This Matter of Birthstones

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by Mornay of Anglesey
Originally a hand out for his class,
first published as an article in the Dreiburgen News
March and April A.S. XLVI

This Matter of Birthstones
Blackfox Award Winner for the Best Article

From where and whence does this idea of birthstones come? Is this a modern custom? Were birthstones used in the SCA period? Ever since I visited a Gem Faire and picked up a pamphlet on birthstones, I have been curious about the answers to these questions. No one I had asked, from SCA members to jewelers, seemed to know. As a member of the collegium Sancti Geronimi, it was suggested then that I do some research with a view to answering these questions. The following discussion summarizes what was learned.

Early Days

The earliest mention of gemstones being definitely associated with the months of the year is in the “Antiquities of the Jews” by Flavius Josephus writing in the first century, A.D. To quote:

“Moreoever, the vestments of the high-priest being made of linen signifies the earth, the blue denotes the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and resembling thunder in the noise of the bells. And as for the ephod, it showed that God had made the universe of four elements, and as for the gold interwoven in it, I suppose it related to the splendor by which all things are to be enlightened. He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod to resemble the earth, for that occupies the middle place of the world; and the girdle, which encompassed the high priest about, signifies the ocean, for that goes about everything. And the two sardonyxes that were in the clasps on the high-priest’s shoulders, indicate to us the sun and the moon. And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or the twelve signs of what the Greeks call the zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning.”1 (Note: italics are mine.)

To understand what Flavius Josephus means by the twelve stones, one needs to turn to the Old Testament and read Exodus, chapter 28, verses 15 to 30. This describes the breastplate of the Hebrew high-priest, the stones, and their order. However, the reader is hereby cautioned to reserve judgment on the subject of what those stones actually were. At different times down through history and with different translations of the Bible, the names of these stones change (let alone the assigning of the stones to the months or zodiac signs). Much debate and discussion has gone on about the kinds of stones used. Therefore, if we sincerely wish to know what these stones were and how they were assigned to the months (or zodiac) we have to study with utmost care the ancient Hebrew high-priest’s breastplate. Such an investigation is reminiscent in part of that of the fictional Indiana Jones in his search for the “Lost Ark,” for what are we to believe among the various Biblical translations and opinions of many writers both ancient and modern? But to continue.

The second writer was St. Jerome, himself, for whom our College is named. Writing three hundred years later in the early 400’s in a letter to Fabiola2, took the passage above from Flavius Josephus and laid down the foundation for the later custom of the wearing of one of these stones as a natal stone for an individual born in that month, or as an astral or zodiacal stone. At this point we can go no further without making an effort to discover just what was on that ancient Hebrew high-priest’s breastplate. Much conflicting information is written on this subject. On reading some of what was available from medieval lapidaries, I felt no further along until I discovered George Frederick Kunz’s book, “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones,”3 published in 1913.

Dr. Kunz (A.M., Ph.D., D.Sc.) is known as the father of American gemology and was long a consultant to Tiffany’s. I am indebted to Dr. Kunz, who utilized not only his own detailed knowledge of mineralogy, but that of eminent archaeologists, Biblical scholars, philologists, historians and ancient writers on this subject for the discussion which follows.

It became apparent that there were at least two breastplates being described. The one described in Exodus which we will call the “Mosaic” breastplate of Aaron in the time of Moses (13th or 14th century B.C.) and that described by Josephus and brought to Rome by Titus in 70 A.D. This latter breastplate was that of the Second Temple fabricated around the fifth century B.C. Much apparent confusion can be cleared up when we take into account that some writers did not realize that most of their sources were talking about the later as opposed to the earlier breastplate. Our most accurate sources should be those closest to the times of the Breastplate of the Second Temple. Remember, we have no eyewitnesses or independent writers to tell of that first Mosaic breastplate if indeed it ever existed outside of the minds of the authors of the Priestly Codex.

