Birthstones of the Month
Written by: Robert Borneman, Gemologist
GARNET - JANUARY
Garnet, a gemstone used in jewelry for thousands of years, enjoyed great popularity during the Victorian Era. Today, Garnet jewelry is available in every modern style of gemstone jewelry, in addition to many fabulous one of a kind antique and estate jewelry pieces. Garnet is readily available in all shapes and sizes at inexpensive prices for a genuine gemstone that seems to remain in the background, when it truly belongs in the spotlight. The fact that Garnet is not rare or expensive should in no way diminish its appeal, which is found in the real beauty of its magnificent colors.
The familiar brownish red Garnet is Januaries birthstone and is also given for second Wedding Anniversaries, however, Garnet is found in many colors of the rainbow. Garnet is actually a group of minerals whose chemical compositions are very similar, the slight variations account for the extreme differences in color we see. Typically most Garnets you will find in jewelry stores range in price from about ten dollars to twenty five dollars per carat. Of course there are always fine specimens which will command much higher prices, but everyone can afford excellent quality Garnet jewelry and you should include Garnet in your jewelry collection. Garnet in its brilliant red and purplish red shades is often confused with Ruby by the consumer. While their colors can sometimes be similar, Garnet will cost you a small fraction of the price of a comparable quality Ruby.
Tsavorite (pronounced with a silent T) is a vivid forest green Garnet gemstone unlike any green gemstone you have seen. Tsavorite is mined in the same areas of Tanzania in which Tanzanite, another rare gemstone, is found. It is a rare example of the Garnet family and can be significantly more expensive than other members of the Garnet family with prices ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars per carat. Malaia Garnet, an orangey Garnet, is also found in Eastern Africa. Pyrope Garnet is the common purplish red Garnet which comes primarily from Australia and Czechoslovakia. Spessartite, also a common type of Garnet, is the yellowish orange to reddish orange color and Rhodolite is the pink member of the Garnet family.
AMETHYST - FEBRUARY
Amethyst, the purple variety of Earth’s most abundant mineral quartz, is a highly prized gemstone. The colors of Amethyst range from an almost colorless lavender to a very deep and intense royal purple. Amethyst is believed by many to have supernatural powers. It is said that anyone who wears Amethyst will benefit from the luck it brings. Amethyst is also believed to ward off drunkenness, protect against evil thoughts, and passion. Ironically February is the month for lovers who traditionally celebrate Saint Valentines Day with expression of their passion. In addition to being the birthstone for February, Amethyst is also given for sixth Wedding Anniversaries.
Amethyst is most commonly cut as a faceted gemstone to unlock its internal brilliance and vibrant color. Cabochon shapes, crystal points, rough crystal formations, beads of all sizes, and intaglio carvings are also made from Amethyst. Gemstones in sizes from one to twenty carats are readily available in fine jewelry stores and gems of over 1000 carats are known to exist. Because of the abundance of this beautiful gem, there are so many intriguing styles of Amethyst jewelry available today at prices from well under one hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Amethyst is a relatively hard gemstone, suitable for rings because it can withstand considerable abuse.
The primary sources for Amethyst are the Ural mountains of Brazil, Uruguay, Namibia, South Africa, and even the United States. Amethyst is found in cavities of rock where molten materials rich in silicon and oxygen from deep inside the earth have surfaced and cooled. The faster molten material cools, the smaller the resulting crystals that form will be. Examples of tiny crystal size are evidenced in small geodes and when large quantities of nutrients and time are available in areas such as caves, mammoth sized crystals can result. Geodes are rocks which can be smaller than golf balls or several hundred pounds that have cooled very quickly on the outside forming a shell causing slower cooling on the inside, resulting in crystal formations. While there may be some clues on the outside, you never know what you will find inside a geode until you break it open.
AQUAMARINE - MARCH
Aquamarine, the pale blue-green gemstone which reminds us of the calm soothing soft colors of the Caribbean Sea, is the precious gemstone of March. Transparency and lightness in color tone account for Aquamarines pastel shades of color. The word Aquamarine is actually derived from the Latin meaning: water of the sea. Over the ages it has been believed that an Aquamarine will give or bring out courage in whoever wears one.
Aquamarine is the highly prized blue member of the beryl family of gems, related to Emerald (green beryl) and the less well known Morganite (pink beryl). Gemstones of ten carats in size are common and rare specimens of 1,000 carats have been found. Aquamarine crystals grow in hexagonal (6 sided) formations and non gem quality crystals of several feet in length which may weigh several tons have been found. Aquamarine is generally faceted, however beads, carvings, and cabochons are also fashioned for use in jewelry.
