Are birthstones nothing but a sales and marketing ploy by the jewelry industry to generate sales? There is no denying that the commercialization of birthstones in the 21st century is real. However, birthstones have been around for thousands of years and their story is quite fascinating.
In The Beginning...
The first appearance of birthstones was in Egypt by Moses' brother, Aaron who was a high priest and wore a breastplate encrusted with twelve stones.
Each stone represented one of the sons of Israel and was engraved with a seal of one of the twelve tribes. The twelve stones also symbolized the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac. (Due to difficulty with translation, there are actually two versions of how the stones were laid out on Aaron's breastplate. No one knows for absolute certain which stone is intended for which tribe, month or zodiac sign.)
In 18th century Poland it was "trendy" to wear birthstones. People owned an entire set of stones and each month wore the stone that corresponded with whichever month they were in. Sounds kind of fun, doesn't it? This concept was said to have come from the book of Revelations which associates a particular stone with each apostle and his virtue. These stones were called "Foundation Stones of Christianity."
Lost In Translation:
Over time the pairing of a specific gemstone with a specific month lost its historical basis. So in 1912 the Jewelers Of America met in Kansas to create an "official birthstone list." This list has been periodically updated throughout the years since the 1912 meeting.
So, why are birthstones still so popular in this day and age? Setting tradition aside, perhaps identifying with a natural gemstone is a symbolic reminder of our unique existence in the world - and that is something to be celebrated. Regardless of how birthstones are marketed today, take comfort in knowing that they really do have a historical background that is rich in meaning.
Seneca Jewelry's 18k yellow gold Jubilee Talis Cuffs with diamonds and blue sapphires
Explore and shop Seneca Jewelry's Talis Cuff Collection for a modern approach to the ancient birthstone tradition.