamond has the best possible lustre of any gemstone when it is expertly cut and polished - so if you want a luxurious stone with some real sparkle, diamonds are what you seek!
'Emerald' is derived from the word 'smaragdus', which simply means 'green' in Ancient Greek!
Like aquamarine, emerald is a variety of beryl. It is found all over the world, including Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia. Also like aquamarine, it is a 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale and is quite sturdy. High quality emerald is quite limited in availability, so it is frequently treated to improve clarity.
Emeralds range in colour from light green to deep, vibrant green. However, there is some argument about whether extremely light green beryls can really be considered emeralds. The deeper green an emerald is, the more valuable it is. The rarest will be a very intense green/blue colour.
The emerald is a symbol of rebirth, and has been traditionally believed to grant the owner foresight, good fortune, and youth.
July - Ruby
The name 'pearl' comes from the Old French 'perle', meaning 'leg', referencing the shape of the open mollusc shell where pearls can be found. Pearls are the only gemstones made by living things, and are created by molluscs depositing layers of calcium carbonate around tiny irritants that get stuck in their shells.
The rarest and most expensive pearls are natural pearls made in the wild, but the majority of pearls sold today are cultured or farmed. The most valued pearls have a reflective lustre, so they look creamy white with a colourful, iridescent sheen. Cultured freshwater pearls are sometimes also dyed various colours.
Pearls used to be found all over the world, but are now mostly found in the Persian Gulf waters near Bahrain. Most freshwater cultured pearls now come from China, but South Sea pearls are cultured along the northwestern coastline of Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. They are a very soft gemstone, ranging from 2.4 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale. They are very sensitive to heat and chemical changes - they will even dissolve in vinegar.
Pearls are thought to symbolise purity and innocence, which is why it's tradition in many cultures for a bride to wear pearls on her wedding day. Pearls are also frequently gifted on 1st, 3rd, 12th and 30th wedding anniversaries.
The other two May birthstones are the bluish-red alexandrite, and the shimmering moonstone - both of which we have in our collection here at Gemstones Brazil!
The name 'ruby' comes from the Latin 'rubeus', meaning 'red'. In Ancient Sanskrit, the name for ruby translated to 'king of precious stones'. The chromium that is the cause of the ruby's red colour also causes flourescence, giving rubies their warm glow. However, chromium can also cause cracks and fissures, so what makes the gem so beautiful is also what makes it so rare!
Historically, Burma produced the finest rubies, famed for their deep purplish-red colour. Other ruby deposits exist around Asia, as well as in parts of East Africa and the United States. Ruby is the second hardest gemstone at a 9 on the Mohs scale, and is softer only than diamond.
The deep red colour of ruby has meant that the gemstone has often been associated with blood, vitality and life force. It is thus believed to give the wearer increased energy, awareness, courage and success.
The origin of lime-green peridot's name is actually unclear. It seems that it is derived from the Arabic 'faridat', meaning 'gem, but some scholars believe it is from the Greek word 'peridona', meaning 'giving plenty'.
Peridot is the gem-quality variety of common mineral olivine. Its green colour comes from the mineral composition of the gemstone, rather than trace impurities (as with many other coloured gems). This is why it's one of the few stones that only comes in a single colour.
Most peridot comes from Arizona, but there are some sources in China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Africa. It can even rarely be found inside meteorites! It measures 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale, and although the raw stone is prone to cracking during cutting, the finished gemstones are relatively robust and suitable to wear as jewellery.
Peridot is sometimes also known as the 'evening emerald' due to its sparkling green hue. It is said to possess healing qualities that ward off nightmares and evil. In Hawaii, peridot symbolises the tears of Pele, the volcano goddess who controls the flow of lava. This is probably because it can be found in lavas, which bring it to the earth's surface.
The other two August birthstones are the reddish-striped sardonyx and the colourful spinel, often mistaken for other brightly coloured gems like ruby and sapphire.
The name 'sapphire' comes from the Latin 'sapphirus' and Greek 'sappheiros', meaning 'blue stone' - although this originally may have referred to lapis lazuli.
Sapphire typically refers to the rich blue gemstone variety of the corundum mineral, but it can be found in every colour except red (which is what is classified as a ruby). Sapphires in any colour but blue are called 'fancies'.
Sapphires are found throughout much of South and East Asia, as well as Australia, Brazil, Africa and some of North America (mainly Montana). Sapphires, like rubies, are remarkably hard, measuring 9 on the Mohs scale. This makes them desirable for industrial applications as well as decorative ones.
Sapphires are thought to symbolise loyalty, nobility, sincerity and integrity. They are associated with focus and self-discipline - perhaps a gift for the scholar in your life!