This then gives us as sources: Theophrastus writing around 300 B.C., the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament written by scholars of Hebrew circa 250 B.C.), the vulgate (the Latin version of the scriptures prepared by St. Jerome near the end of the 4th century A.D.), and then, Pliny’s Natural History as well as Flavius Josephus to tell us more of the stones themselves. Out of ancient Hebrew (as transliterated by Greek and Roman sources), we have for the stones of the breastplate:

1. Odem 7. Leshem
2. Pitdah 8. Shebo
3. Bareketh 9. Ahlamah
4. Nophek 10. Tarshish
5. Sappir 11. Shoham
6. Yahalom 12. Yashpheh

Here the problems begin. I will utilize the explanations of Dr. Kunz and his sources who have figured it thusly:

Odem. The etymology of the word clearly points to a red stone, most probably the carnelian. It is well known that the ancient hieroglyphic texts from the Egyptian Book of the Dead were engraved upon amulets made from carnelian, and it was also employed for early Babylonian cylinders. It was known to be available in those times from Arabia. The Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, as well as Josephus in the “Wars of the Jews” (V, 5, 7) all translate the odem stone as sardius which is an ancient designation of carnelian. A related Egyptian word to odem, chenem, was used to designate red stones and appears to have been applied indiscriminately to red jasper, red feldspar, and carnelian. Red jasper appears much more commonly in early Egyptian work than carnelian. Therefore Dr. Kunz thought that it most probable that odem signified red jasper in Mosaic times while carnelian would have been the stone employed nine hundred years later in the breastplate of the 2nd Temple.

Pitdah. There appears to be no doubt that the topazius of the ancient writers signifies our later chrysolite and ultimately our modern peridot, NOT our topaz (which was ancient chrysolite), for Pliny and his successors describe the topazius as a stone of greenish hue. Many writers have made the error of translating topazius as our topaz. It was so-called because the stone came from the Isle of Topazios in the Red Sea. The name means “to conjecture” or “to seek” and it is felt that this was applied because the island is hard to find (which was certainly true in the early days). Now satellites have made navigation easier amidst the tiny islands of the Red Sea. Peter Bancroft in his book, “Gems and Crystal Treasures”4, published in 1984, describes a visit he made to this island now called Zabargad (the Arabic name for peridot). This island has been mined for peridot since around 1500 B.C., first by the Pharaohs of Egypt and lastly by the Red Sea Mining Company when mining ceased at the outbreak for World War II.

Bareketh. Here again there is agreement between the Septuagint, the vulgate and Josephus in translating bareketh as smaragdus, an early word for emerald. And as we know that emerald mines were worked at Mount Zabarah in Nubia well before the beginning of the Christian era and that the emerald was well known in ancient Egypt, there is no reason to reject the translation of smaragdus as emerald.

Nophek. This name is rendered as ανθραξ by the Septuagint and Josephus, and “carbunculus” by the Vulgate. These signify literally a “glowing coal” and was used for certain stones noted for their glowing red color, such as the ruby and certain fine garnets. While it is quite conceivable that the Oriental ruby was used in the 2nd Temple breastplate seen by Josephus, it was unknown to the 14th century B.C. Egyptians. So we may consider nophek to be almandine garnet in the Mosaic breastplate and most probably ruby for the later one.

Sappir. This is rendered sapphirus in all the old versions and some writers translate it sapphire. However, it can not have been our sapphire. Theophrastus and Pliny both describe this stone as having golden spots. This is true of lapis-lazuli for it is usually spotted with pyrite whereas our sapphire certainly is not. Lapis was highly prized by the Egyptians (who demanded it as tribute from conquered nations) and the Greeks and Romans prized it in later times. It is highly probable that lapis-lazuli was used in both breastplates.

