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Birthstone Glossary

Martha Stewart Living, November 2000

January
Garnet

Minerology
Name comes from the Latin word for pomegranate -- its crystals resemble the fruit's color and seeds -- but garnets come in many colors (and can even be colorless). Commonly found as small pebbles in streams.

Myths and Lore
Protects sleepers from nightmares, travelers from dangers; Noah purportedly hung a garnet lantern on the bow of the Ark for navigation. Some tribesmen in America and India used blood-colored garnet bullets, believing them deadlier than lead.

February
Amethyst

Minerology
A gem of quartz, the second-most abundant mineral. Color ranges from wine-purple to pale lilac; the deep shades are most valuable. Lightens with long exposure to sun. Found in alluvial deposits or geodes.

Myths and Lore
Diana, goddess of the hunt, turned the maiden Amethyst to quartz, saving her from Dionysus, god of wine. His tears stained her purple. Gem stood for sobriety; amethyst cups prevented intoxication. St. Valentine's amethyst ring was engraved with Cupid.

March
Aquamarine, Bloodstone

Minerology
Aquamarine crystals can grow as large as 200 pounds. Gem's blue is from iron. Brazil has the best deposits. Bloodstone, aka heliotrope or blood jasper, is opaque quartz flecked red from iron. India is the major source.

Myths and Lore
Myth says aquamarine washes ashore from jewel boxes of sirens. Protects ocean voyages; guards against sea monsters. Also soothes marital discord. Bloodstone signifies martyrdom, as in Christ's crucifixion. Still a medicine and aphrodisiac in India.

April
Diamond

Minerology
Hardest natural substance on Earth; can be polished only by another diamond. Colored clear to sooty black, most are yellowish; rarest are red, green, purple, blue. First cut to improve optical effects in sixteenth century.

Myths and Lore
Ancients believed the gems were crystal lightning, splinters of stars, tears of the gods. Largest ever found: Cullinan diamond, 3,106 carats. Famous Koh-i-noor diamond, belonging to Britain's Queen Mother, is thought to be 5,000 years old.

May
Emerald

Minerology
Can be fragile, due to fissures and fractures. Transparent gems extremely rare, often costlier than diamonds. French refer to gem inclusions as "jardin"; they resemble foliage. Good sources: Colombia, Zambia.

Myths and Lore
Symbol of rebirth, romance; color embodies spring. Soothes soul, sharpens wits, changes color upon infidelity. Cleopatra passionate for them; Egyptian mines date from 1650 B.C. Incas' Crown of Andes said to have 453 emeralds weighing 1,523 carats.

June
Pearl, Moonstone, Alexandrite

Minerology
A pearl is organic: Mollusk coats foreign irritant with calcium carbonate. Varies widely in color and shape. Moonstones vary from semitransparent to opaque. Alexandrite (rare) is known for chameleonlike color changes.

Myths and Lore
Pearl is the Chinese symbol of wealth, power, longevity. Indians used pear-adorned swords to honor tears of sorrow wrought by battle.To Hindus, moonstones were bits of moonbeams. Alexandrite was discovered in Russia (1839) on the birthday of Czar Alexander II.

July
Ruby

Minerology
Large, high-quality rubies are extremely rare; can command higher prices than diamonds. Second only to diamond in hardness. Most are from Southeast Asia; finest are from Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Myths and Lore
Blood-red fire explains why ruby is said to harbor the spark of life and possess power to light up darkness. Symbol of health, wealth, wisdom, passion, triumph in love. Brings good luck to gamblers. Linked to Tuesday, summer, and St. Matthew.

August
Peridot, Onyx

Minerology
Peridot has an oily luster. Greener under artificial light, so also called "evening emerald." Important source: San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona. Onyx, an opaque quartz, is often used for cameos, intaglios.

Myths and Lore
Peridot, among oldest gemstones, was used for beads in Egypt as early as 1580 B.C. Once mined at night; said to be not easily seen by day. Symbol of sun, amulet against night terrors. Onyx carved with Mars, god of war, gave Roman soldiers courage.

September
Sapphire

Minerology
Gem of corundum; colors include all but red (red corundum is ruby). Fine blue-gem sources are Sri Lanka,Thailand, Cambodia, Kashmir. Star sapphires' needlelike inclusions are best seen in cabochon cut.

Myths and Lore
Longtime symbol and guardian of purity, worn by clergy to avoid temptations. Thought to cure eye disease by touch, to protect against snakes. In thirteenth-century France, gem had power to transform stupidity to wisdom, peevishness to good humor.

October
Opal, Tourmaline

Minerology
Silica and water, opal is fragile. Play of color comes from structure described as "layers of Ping-Pong balls." Tourmaline has many colors, can even be multicolored, as is pink-green "watermelon" tourmaline.

Myths and Lore
Opals symbolize magic, love, hope. Superstition that wearing them is unlucky for those not born in October is from Sir Walter Scott's novel Anne of Geierstein. Tourmaline lacks rich lore of older gems but is said to protect wearer against bad decisions.

November
Topaz, Citrine

Minerology
Colorless pure topaz can be mistaken for diamond. Trace minerals create gems in colors from blue and green to pink, sherry, even black. Affordable citrine, from Latin for citrus, is top-selling yellow-orange gem.

Myths and Lore
Topaz, the sun jewel, reminded the Egyptians of Ra and the Romans of Jupiter. Worn as an amulet against harm; invested with power to break spells; thought to improve eyesight. Citrine guarded against snake venom and evil thoughts

December
Turquoise

Minerology
Turquoise, one of the first mined gems, lies in arid and semiarid lands. Color ranges from blue to green; rarest sky blue from Iran. Fiery zircon is unfairly tagged "imitation" diamond; colors are wide-ranging.

Myths and Lore
In third century, turquoise was said to protect owner from falling off a horse.To Native Americans, embodies blue of Heaven, green of Earth. From ancient times zircon believed to heal disease; worn during plague, fourteenth-century Europe. Said to bring sound sleep.