Tourmaline and Opal are the official October birthstones.
Tourmalines are really fantastic gemstones; especially for their vibrant colours! The name, very appropriately, derives from the Singhalese term 'tura mali', which means 'mixed stones'. It fits perfectly with this beautiful jewel in light of the wide variety of exciting colours you can find in the tourmaline family. A lovely legend says that tourmaline is found in so many colours because it travelled along a rainbow gathering them all.
Tourmaline's glittering colours have many different causes. It’s generally agreed that traces of iron, and possibly titanium, induce green and blue colours. Manganese produces reds and pinks, and possibly yellows. Tourmaline colours are such a remarkable characteristic of the gem, that they have inspired their own trade names like Rubellite (pink-reddish), Indicolite (dark violetish blue), Paraíba (neon violetish-blue, greenish-blue), Chrome tourmaline (intense green) and Watermelon (pink in the centre and green around the outside).
Green tourmaline is the most common colour on the market and provides a fabulous alternative to the deep, rich hue of emerald and the softer green of peridot. At their best, green tourmalines are transparent, brilliant and clean, with attractive bluish green hues.
Tourmalines are thought to inspire creativity and were used extensively as a talisman by artists and writers. The fabulous pink tourmaline is thought to be the gem of poets and teachers.
The opal gets its name from the Greek 'opallios', which refers to the way that opals seem to change colour in different lights. Opal's colour-changing nature was explained in the 1960s, when it was discovered that it is made of microscopic silica spheres that cause the gemstone to appear to flash different colours. These kind of sparkling gems are called 'precious opals', but there are those without this 'play-of-colour' that are called 'common opals'. Opals are often referred to by their background colour, such as black or white.
Opal generally comes from Australia, where seasonal rains carry silica deposits underground to form opals. It was discovered in Australia around 1850, and since then the country has produced around 95% of the world's supply.
Opal is quite a delicate gem, with a high water content and a hardness of only 5.5 to 6 on the Mohs scale. This means that one should treat opal with special care, not exposing it to extreme temperatures or direct light when possible. However, this stunning jewel is worth the extra care.
'Topaz' derives from 'topazios', the Ancient Greek name for St. John's island in Egypt's Red Sea. Although the stones mined there probably weren't actually topaz, it quickly became the name for many yellow-hued stones.
Although pure topaz is colourless, impurities can cause it to take on almost any colour. Precious topaz ranges from brownish orange to yellow, and is often mistaken for citrine (hence December's shared birthstone!). The most prized colour comes from the imperial topaz, which ranges from orange to pink.
Brazil's Minas Gerais region is the largest producer of topaz, although it can be found in other places around the world. It measures an 8 on the Mohs scale, making it quite durable - but its perfect cleavage can render it prone to chipping and cracking if not cut correctly.
Topaz is a stone renowned for its soothing properties, and has been said to calm tempers, cure madness and eliminate nightmares.
The second November birthstone is the fiery citrine, which takes its name from 'citron' due to its warm, citrussy hues.
December's birthstones all have one thing in common: their wintry blue hues!
Blue topaz (pictured above), is mined in many parts of the world, but especially in Brazil's Minas Gerais region. Topaz is an 8 on the Mohs hardness scale, making it a durable gemstone. In mythology, the blue topaz has been considered a gem of peace and healing. It has been thought to bring its wearer protection and reconciliation with enemies.
Powdery blue turquoise originally came from Egypt and Ancient Persia - the colour is often referred to as 'Persian blue', even today (regardless of its origin). Nowadays, the USA is the world's largest turquoise supplier. Turquoise is quite a soft stone, with even the hardest turquoise only measuring a 6 on the Mohs scale. However, it is a beautiful and enduringly popular stone, said to grant power and protection (especially against falls).
Exquisite blue tanzanite comes from only one place in the world: its namesake country, Tanzania. It is only found on a few square miles of land near Mount Kilimanjaro. Having been discovered only relatively recently, in 1967, blue tanzanite has risen rapidly in popularity. Its deep blue colour and relatively limited supply has guaranteed its lasting popularity, especially for pendants and earrings.
The final December birthstone is the beautiful zircon, a natural gem not to be confused with synthetic cubic zirconia. Although zircon is commonly brownish-red, blue zircon is the most popular colour. It measures 7.5 on the Mohs scale, but its faceted edges are known to occasionally chip. Most zircon is found in Australia, where its presence dates back 4.4 billion years. It has long been thought that zircon can ward off evil, induce sleep, and help its wearer become prosperous.
Lucky December babies have all four of these beautiful blue birthstones to choose from - a difficult choice!