Yahalom. The sixth stone of the Septuagint was probably green jasper or jade. And Dr. Kunz tells us that this has been assumed to show that in the original Hebrew text yashpheh was the sixth stone in place of yahalom. The twelfth stone of the Greek version is onyx and this appears to be the most likely equivalent of the Hebrew, yahalom. Some more modern Hebrew sources render it “diamond,” and Martin Luther in his German Bible as well as our own Authorized Version translates it thus. This translation was based upon the supposed relation of yahalom to the Hebrew verb meaning “to smite.” Actually, it’s dangerous to “smite” with diamond for it has a tendency to shatter or cleave. When confronted with this argument, the modern defenders of the diamond translation claimed that they must have meant the diamond was used to engrave the other stones, completely overlooking the fact that according to tradition all twelve of these stones were engraved with a tribal name. Diamond certainly could not have been engraved in early times even if they had one large enough. The texts themselves claimed that the engraving on the twelve stones was done with a shamir stone which has been determined to have been emery corundum. Therefore, onyx appears to have been the stone described with the word, yahalom. An onyx could have been employed as a seal stone which well could have been the usage implied by “smiting.”

Leshem. No stone in the twelve is more difficult to determine than the leshem stone. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Josephus all translate this word as ligurius, a name that had at one time in ancient days been applied to amber. Not only would amber have been entirely unsuitable for use in the breastplate, but there are no other references or any descriptions to support such an interpretation. Furthermore, the Greeks used the word, elektron, for amber which the Septuagint does not do! The name ligurion was also applied to a variety of jacinth which was later changed to lyncurion. The term, lyncurion, as applied by Theophrastus may well have included the sapphire as well as jacinth, for he comments on the definite coldness of this stone, a quality of sapphire and most definitely not of amber. It would thus appear that there is some justification for accepting the word, hyacinthus, suggested by the list of Foundation stones in Revelation, chapter 21, verse 20. This was put forward by Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia about 400 A.D. Whether to render hyacinthus as sapphire or jacinth is not as easy to determine. However, they knew how to engrave the sapphire in Greek or Roman times so we do have justification in rendering the leshem stone as sapphire in the 2nd Temple breastplate, although this certainly would not have been the case for the Mosaic one.

Shebo. As Dr. Kunz states, this word is uniformly rendered as “achates,” or agate. Agate was highly esteemed in ancient times, and hence worthy of a place on the breastplate.

Ahlamah. Here again all authorities agree in rendering this word as amethystus. Amethyst was known in ancient Egypt, retained its reputation throughout Greek and Roman times, and far beyond. There appears to be little doubt that it appeared in both breastplates.

Tarshish. The Septuagint renders this stone as “chrysolite” when describing the breastplate, as does Josephus. In the Authorized Version it is called “beryl.” This was not the only error of the Authorized Version as we are discovering. We have already noted that the topaz of the ancients was our chrysolite (peridot) and their chrysolite designates our topaz. This is further indicated by the meaning of the word chrysolite, “golden-stone”.

Shoham. The Septuagint translates this stone as “beryl.” Diodorus Siculus and Dionysius Periegetes, writing in the first century B.C., are the first classical writers to use the name, beryl. Theophrastus includes the shoham stone among the smaragdi and indeed the true emerald is a variety of beryl. In those days the finest beryls came from India, On the other hand the Authorized Version and the Roman Catholic Douai Version translates shoham as “onyx”???? Not only was there a shoham stone in the breastplate but there were two more mounted on the high-priest’s shoulders. After carefully weighing all the evidence, Dr. Kunz’s panel believes that the shoham stones were aquamarines (beryls).

Yashpheh. If, as now appears almost certain, this stone originally occupied the sixth place in the original Hebrew text, all ancient versions agree in translating it “jasper.” Of all the jaspers none were so highly valued as these so-called “green jaspers.” The therapeutic and talismanic virtues of these “green jaspers” are often extolled by the ancient writers. Abel Ramusat writing in 1820 was the first to see in the yashpheh of the Hebrews and the “green jaspers” of the Greeks and Romans, the material we now call jade (our jadeite and nephrite) — the Chinese yu-stone. Not having a time machine to go back for a look at this green stone, we may never know whether it was green jasper or jade, but jade was highly revered in both the Old and the New World in ancient days and still is. On balance, it seems likely that something as highly charged with meaning as the high-priest’s breastplate would have employed jade, which in those days was available from Turkestan and Burma.

