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Why is there modern and traditional birthstones?

Why is there modern and traditional birthstones?

The idea of birthstones – gemstones associated with each month of the year – dates back thousands of years. Ancient cultures like the Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews all had their own versions of birthstones. These early birthstones were thought to have magical powers and be able to bring good luck, health, and prosperity to the wearer.

Over time, the list of traditional birthstones evolved. In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers formally adopted a standardized list, which is the list most commonly used in the United States today. This list includes gems like garnet, amethyst, and pearl.

In 1952, the Jewelry Industry Council introduced an alternative list of modern birthstones. This updated list featured different gems, and also assigned more than one stone for each month. The goal was to highlight other colored gems that were becoming newly available and popular.

So in summary, the reason there are modern and traditional birthstones is due to the introduction of the modern list in the 20th century. The traditional stones have ancient roots, while the modern stones reflect more recently discovered and trendy gems.

The History of Traditional Birthstones

The idea of linking certain gems to months of the year is thousands of years old. Some of the earliest examples include:

– Ancient Hebrews associated stones with the twelve tribes of Israel. The breastplate worn by Aaron, the brother of Moses, contained twelve different gems – one for each tribe.

– In Greek mythology, each stone was thought to be under the influence of a different god or goddess. Wearing that stone during the associated month would bring favor from that deity.

– Similarly, in ancient Rome, different stones were linked to seven of the major gods – Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Diana, Vulcan, Venus, and Saturn.

By the Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, birthstones were commonly believed to have special powers if worn during their corresponding month. Here are some examples:

– January’s garnet would prevent skin diseases and instill constancy and faith.

– February’s amethyst kept the wearer clear-headed and quick-witted.

– March’s aquamarine was thought to cure heart, liver, and stomach diseases.

– December’s turquoise would bring good fortune and success.

As astrology grew in influence in the 17th century, even more meanings were assigned to birthstones based on zodiac signs and planetary influences.

Standardization in 1912

Up until the early 20th century, there was still not complete consistency around birthstones and their months. Different traditions had compiled their own lists over the centuries.

In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers sought to standardize the birthstones. They published an official chart that assigned a single stone for each month. This defined list is the traditional birthstone list that is still commonly used today.

Here are the traditional birthstones by month:

Month Birthstone
January Garnet
February Amethyst
March Aquamarine
April Diamond
May Emerald
June Pearl
July Ruby
August Peridot
September Sapphire
October Opal
November Topaz
December Turquoise

The traditional birthstones were not just randomly selected. The list contains many historically significant stones that were mentioned by ancient scholars like Pliny the Elder and had symbolic meaning for thousands of years.

By creating an official standardized list, the goal was to solidify the cultural tradition of birthstones for modern times.

Addition of Modern Birthstones

In 1952, the Jewelry Industry Council reviewed the traditional birthstone list. Their goal was to introduce some additional stones that had become newly accessible and gain popularity in the early 20th century. Thus, the modern birthstone list was created.

Rather than replacing any traditional stones, the modern list added at least one additional birthstone for each month. Some months gained as many as three alternate birthstones.

Here are the primary additions on the modern birthstone list:

Month Added Modern Birthstone(s)
January Garnet
February Amethyst
March Aquamarine, Bloodstone
April Diamond
May Emerald
June Pearl, Alexandrite, Moonstone
July Ruby
August Peridot, Spinel, Sardonyx
September Sapphire
October Opal, Tourmaline
November Topaz, Citrine
December Turquoise, Tanzanite, Zircon

Some of the reasoning behind the additions:

– June’s alexandrite was a newly discovered gemstone that displays an unusual color change from red to green.

– August’s peridot was becoming newly popular and readily available. Spinel and sardonyx added red and brown options.

– October’s tourmaline came in a rainbow of colors to represent the fall season.

– November’s citrine provided a more affordable yellow stone.

– December’s blue tanzanite and colorless zircon gave more options for winter jewelry.

Overall, the modern list highlights additional variety. It provides more options to fit personal taste. And it showcases new gemstone sources and mining technology that flourished in the early 1900s.

Current Birthstone Traditions

Today, both the traditional and modern birthstone lists are widely used and accepted in the United States. The traditional list remains popular for its historical significance. The modern list is appreciated for offering more versatility.

Here are some key notes about working with birthstones today:

– Many people enjoy wearing their birthstone from both lists. The traditional stone honors ancient tradition, while the modern options allow customization.

– Some traditional stones like emeralds and rubies are still quite rare and valuable. The alternate modern stones provide more affordable choices.

– Certain alternate stones have become even more preferred than the primary traditional stones. For example, turquoise, the alternate for December, is now potentially more sought after than zircon, the traditional stone.

– Personal preference reigns supreme. While the set lists provide guidance, favorite colors and gem types ultimately matter most when picking birthstones.

– Astrological birthstones, based on zodiac signs rather than calendar months, are also recognized as a third birthstone tradition.


In summary, the reason there are separate modern and traditional birthstone lists is due to evolutions in culture and the jewelry industry over the past century. Establishing an official traditional list in 1912 helped preserve ancient meaning. Introducing the modern list in 1952 served to highlight new gemstone diversity and accessibility.

Today both birthstone lists co-exist, giving people options to honor personal meaning and taste when selecting their birthstones. The traditional stones represent enduring symbolism, while the modern stones offer customization. Having two lists provides the best of both worlds when celebrating birthdays and each special month.