COMMENT: A background on birthstones

History of birthstones

Each month of the year correlates to a specific birthstone. It is believed that the origins of birthstones date back to the Breastplate of the High Priest written about in the Old Testament. The breastplate had twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. It was thought that these gemstones were also connected to the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Throughout the centuries, there have been many myths and legends about birthstones and their healing powers.

At our H&T Pawnbrokers and Discount Secondhand Jewellery stores we have a range of gemstones. Here are the birthstones for each month and some interesting facts about them: 

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January birthstone

January’s birthstone is garnet, which comes from the Latin for seed. The uncut crystals of a garnet are said to look similar to red pomegranate seeds. Garnets are often red but they also come in many colours. Nowadays garnet is considered to signify friendship and loyalty and as well as being January’s birthstone, it is the gemstone given on a second anniversary. Myth has it that garnet has the power to ward off evil spirits, magic and dreams, and if danger is approaching, your garnet will lose colour to warn you. Garnet has been used as a gemstone for over 5,000 years and was worn by the Egyptians and the ancient Romans.

February birthstone

Purple amethyst is the birthstone for February. Throughout history it is said to have powers to protect the wearer from intoxication, poison and disease. In fact, its name can be interpreted as ‘not drunk’. There are a few myths surrounding this particular gemstone. Here is one from Greek mythology: the God of wine, Dionysus, was in a bad mood because a mortal had just insulted him so he decided to take it out on the next mortal he saw. This mortal was a beautiful girl called Amethyst. When Dionysus tried to unleash his wrath on her, the Goddess Artemis turned Amethyst into a quartz statue to protect her. When he saw the beautiful statue, Dionysus cried tears of wine over the quartz, staining it purple. Throughout European history, purple amethysts have often taken pride of place in royal jewellery.

March birthstone

Aquamarine is March’s birthstone, it gets its name from the Latin for water and sea, indeed its colour resembles a sparkling ocean. Its shade varies from deep blue to a light blue-green colour. Aquamarine is a gemstone which is special to sailors as it is considered to be a lucky talisman which helps to protect them at sea. Historically, it was believed that aquamarine had a range of healing powers. It was used as an antidote against poison; a cure for the stomach, liver, jaws and throat; and a means of soothing anxiety and negative moods – an ancient form of antidepressant.

April birthstone

The well-known diamond is April’s birthstone and the hardest naturally-occurring substance on the earth and as such suitable for all types of jewellery and settings. When selling diamonds, buyers should be advised to store their diamonds separately from other jewellery to avoid damaging softer stones and precious metals. The word ‘diamond’ comes from the ancient Greek adámis which means ‘unbreakable’. Diamonds date back billions of years and have been treasured throughout history. In ancient times, people believed that they were the tears of god, or that they were formed by lightning bolts. In the middle ages, diamonds were thought to heal illness by filtering out the toxins or poisons in our bodies. They range from clear to black with many shades in between – the ones used in jewellery are mostly transparent, colourless or tinted, and the rest are used in industry.

May birthstone

The birthstone for May, emerald, takes its name from the Greek word smaragdos which means green stone. They have been prized throughout the ages: the ancient Romans believed emeralds soothed the eyes, and the ancient Egyptians believed they represented rebirth and fertility. Emeralds are very fragile as they often have cracks and inclusions, and are therefore vulnerable to damage. Cutting an emerald can be challenging, the most common cut is called emerald cut – rectangular with smooth corners. Exceptional emeralds are rarer and more expensive than diamonds.

 June birthstone

Pearl is June’s gemstone, the only gemstone created by a living creature, and the oldest known to man. Pearls have been worn as jewellery for thousands of years, and it can take six to eight years for a pearl to form. We now know that pearls are formed inside molluscs but there were many ancient legends about where pearls came from, here are a few: dewdrops that fell from heaven into the sea; tears of the gods; created when the rainbow met the earth after a storm; formed within a dragon’s head or fell from the sky when dragons fought!