So now we have the best modern consensus of the identification of those ancient stones:

1. Odem – carnelian 7. Leshem – sapphire
2. Pitdah – peridot 8. Shebo – agate
3. Bareketh – emerald 9. Ahlamah – amethyst
4. Nophek – ruby/garnet 10. Tarshish – topaz
5. Sappir – lapis-lazuli 11. Shoham – aquamarine
6. Yahalom – onyx 12. Yashpheh – jade

It now remains to assign the months to the order of these stones. The intent at the time of Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome was clear: that the first month would be represented by the first stone and so on down the list to the twelfth. But what was the first month of the year? We moderns would instantly reply, “January,” but we would be in error! In the old Roman year and even in the English ecclesiastical calendar up until the year 1752 A.D., March was the first month of the year. This month was called Martius by the Romans, from the god, Mars. The Anglo-Saxons named it Hlyd Monath meaning a “loud (or stormy) month.” Scotland changed the beginning of the year from March to January in 1599 (essentially the end of the SCA period). So – ordering the stones with March as the first month and reversing the 6th and 12th place, we have:

1. March – carnelian 7. September – sapphire
2. April – peridot 8. October – agate
3. May – emerald 9. November – amethyst
4. June – ruby/garnet 10. December – topaz
5. July – lapis-lazuli 11. January – aquamarine
6. August – onyx 12. February – jade

These assignments for the 2nd Temple Breastplate then are as accurate as we can get with the information available. But today, looking at our modern jewelry store list, only two months, May and September, retain the same birthstones as above! Some stones have been dropped and entirely new ones (some quite modern), have been added to the list. To understand how all this happened, we now have to trace the story of the breastplate stones down to the present time.

At the time of Flavius Josephus, the stones and the months would be as in our chart above, but as the years flowed on an important change occurred. This was the growing Christian ecclesiastical interest in the Revelations of John. At the beginning of the Christian Era, this ascribing of special powers to these stones or comparing their virtues with that of the Apostles (see Revelations, XXI, 14) might possibly have smacked a bit of paganism to the early Christian fathers and, hence, to be avoided. With the exception of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia (circa 400 A.D.) these men had very little interest in stones.

Came Out of the Dark Ages

As we came out of the Dark Ages (ninth century A.D.) with Christianity firmly entrenched and paganism less of a threat, monastic writers began taking a greater interest in revelations and the Foundation Stones (see Revelations XXI, 19-20). The twelve Apostles were substituted for the twelve tribes of Israel originally engraved on the stones. There is no question that these were based on the twelve stones of the breastplate, but, possibly due to translation errors or lapses in memory or simply, as in the case of ruby, copying errors, there were certain differences. Not the least of these were the order. The following list is from the Authorized Version of the Bible of 1611 A.D.:

1. Jasper 7. Chrysolyte
2. Sapphire 8. Beryl
3. Chalcedony ? 9. Topaz
4. Emerald 10. Chrysoprasus?
5. Sardonyx 11. Jacinth
6. Sardius 12. Amethyst

If we take “jasper” as jade, “sapphire” to be lapis-lazuli, “jacinth” to be our sapphire, equating sardonyx to onyx of which sardonyx is a variety, and take the advice of Andreas, Bishop of Caesarea, writing in the last half of the tenth century that chalcedony was NOT' used in the breastplate and that a transcribing error occurred (chalcedonius for carchedoniuis, another name for ruby) – can’t you just see a monk with his fingers trembling from the cold, transcribing carchedonius as chalcedonius (a name, incidentally, that he may well have been more familiar with) – we would then at least have, save one, the original stones of the breastplate:

1. Jasper/jade 7. Peridot
2. Lapis-lazuli 8. Beryl (aquamarine)
3. Ruby 9. Topaz
4. Emerald 10. Chrysoprasus?
5. Onyx 11. Sapphire
6. Carnelian 12. Amethyst

This leaves us with “chrysoprasus” which has replaced the agate. Irrespective of this anomaly, the Foundation stones became the basis for this business of natal and zodiacal stones. Chrysoprase (supposedly a golden stone back then) appears only in older Russian lists. At this point, a game of “musical tones” begins for the next thousand-odd years.