Aquamarine has historically been treasured by the aristocrats and can be found in many fine pieces of antique jewelry. Aquamarine is the gemstone for the zodiac sign Pisces. The primary sources of Aquamarine are Brazil, several African countries, and the Soviet Union. Although Aquamarine is somewhat plentiful, its relatively high price for better quality gemstones does not make it practical for lower and moderately priced birthstone jewelry. Sky Blue Topaz, a genuine gemstone which looks very much like Aquamarine is often substituted by manufacturers when price is a consideration. It's a peaceful, yet striking color which would make an elegant addition to your jewelry collection and is suitable for formal or everyday wear.
DIAMOND - APRIL
Diamond, the hardest substance known to man is a rare and valuable gemstone which has been sought after for almost 2500 years. Kings, Queens, and Emperors have collected and worn Diamonds as a symbol of wealth and power for centuries. Diamonds are still a symbol of wealth and success, but they are much easier to acquire today than they were in the past. The industrial revolution was responsible for major changes in the evolution of Diamond cutting, which unlocks the internal brilliance of a Diamond. In fact the Diamonds you can purchase today are far superior in brilliance and they display a fire unknown to the royalty of the past.
Diamonds are believed to have first been discovered in India. During the seventeen hundreds, Diamonds were discovered in Africa. Diamonds are now found primarily in Africa, Australia, and Russia. They are also found in small quantities in many other countries including the United States, particularly in Arkansas.
The rarest of all Diamonds are crystals of pure Carbon which are totally colorless and flawless. Diamonds are found in all of the colors of the rainbow and some of the intense fancy colors also demand extremely high prices. The fire, also known as the brilliance of a Diamond makes it the choice of jewelers when designing fine jewelry.
If you were fortunate enough to have been born in April, then Diamond is your birthstone. Diamond is also the gemstone given for tenth and sixtieth Wedding Anniversaries, and more recently Diamonds set in a necklace are being given for the twenty fifth Wedding Anniversary. A Diamond embodies the fire and passion within us and represents the commitment of one to another when given as a betrothal or engagement ring. It does not have to be a special occasion to give someone a Diamond, but giving a Diamond will make an occasion special. A Diamond is a keepsake which will outlive its owner, and may be passed on from generation to generation. Visit our Diamond Jewelry and Estate Jewelry Web pages or stop by one of our stores to see and feel the magic ofDiamonds for yourself.
EMERALD - MAY
Emerald, the gemstone of spring, is also the birthstone for the month of May. Emerald is the gemstone which is given for twentieth and thirty fifth Wedding Anniversaries. Facetted gemstones, primarily oval and emerald cut (rectangular with cut corners), cabochons, and carvings are the most popular forms of Emeralds used in jewelry.
Emerald is the green variety of Beryl, which is the most highly prized Beryl of all. Most gems, including Beryl, can be found in the many colors of the rainbow. Green Beryl, or Emerald gemstones are found in as many colors of green as you can find in a rain forest. Other members of the Beryl family are Aquamarine (blue), Morganite (pink), and Heliodor (yellow).
Columbia and South America have been a source of Emeralds for centuries, and still produce considerable quantities of top quality gems today. Columbian Emeralds are among the finest in the world. Brazil, Africa, Australia and the U.S.S.R. are also large producers of Emeralds. In the United States, Emeralds have been found in Connecticut, Maine, and North Carolina.
Emerald crystals form in metamorphic rocks which restrict crystal growth, resulting in very few Emeralds of several carats or more. Five to seven carat Emeralds are considered large, and gems over twenty carats, although they exist, are very rare and very expensive. High quality Emeralds have been know to command higher prices than comparable sized Diamonds.
Emeralds are also known for their tremendous array of inclusions referred to as gardens. The common fractures and internal characteristics of Emeralds often require treatments or enhancements to improve their appearance for use in jewelry. Steam cleaning, use of chemicals for cleaning, and ultrasonic cleaning, which may extend fractures, dull the finish or remove enhancements, should be avoided with Emeralds.
Green, a soothing color, which is pleasing to the eye, should be a part of your jewelry wardrobe. An emerald green or forest green Emerald, set in gold and accented with Diamonds is a stunning combination. Emerald is suitable for everyday wear or for special occasions. Select a fine Emerald for you next piece of jewelry and watch others turn "green with envy".
ALEXANDRITE or PEARL - JUNE
A scarce gemstone, Alexandrite is best known for it’s unusual ability to change color in different types of light. The chameleon effect of Alexandrite has made it a gemstone that is highly prized and sought after by collectors around the world. Alexandrite appears green in daylight and will change to red when placed under incandescent light. A vivid and distinct color change in Alexandrite can make this gemstone worth thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.
