January’s birthstones have an interesting history. Traditionally, garnet has been considered January’s sole birthstone. However, in recent decades, some lists have started including an additional gemstone – zircon. So why are there two different birthstones now associated with January? Let’s take a closer look.
The History of Birthstones
The tradition of birthstones is very old, dating back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations believed that each month was associated with a different gemstone that had special powers and could bring good luck to people born in that month.
The origin of birthstones is uncertain, but many historians believe the tradition started with the Breastplate of Aaron:
And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row. And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst. And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
This breastplate, described in the Book of Exodus, associated 12 different gemstones with the 12 tribes of Israel. Over time, these 12 gemstones began to be connected to the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar.
Specific birthstone associations started emerging in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1912, the American National Association of Jewelers solidified the modern birthstone list, assigning a single birthstone to each month. This list was later adopted by the Jewelry Industry Council in 1952 and remains the most widely used birthstone chart today.
So for over a century, garnet has been the accepted January birthstone. But in the last couple decades, some lists have started doubling up and adding a second stone for some months.
The Addition of Zircon
In the early 2000s, various lists began including zircon alongside garnet as a birthstone for January.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) added zircon in 1952. Jewelry stores started following the GIA’s lead and promoting both stones for January.
Other organizations stuck with the traditional single birthstone for each month. But the idea of using alternate birthstones, often more affordable gemstones, gained popularity with consumers.
So how exactly did zircon get attached to January?
Reason 1: Similar Properties to Garnet
Zircon shares some similar properties with garnet that make it a fitting pairing as a January birthstone:
- They are both abundant natural gemstones that can be found in a variety of colors.
- The most prized colors of each are red hues. The best quality garnets and zircons are red.
- They have similar hardness and durability at about 7 on the Mohs scale.
With its red color varieties and overlapped gem properties, zircon made sense as an alternate option that was more budget-friendly than garnet.
Reason 2: Confusion with Zirconium
Another theory is that zircon’s association with January emerged from confusion between zircon and zirconium:
Zirconium is a grayish metal used in surgical equipment, corrosive resistant piping, and nuclear reactors. Zircon is a separate mineral used in jewelry.
Since zirconium was discovered in the 1820s, people often misnamed the gemstone as “zirconium” or “zirconia.” Jewelers may have started promoting zircon in January to clear up this confusion over the name.
Reason 3: Increased Demand for Alternate Stones
A third driver was consumer demand for alternate birthstones. Once the practice of having additional birthstones took off in the mid-20th century, retailers wanted to offer options for every month. Zircon gave January shoppers a more affordable alternative to garnet.
Garnet and Zircon’s January Connection
Whatever the exact origins, the January connection makes sense for both garnet and zircon. Let’s look at why each stone resonates as a birthstone for the first month.
Garnet has long symbolic ties to the month of January:
- It’s thought to keep a wearer warm and protected during winter’s coldest months.
- Ancient warriors carried garnet into battle believing it gave them additional strength and courage.
- Being the color red, it represents January’s vibrant festivities and celebrations – the new year, new beginnings, and new passion.
Known as the stone of health and commitment, garnet is associated with boosting energy, inspiration, and mental clarity – all useful during January’s cold start to the year.
While less deeply rooted than garnet, zircon carries symbolism fitting for January:
- Its red, brown, and orange varieties evoke January’s earth tones.
- As an affordable alternate to garnet, it aligns with January’s post-holiday economic reset.
- Some believe it helps relieve winter blues and re-energize the spirit.
January’s two birthstones offer complementary properties to start the year off strong.
Comparing Garnet and Zircon
Let’s compare some key facts about January’s two birthstones:
|Colors||Red, green, orange, yellow, brown, pink, purple, black||Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown|
|Sources||Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, USA||Australia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania|
|Price per carat||$50-600||$20-250|
While they overlap in many properties, garnet tends to be more valuable and prized than zircon. But zircon can offer big color and brilliance at a more accessible price point.
Which is Better? Garnet vs. Zircon
So when it comes to January’s two birthstones, which makes the better choice?
The answer depends on individual preference and budget.
- Deeper color saturation – especially in red hues
- Generally higher quality with fewer flaws
- More prestige as the traditional January birthstone
- Retains value well for resale
- More color varieties including rare blue
- More sparkle and brilliance
- Much lower cost for large gems
- Easier to find loose stones for custom jewelry
For jewelry longevity and investment value, garnet is likely the better choice. But for affordable beauty and style versatility, zircon can be a great option for January birthdays.
Best Uses for Garnet vs. Zircon
Based on their properties, here are the best uses for each stone:
Garnet is ideal for:
- Rings, pendants, and earrings that will be worn everyday
- Larger statement pieces with deep red gems
- Heirloom quality jewelry
Zircon is ideal for:
- Fashion rings, earrings, and necklaces for lower daily wear
- Accent stones around diamonds or other gems
- Big, unique cocktails rings on a budget
January babies are lucky to have two beautiful birthstones to choose from. Garnet and zircon offer the best gifts of wellness, energy and prosperity for the new year.
While garnet remains January’s primary birthstone with a long history, zircon has emerged in the last century as a popular alternative. The similar properties and confusion over the name helped zircon become adopted alongside garnet. But both gems carry symbolism and special qualities fitting for people born in January. For those looking to benefit from January birthstones, either garnet or zircon make excellent and meaningful choices.