Dr. Kunz, in an attempt to straighten out the confusion brought about by different authors (mostly ecclesiastical), and also by the influence of other traditions, namely Moorish/Arabian via Spain and later the Polish influence which also may be reflecting Arabian and Hindu, gathered lists of stones versus the months from various countries up to the 20th century. These lists he used as ballots to “vote” by the month in an effort to discover what was most common usage down through the ages.

I don’t find this to be too satisfactory, at least for the purposes of establishing what, out of all the various deviations, might be considered most authentic to us, either as a Medieval/Renaissance group or as a member of Western Civilization of the 20th Century. Let us examine these stones in the light of the Medieval Period.

There appears to be no documentation to show that the wearing of birthstones specifically as such was a widespread custom from the 600’s to the 1400’s and not much before the 1700’s. This does not mean, of course, that it was not done. After all, there are no recipes for bread making back then either, yet it was certainly baked! A jeweler by the name of Poujet (fils), writing in 1762, states that the birthstone fashion began in earnest in Germany two centuries earlier. He further thought that the assigning of specific stones to the months was “purely imaginary” and unknown to ancient writers. But this we know to have been quite untrue whatever his accuracy may have been about birthstones becoming popular in the 1500’s!

In the 1500’s then, there was definite interest in the twelve stones. Catherine de Medici was said to have worn a girdle (belt) set with all twelve stones which were inscribed with talismanic designs. This girdle was reported to be in the collection of one M. d’Ennery in Paris two hundred years later. How it fared in the French Revolution is a question that cannot be answered, for it has vanished and it would be most interesting to see what all twelve were, whether they were the twelve, and how they were engraved. Each stone was reputed to have therapeutic powers – powers that were most potent during the particular month ascribed to them. This probably would have been one reason for Catherine’s girdle; she would have all their good virtues as the year progressed.

SCA members whose personas lie in that period of from roughly 600 A.D to 1200 A.D. and wish to wear a natal stone as a part of their costume would probably do best to follow the ordering of Isadore, Bishop of Seville. He was well educated and respected, writing a book on science as well as books on other subjects (a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times). Isadore reputedly lived in the late 500’s to early 600’s.

Here, then, would be the order of natal stones according to Isadore:

1. March – Jasper (jade?) 7. September – Chrysolyte (peridot)
2. April – Sapphire 8. October – Aquamarine
3. May – Agate 9. November – Topaz
4. June – Emerald 10. December – Ruby
5. July – Onyx 11. January – Hyacinth (garnet?)
6. August – Carnelian 12. February – Amethyst

In the later 1100’s and beyond, Marbode, Bishop of Rennes, who wrote in the 12th century was enjoying popularity for his lapidary. An edition of his work on precious stones was published in Cologne in 1539 A.D. “Lapidary” in this instance was not a shop or a trade but a sort of encyclopedic listing of gemstones together with their descriptions, talismanic, and therapeutic properties. The birthstone listings for the 1100’s and later would be as follows:

1. March – Jasper (jade?) 7. September – Chrysolyte (peridot)
2. April – Sapphire 8. October – Aquamarine
3. May – Emerald 9. November – Topaz
4. June – Agate 10. December – Ruby
5. July – Onyx 11. January – Hyacinth (garnet?)
6. August – Carnelian 12. February – Amethyst

This is not too different from the list of Isadore’s except that the stones for May and June are interchanged (May returning to emerald as in the third position of the breastplate) and the stone for January more surely is garnet. Perhaps it was in Isadore’s time as well (hyacinthus has been interpreted in several ways down through history).

Modern Games

Things changed in the 1700’s when King Louis XV of France married Marie Leczinska of Poland and throughout all Europe our birthstones started to follow the Polish listing:

January – Garnet July – Ruby
February – Amethyst August – Onyx
March – Bloodstone September – Sardonyx
April – Diamond October – Aquamarine
May – Emerald November – Topaz
June – Agate December – Turquoise

Diamond now appears in the listing, some say due to Arabian influence. I would also like to point out that diamond is also the Hindu stone for April and suggest this may have been the origin of the practice. Also remember that India was virtually the only source for diamonds up until the great African discoveries of recent times. Bloodstone for March is not surprising for it has appeared as one of the translations for the reddish stone for the first position, although it owes its fame to the tradition that it was under the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The red spots on it were supposedly the droplets of His blood. However, it basically is a green stone and the odem stone was red. However, bloodstone was said to have possessed marvelous therapeutic powers and many there were who may have wanted it in the list.