Originally discovered in the Ural mountains of Russia, Alexandrite was named after Alexander II, the Czar of Russia. Today the primary sources of Alexandrite are Brazil and Sri Lanka. Even though large specimens of Alexandrite are very rare, the Smithsonian Museum has an unbelievable 66 carat on display.
The high cost associated with purchasing Alexandrite has created a huge market for synthetics, which can also exhibit color change. Pearl, which shares the birthstone designation for June with Alexandrite, is an alternative for those who shun synthetic gems.
Both natural and cultured Pearls, are also the birthstone of June. Pearls are much more affordable and readily available in the marketplace than Alexandrite. One of the few organic gems, Pearls form in Oysters and other mollusks in both freshwater and saltwater. When a foreign body such as a grain of sand enters a mollusk and causes an irritation, the natural defense mechanism of a Pearl secretes a substance known as nacre which builds up in layers over time forming a natural Pearl. Cultured Pearls are formed in exactly the same way except that a bead or nucleus is inserted into a mollusk, by man to start the process. In Pearl farming, the size of a Pearl is determined by the size of the nucleus and the length of time it remains within the pearl before being harvested. The major sources for natural Pearls are the South Seas, Persian Gulf, Tahitian Islands, and Sri Lanka while the majority of Cultured Pearls come from Japan and more recently, China.
Pearls can be worn individually in rings or pendants but are most popular in strands ranging from 16" to over 30". Pearls, the choice of many brides on their wedding day, are a classic accessory and are suitable for formal occasions or everyday wear. In addition to being the birthstone for June, Pearls are also given for third and thirtieth Wedding Anniversaries.
RUBY - JULY
A fine Ruby, which can be more expensive than a comparable Diamond, is one of the most precious and beautiful gemstones of the world. Ruby is the sister of Sapphire, both of whom are composed of Corundum, which exists in all colors of the rainbow. Only the red to purple red hues of Corundum are called Ruby while all other colors including the light shades of red and pink are classified as Sapphires. In early times many red gemstones, including garnet and red spinel were mistaken for Ruby. The famous "Black Prince's Ruby" of the English State Crown, always believed to be a Ruby, has since been identified as a red spinel due to our greatly improved ability to identify gemstones and to separate synthetics from genuine gems in the last century.
Today, lab created gems are one of the pitfalls a consumer faces in the marketplace. Many large retailers and mall stores have resorted to stocking lab created and synthetics because they can be offered in very attractive price ranges. When mixed with other fine jewelry, as is often the case, the consumer can be confused. Lab grown gems have the same chemical and physical properties as their NATURAL counterparts. Genuine natural gems are mined, not grown in a laboratory. If you are looking at a very clean and brilliant one carat Ruby or Emerald for two hundred dollars in a gold mounting you can bet it is lab created. The abundance of lab grown and synthetic Rubies, as well as other gemstones, requires you to ask if what you are buying is genuine and natural or man made. While there is nothing wrong with buying synthetics and lab grown stones, you must realize they can be worth ten percent or less than the real thing and may retain no real value.
In addition to having the distinction of the birthstone for July, Ruby is the gemstone for summer and the zodiac sign of Capricorn. Ruby is also given for fifteenth and fortieth wedding anniversaries. Second only to Diamond in hardness, Ruby is an excellent gemstone for rings and bracelets which are subjected to greater wear than other types of jewelry.
The primary sources for Ruby are Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Kenya. The term "Burmese Rubies" which originally described the most highly prized gems from Burma, is now a misleading term because it is used to describe fine Rubies, similar in color to Burmese Rubies, from around the world, even though Burma still produces many top quality gems. A top quality Ruby has a "pigeon blood" color of vivid red to slightly purplish red. Inclusions and color zones are common in Ruby and may not impact price when color is overriding factor. Star Rubies, like the more commonly known Star Sapphires exhibit a well defined six ray star formed by needle like inclusions which align themselves in the same direction, known as an asterism. An asterism is highlighted when a Ruby with the right type of inclusions is cut as a cabochon (flat on the bottom and domed on the top).
PERIDOT - AUGUST
Peridot, pronounced with a silent "t", is typically found in a variety of green colors ranging from a lively light yellow-green through a deep olive shade. Peridot is found right here in the United States in Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii. Brazil, Burma, Australia, Norway and Sri Lanka are other well known sources for Peridot.