July birthstone

Rubies are hard gemstones, harder than any other naturally-occurring substance except diamonds. This means they can be used for all types of jewellery. Their name comes from the Latin for red, and these stones can be both red and pink. Large rubies are rarer and more difficult to find than large diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. This means that the value of a ruby increases with size more than any other gemstone. Historically rubies were worn by kings, leaders and heads of tribes as they believed the stone would help their leadership and decision making skills as well as give them power and strength.

August birthstone

Many gemstones come in a variety of colours but the August birthstone, peridot, is always a pale green colour, ranging from olive to lime green. Its gentle and mild green colour goes well in silver and platinum jewellery.  It can be difficult to cut as it can crack easily, but once this is done it is a stone which is easy to wear and does not need any particular special care. Peridot is a gem which has been around for thousands of years and has been found in ancient Egyptian jewellery. It forms within the earth and is brought to the surface by volcanoes. In Hawaii this gemstone symbolises the tears of Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes.

September birthstone

September’s birthstone is the sapphire, a relative of the ruby and one of the four precious stones – the others being diamond, emerald and ruby. Sapphire is a strong stone; its hardness is exceeded only by the diamond. This means it is hard-wearing in jewellery and easy to look after. Historically, sapphires have been thought to protect the wearer from envy and harm, as well as attract blessings from heaven. They are not just blue, they come in every colour but red. Sapphires in colours other than blue are referred to as fancy sapphires.

October birthstone

Opal is October’s birthstone and it is truly distinctive because each individual gem is a unique one-of-a-kind colour combination and a vibrant spectrum of colours. Opals contain water which makes them sensitive to heat. They are soft stones which can be cracked easily – something to be aware of when wearing as jewellery. According to legend, opal was believed to be associated with eyesight and to make its wearer invisible; crystal healers nowadays say that this gemstone can help to provide a ‘cloak of invisibility’ in situations where one does not wish to be noticed or needs to fade into the background – such as when visiting dangerous places.

November birthstone

The name of November’s gemstone, topaz, signifies a bright shining fire and the ancient Egyptians believed it symbolised their sun god. It is one of the twelve stones on the Breastplate of the High Priest written about in the Old Testament. Topaz comes in a wide range of colours including pink, purple, yellow, brown, orange and blue. Pure topaz is colourless and when brilliantly cut, it can be mistaken for a diamond. It has a level of hardness which is ideal for jewellery; as it is rare, it is an expensive gemstone.

December birthstone

December’s birthstone is turquoise; its name means Turkish stone as turquoise was brought to Europe from Turkish bazaars.  It is believed to contain heavenly energy, therefore providing protection from negativity and a connection to the purity of natural elements, especially water and air. It is one of the oldest stones and can be found in ancient talismans and amulets. Turquoise is a relatively soft gemstone which can be easily scratched or broken. It should be cleaned carefully with warm water and a soft brush, ultrasonic cleansers and commercial cleaners should be not be used. Its colour ranges from green to blue, with the most valued being a sky blue colour.

Top tips

Here are some top tips to bear in mind when dealing with birthstone jewellery:

  • Gemstones vary in hardness so they should be stored separately
  • Regularly check the settings are secure
  • Clean with warm water, mild soap and a soft toothbrush
  • Do not expose to chemicals such as cleaning products, chlorine in the swimming pool, perfume, hairspray and cosmetics
  • Remove before carrying out heavy work or physical exercise to avoid harsh blows

H&T Pawnbrokers is the UK’s leading pawnbroking company established in 1897 in London with over 190 stores throughout the UK. In addition to pawnbroking the stores are also able to offer jewellery valuations and repairs, jewellery purchase, foreign exchange services, personal loans, Western Union money transfer and cheque cashing. Discount Secondhand Jewellery is a trading format of H&T Pawnbrokers and offers an extensive range of individually selected secondhand gold, diamond, gemstone and silver jewellery and high-end watches. Follow H&T on Facebook and Twitter

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