Note that Ruby has been moved to July (where it still is today) and a new stone, turquoise, appears as a December stone. It is also interesting to note that in ancient times lapis-lazuli was in the July position and now a lighter blue stone (equally ancient) from roughly the same part of the world has replaced it in the exchange. Again, turquoise has enjoyed talismanic fame as a ward against the danger of being injured. Chrysolite for September has been entirely replaced by sardonyx. What can I say? “Never underestimate the power of a woman!” That’s Queen Marie, now of France, for you.

But more games yet were in the offing as we come up to the early 20th century. In August of 1912, the National Association of Jewelers met in Kansas City where they resolved to put out a new list. This was certainly playing fast and loose with the time-honored natal stones and their assignments. Prior to 1700, the writers were at least sincere in their struggles with translating the languages and we must remember there was no science of mineralogy in those times. They did try to hold to the stones of the breastplate of the Foundation stones. Our modern jewelers have no such excuse. Here is what they did:

Modern Birthstone Listing
(Conference of National Association of Jewelers – August 1912)
January – Garnet July – Ruby
February – Amethyst August – Sardonyx/Peridot
March – Bloodstone/Aquamarine September – Sapphire
April – Diamond October – Opal/Tourmaline
May – Emerald November – Topaz
June – Pearl/Moonstone December – Turquoise/Lapis-lazuli

This is certainly a form of desecration! You can almost hear them thinking: bloodstone is not a pretty stone, it doesn’t sell well today so we’ll grab aquamarine from October and place it as an alternate for March. Now we have alternate stones! There were certainly nonesuch on the breastplate, nor were there any described for the Foundation stones. We may discuss and debate what they were, but there certainly weren’t TWO per position! That would have been sacrilegious!

They dropped agate from its June position and adopted two more gems, one of which is not, technically speaking, a stone! This is pearl, an organically created object, too soft to have ever served on the breastplate. The moonstone is a sacred stone in India, and while I and many others like them, they were never part of the tradition of the months and the zodiac in the Judeo-Christian world. They created another alternate by taking peridot (chrysolite) from its time-honored assignment as the stone for September and placed it as an alternate stone for August.

With respect to September, they renewed sapphire (the old ligurius) done away with when diamond entered the lists. Here they inadvertently returned to the breastplate itself, the leshem stone in the September position. But what of October now that it has been robbed and its stone shipped off to March? This was even worse. They again assigned two stones which were never associated with the breastplate, the opal and tourmaline. The tourmaline was unknown in ancient times (or if it did exist back then in jewelry, it would have been mistaken for another stone). In any case it certainly cannot qualify as a birthstone!

And in the case of December, they left the turquoise and added as an alternate, the lapis-lazuli, which is a legitimate breastplate stone. As such, I personally, would have less of an objection if they would only interchange December and July and return to the more historic order.

But if you are surprised by all these depredations done in the name of commercialism, let’s take a look at the list for the present year, 1997!

1997 Jewelry Company Birthstone List
January – Garnet July – Ruby
February – Amethyst August – Peridot
March –Aquamarine September – Sapphire
April – Diamond October – Rose Zircon
May – Emerald November – Topaz
June – Alexandrite December – Blue Zircon

While they have dropped all those alternate stones, they have kept the diamond and added three more stones, one of which is very modern. This is alexandrite named for Czar Alexander II of Russia and discovered on his birthday in Russia in 1833. Rose and blue zircon have no history as Foundation stones. They were obviously selected for their color similarities to the tourmaline and the turquoise of the 1912 list and to enable all stones to be faceted ones. Commercialism strikes again!