Peridot is readily available in small to medium sizes in the marketplace. Prices for this warm gemstone will range from under fifty dollars for one to two carat nice quality specimens and will start to climb considerably in larger sizes. A five carat Peridot can range in price from under one hundred dollars to a few hundred dollars and gems over ten carats can cost thousands of dollars. Sizes over five carats are not common in jewelry and much larger sizes are very rare. A Peridot specimen of 310 carats is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
In addition to being the birthstone for August, Peridot is also the 16th Wedding Anniversary gemstone. While Peridot is not soft, it is not as hard as many other popular gems. Proper care is required for this gemstone which can be scratched by other gems and jewelry. It is a good idea to store your Peridot jewelry in a separate compartment in your jewelry box or to wrap items individually to protect from scratching. Cleaning regularly with warm soapy water is recommended, however, exercise care with ultrasonic cleaning or steaming as extreme heat is not good for Peridot.
Peridot is a very hot fall fashion color. Many major apparel stores offer intense Peridot colors and display the lime and olive colors of Peridotin their windows. While this fall will bring Peridot into the "limelight", it is truly a gemstone for all seasons.
SAPPHIRE - SEPTEMBER
Sapphire, which is traditionally thought of as a royal blue gemstone actually occurs in all colors of the rainbow except red (See Ruby above). Pretty pinks, gorgeous greens, yummy yellows and an outrageous orange color known as "Padparadschah" are typical Sapphire colors found in the marketplace. Blue Sapphire is the birthstone for the month of September and it is also given for the fifth and forty-fifth Wedding Anniversaries.
Sapphire is composed of Corundum, a material which is second only to Diamond in hardness. The red variety of Corundum is known as Ruby. Blue Sapphire is more plentiful than Ruby because Iron, a common element gives |Corundum it's blue color while Chrome, a rarer element gives Ruby it's red color. The most important sources for Sapphire are Sri Lanka, Australia, Burma and Thailand. Sapphire is also mined in the United States, primarily in Montana.
Pale transparent and dark opaque nearly black Sapphires are common in the marketplace at prices ranging from ten to two hundred dollars. Fine translucent medium to dark blue gemstones may be found in jewelry stores at prices ranging from two hundred dollars to well over two thousand dollars. Large fine quality Sapphires have sold at auctions for prices of fifty thousand dollars and more.
Some Sapphires posses a phenomena known as an "asterism" and display a six ray star effect, these unique gemstones are appropriately called "Star Sapphires". Star Sapphires are most common as an oval "cabochon" which is cut flat on the bottom and domed on the top to enhance the star effect. Other Sapphires may change colors when exposed to different types of light, and in rare instances Sapphires may display a "chatoyancy" effect described as a "cat's eye".
The intense blues, vivid colors and rare phenomena associated with this gemstone have kept Sapphire among the most sought after gems in the world for centuries. In fact, Princess Diana and many others have selected a Sapphire for an engagement ring instead of the traditional Diamond. Sapphire is an excellent gemstone for rings which tend to be subjected to much more abuse than other types of jewelry. Generally it is safe to steam clean Sapphire or to use an ultrasonic machine for cleaning. The rich blue color of Sapphire makes it an elegant statement with evening wear and looks great with everyday blue jeans too. Visit one of our stores to see the Sapphire jewelry we have to offer. Sapphire should be a part of your jewelry collection!
OPAL - OCTOBER
Opal, a spectacular creation of nature, displays the colors of the rainbow with a fiery iridescence unrivaled by other gems. White Opal, Octobers birthstone, is abundant in a wide variety of qualities ranging from almost solid white to gems that display intense blues, greens and reds. White Opal is also the gemstone for fourteenth Wedding Anniversaries.
Black Opal, another member of the Opal family, is much rarer and far more expensive than White Opal. The darker background color of Black Opal is responsible for much richer blues with accents of red and or green. Boulder Opal is a combination of matrix or "mother" rock with Opal attached to it. Boulder Opals are often carved, using the dark brown rock and colorful Opal for contrast. A design such as a carved brown stone Indians face with a rainbow colored headdress carved in Opal is a one of a kind creation not possible with other gemstones. Fire Opal, a muted to brilliant orange or light to dark amber color, is the unusual member of the Opal family. Unlike White Opals which are usually polished as domed "cabochons", Fire Opal, which may betranslucent or transparent, may be fashioned as a cabochon or facetted to display it's intense color. Opals are found primarily in Australia, Brazil and Mexico.
