A few weeks back, I started wondering where the idea of “birthstones” came from. To me, it sounded like a marketing ploy invented by a greeting card company.
Turns out I was wrong. Sort of.
The origins are Biblical. Old Testament Biblical. The Book of Exodus describes the breastplate of Aaron as having twelve stones, one for each of the Tribes of Israel. Sardius*, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, ligure**, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx, and jasper.
Both Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) and St. Jerome (5th century AD) made the connection between the 12 stones in the Breastplate and the 12 signs of the zodiac. Naturally, this connection evolved. Some early cultures believed you should wear the stone corresponding to the current month. In 18th century Poland, the idea that a person should wear the stone corresponding to the month of their birth was born. The modern list of stones was standardized in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers–not a greeting card company.
- *believed to be either ruby or carnelian.
- ** possibly an orange zircon