Dr. Kunz has bitterly deplored American jewelers “playing fast and loose with birthstones” in 1912 and would really “roll over in his grave” if he know what they had done after 1945. Writing in 1913, he pointed out that:

“(This) idea of birthstones possesses a certain indefinable, but nonetheless real significance, which has long been present and still exercises a spell over the minds of all who are gifted with a touch of imagination, or romance, if you will. The longing for something that appeals to this sense is much more general than is commonly supposed, and is a not unnatural reaction against the progress of materialism, against the assertion that there is nothing in heaven or earth but what we can measure with our senses.

It is this that should be considered in any attempt to tamper with the traditional attribution of the stones to the months or to the zodiacal signs. Once we allow commercialism pure and simple to dictate the choice of such stones according to the momentary interest of dealers, there is grave danger that the only true incentive to acquire birthstones will be weakened and the people will lose interest in them. Sentiment, true sentiment, is one of the best things in human nature…Thus, sentiment must never be neglected, and nothing is more likely to destroy it than the conviction that it is being constantly exploited for commercial purposes!”

I have seen interest in birthstones sharply decline within my own lifetime and I think Dr. Kunz’s points are well taken. For the “purist” who wants the most authentic list possible today, we have already charted the stones of the 2nd Temple Breastplate.

I offer a proposed modern list for your consideration to replace these ill-considered changes by the jewelry industry in the 20th century and to cancel out the effect of Marie Leczinska with her so-called Polish list.

Proposed Modern Listing (Corrected for Authenticity from older sources)
January – Garnet July – Lapiz-lazuli/turquoise
February – Amethyst August – Onyx
March – Carnelian September – Peridot
April – Sapphire October – Aquamarine
May – Emerald November – Topaz
June – Agate December – Ruby

As accurately as we can determine today, these are essentially the stones of the 2nd Temple breastplate/Foundation and they have enjoyed the assignments shown here for respectable lengths of time. Yes, I know I show a tentative alternate for July (the turquoise), but I refuse to get into that argument. It is a stone fully as ancient as lapis-lazuli and was very highly respected in Spain. Further, it has enjoyed usage as a birthstone in our Western tradition for at least 300 years unlike alexandrite, rose or blue zircon, tourmaline, et. al. I feel this list possesses far, far more authenticity than any list arbitrarily thought up by commercial jewelers’ committees of the 20th century.

One of the reasons these listings are tampered with by jewelers is that not everyone likes their birthstone and fashions (such as faceted for cabochon stones) change as well. But historically there are other stones that apply to an individual born at a certain time of the year. First, there are the stones of the zodiac which differ somewhat in timing from the calendric list while still owing their origin to the breastplate stones. The following table gives the timing and the stones of the zodiac:

Zodiacal Gemstones
Aquarius (January 21 – February 20) Garnet
Pisces (February 21 – March 20) Amethyst
Aries (March 21 – April 19) Bloodstone
Taurus (April 20 – May 20) Sapphire
Gemini (May 21 – June 20) Agate
Cancer (June 21 – July 21) Emerald
Leo (July 22 – August 21) Onyx
Virgo (August 22 – September 21) Carnelian
Libra (September 22 – October 22) Peridot
Scorpio (October 23 – November 20) Aquamarine
Sagittarius (November 21–December 20) Topaz
Capricorn (December 21–January 20) Ruby

From this list one can see that while the zodiacal stone for some would prove the same as their natal stone, it would be different for a majority.

For those who are interested, there is an old Spanish listing for the zodiac. Dr. Kunz thought that it probably represented Arab (Moorish) tradition:

Aries – Rock Crystal (quartz) Libra – Jasper (Jade?)
Taurus – Ruby and Diamond Scorpio – Garnet
Gemini – Sapphire Sagittarius – Emerald
Cancer – Agate and Beryl Capricorn – Chalcedony
Leo – Topaz Aquarius – Amethyst
Virgo – Magnet (Loadstone?) Pisces – ?