In jewelry, such as mothers rings, where several different birthstones are incorporated into one design, Pink Ice is often substituted for Opal. This is done when all of the other birthstones are clear facetted stones and a domed, translucent to opaque Opal, would not enhance the jewelry design. Pink Ice, a term created by television shopping networks, is actually pink cubic zirconium, a synthetic gemstone. Pink Ice has become very widely accepted as Octobers birthstone and can be found in many jewelry stores today. Genuine pink colored gemstones, such as Pink Tourmaline or Rose Zircon (a natural gem, not to be confused with zirconium) may be used when Opal is not suitable and a synthetic is not desired in a jewelry design.
Your Opal jewelry requires special care because it is fragile and relatively soft compared to other gemstones. Avoid exposure to extreme or sudden temperature changes. Always store your Opal jewelry separate from other jewelry which may scratch or chip Opals. Sometimes you will hear that Opals bring bad luck, in the orient however, Opals are highly prized and sought after. Next time you are out shopping, please visit one of our stores and make it a point to checkout the unusual colors and jewelry designs created in Opal.
CITRINE - NOVEMBER
The traditional birthstone for November is Yellow Topaz, which is commonly called Precious Topaz or Imperial Topaz. Precious Topaz is found in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, clear and green. Topaz is found here in the United States in the state of Utah. The primary source of Topaz is the Soviet Union, where crystals exceeding one hundred pounds have been discovered.
Today the most popular choice for a November Birthstone is Citrine, which is similar in color to Yellow Topaz, but only ten percent of the price of Precious Topaz. Citrine and Topaz are two different minerals, a fact that even escapes many salespeople in the jewelry business. Citrine is readily available in sizes of one carat up to twenty carats and facetted specimens of over one thousand carats are known. The major source of Citrine is Brazil, however Spain and Bolivia are also well known sources. The United States even has some deposits of Citrine, primarily found in Colorado.
Citrine, a natural variety of the quartz family, is actually found in mines very rarely. Most Citrine in the marketplace today is Amethyst, the purple member of the quartz family, which when heated changes color to yellow. The amount of heat applied and the length of heating time will yield many different tones of yellow. Because of the extremely abundant supply of Amethyst, the practice of heating is common, resulting in a plentiful supply of Citrine. The change in color is permanent and undetectable, making a separation of natural and heated Citrine almost impossible.
Citrine, a vibrant sunny yellow gemstone is also given for thirteenth Wedding Anniversaries. The colors of Citrine ranges from bright yellow to orange and even a brownish orange color that resembles Amber. The soft, subdued hues of Citrine compliment most complexions, making Citrine a gem worthy of your jewelry collection.
TANZANITE or BLUE TOPAZ or TURQUOISE - DECEMBER
Tanzanite is a violet-blue or blue-violet gemstone. Tanzanite has a soft electric blue color that is currently highly prized. Tanzania is the only place in the world in which Tanzanite is currently found. Tanzanite is quickly becoming as popular as the timeless colors of Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald as a choice among fine jewelry designers. Recently Tanzanite was adopted by Gen Trade Organizations around the world as the new birthstone for December.
Blue Topaz, a brilliant and electric blue gemstone, shares the spotlight for Decembers birthstone with the traditional Turquoise and Blue Zircon. The royal blue colors of Blue Topaz are so intense that many people wear this gem just because they love the color. Blue Topaz is relatively inexpensive and readily available in sizes up to twenty carats and more.
Blue Topaz, a member of the quartz family, is found in three distinct colors at the jewelry counter. The lightest shades, known as Sky Blue Topaz, resemble Aquamarine and are substituted for the March birthstone. Swiss Blue Topaz is the intense electric blue December birthstone and London Blue Topaz is the rich darker blue which some people also select as Decembers birthstone because they prefer the color. Blue Topaz is also the gemstone given for fourth Wedding Anniversaries.
Blue Zircon, a natural gem, not to be confused with zirconium (a synthetic), is not readily available in the marketplace today. Its color is muted and when facetted it does not have the fire or brilliance of its current substitute Blue Topaz. Blue Zircon is however still available at fine jewelry stores, usually by request, for those who prefer the mellower tones of this natural gemstone.
Natural Turquoise is an opaque blue gem, typically exhibiting light or dark matrix veining, that has been used as jewelry for over five thousand years. The color of Turquoise ranges from baby blue to a deeper ocean blue, and sometimes greenish blues like those found in the waters of the Caribbean. Turquoise, which is typically found only in very small nugget like sizes is usually cut in cabochon shapes (flat bottomed with a polished domed top), carved, made into beads or used for inlay work. Turquoise is given for thirteenth Wedding Anniversaries. Iran, Turkey and the American Southwest are the primary sources for Turquoise used in jewelry.