In India, land of lavish exotic jewelry, the idea of birthstones is sooo…western. In their Vedic jewelry tradition nine gemstones are assigned to nine planets. You select your jewelry according to what part of your life needs a tune-up.
For instance, if you’re interested in achieving fame and commanding power, you wear a ruby. If your memory needs a jog you might boost your brain power by wearing an emerald.
Even though Indian weddings are notorious for being sumptuous jewel fests, you’d never find an emerald anywhere near an Indian bride, as the gems are said to interfere with conjugal relations.
Ancient scholars have traced the idea of birthstones back to the Breastplate of Aaron in the book of Exodus. His vestment was a religious garment made with twelve colors representing the twelve tribes of Israel. A corresponding gemstone was attributed to each color and set across the garment in four rows of three: sardius (carnelian), topaz and carbuncle (garnet); emerald, sapphire and diamond; ligure (orange zircon), agate and amethyst; and beryl, onyx and jasper.
Each of the twelve gemstones was said to have special powers associated with a corresponding astrological sign, and that wearing these stones at the right time would have therapeutic or protective benefits. It was common to collect all twelve stones and wear them in planetary rotation or when one felt the need for a particular power boost.
The modern birthstone list was put together in 1912 when the National Association of Jewelers created the list by assigning gems to months. It didn’t change until 2002 when the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) declared tanzanite to be a December birthstone, though turquoise and zircon were already designated as such. The Jewelers of America liked the idea and made the overtly commercial statement,
“JA sees the addition of tanzanite for December as a way to build business. Any step that helps retailers sell more jewelry is a good one.”
In 2006 Tanzanite One, a large tanzanite mining company, designated the stone “everyone’s” birthstone and suggested that it be given as a gift to all babies at birth. Their advertising slogan, “Be born to tanzanite.” No ancient wisdom. No shamanism. No mystical powers declared. What’s a gem without a story? Just another rock…