Also of interest are the Hindu stones of the month if that should apply to your persona:

April – Diamond October – Coral
May – Emerald November – Cat’s-eye
June – Pearl December – Topaz
July – Sapphire January – Serpent-stone
August – Ruby February – Chandrakanta
September – Zircon March – The gold Siva-linga

There are also the talismanic gems for the guardian angels for the month of your birth:

January Gabriel Onyx
February Barchiel Jade
March Malchediel Ruby
April Ashmodei Topaz
May Amriel Garnet
June Muriel Emerald
July Verchiel Sapphire
August Hamatiel Diamond
September Tsuriel Jacinth (Zircon)
October Bariel Agate
November Adnachiel Amethyst
December Humiel Aquamarine

Then there are the stones of the weekdays:

Gemstones for the Days of the Week

Sunday: Topaz – Diamond; and Sunday’s talismanic gem: Pearl
Monday: Pearl – Crystal; and Monday’s talismanic gem: Emerald
Tuesday: Ruby – Emerald; and Tuesday’s talismanic gem: Topaz
Wednesday: Amethyst – Loadstone; and Wednesday’s talismanic gem: Turquoise
Thursday: Sapphire – Carnelian; and Thursday’s talismanic gem: Sapphire
Friday: Emerald – Cat’s-eye; and Friday’s talismanic gem: Ruby
Saturday: Turquoise – Diamond; and Saturday’s talismanic gem: Amethyst

These weekday stones plus the zodiac add a great deal of choice to a person seeking some variety, but yet keeping to some special meaning to the day of their birth. If these do not satisfy, there are the stones of the hours and of the seasons of their birth as follows on the next page.

Gemstones of the Hours Hours of the Day
1 Jacinth (red/orange zircon) 7 Chrysolite (peridot)
2 Emerald 8 Amethyst
3 Aquamarine 9 Kunzite
4 Topaz 10 Sapphire
5 Ruby 11 Garnet
6 Opal 12 Diamond

Hours of the Night
1 Morion (smoky quartz) 7 Sardonyx
2 Hematite 8 Chalcedony
3 Malachite 9 Jade
4 Lapis-lazuli 10 Jasper
5 Turquoise 11 Loadstone
6 Tourmaline 12 Onyx

In addition, there are the stones of the seasons

Gems of Spring: Amethyst, Green Diamond, Chrysoberyl (cat’s eye), Spinel, Pink Topaz, Peridot, and Emerald.
Gems of Summer: Zircon, Green Garnet (demantoid, tsavorite), Chrysoberyl (alexandrite), Spinel, Pink Topaz, Ruby, and Fire Opal.
Gems of Autumn: Hyacinth (blue zircon?), Topaz, Sapphire, Cairngorm, Adamantine spar, Tourmaline, and Chrysolite (peridot).
Gems of Winter: Diamond, Rock-crystal, White sapphire, Turquoise, Quartz, Moonstone, and Pearl.

Then there are the phenomenal gems which have been of high interest and regard in the Orient:

Phenomenal Gems for the Days of the Week
Sunday Sunstone
Monday Moonstone
Tuesday Star sapphire
Wednesday Star ruby
Thursday Cat’s-eye
Friday Alexandrite
Saturday Labradorite

I think the point is now amply made: we do not need to tamper with the ancient birthstones of the months or the zodiac, thus destroying the mystery, sentiment, and romance of these particular stones which extend far back in the history of the human race!


  • 1 Flavii Josephi, ec. Dindorf, Parisii, 1847, vol. ii, p. 97; “Antiq.Jud,” lib. Iii, cap. 7, paragraph 7.
  • 2 Sancti Hieronymi, “Opera Omnia,” ed. Migne, Parisiis, 1988, vol. 1, col. 616; Epistola 1xiv, para. 16.
  • 3 Kunz, George Frederick, “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones,” 1971, Dover Publications, 180 Varick Street, New York, N.Y. 10014
  • 4 Bancroft, Peter, “Gems and Crystal Treasures,” 1984, Western Enterprises, Fallbrook, California & The Mineralogical Record, Phoenix, Arizona.
  • 5. “On Stones,” Theophrastus (a translation by Earle R. Caley of OSU and John F. C. Richards of Colombia); Ohio State University; 1956.
  • 6. “English Medieval Lapidaries,” Joan Evans; Dover, New York.
  • 7. “Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages,” Joan Evans; Cover; New York.