MAY BIRTHSTONE – EMERALD
May’s birthstone is the Emerald – the stone traditionally associated with fertility, love and rebirth. Besides being May’s birthstone, it is also considered the anniversary stone for years 20, 35 and 55.
May’s birthstone, the emerald, is a type of beryl, a six-sided crystal (beryllium aluminum silicate). Beryl consists of four elements: beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen, with the color derived by chromium and sometimes by trace amounts of vanadium. The beryl family of minerals include aquamarine (one of March’s birthstones), heliodor, and morganite. Emeralds vary in color from light to deep green, but can lose its color when heated. Emeralds are frequently found inside a form of shale, which is a fine-grained sedimentary rock. The type of shale where Emeralds are found has undergone some recrystallization that’s caused by changes in pressure and temperature. In the 1960s, the American jewelry industry changed the definition of emeralds to include the green-vanadium bearing emeralds, and as such some emeralds purchased in the United States is not recognized in the United Kingdom or Europe. The “new’ vanadium emeralds are sometimes termed as “Columbian Emeralds”, which can be confusing.
Colombia produces the largest and highest quality emeralds, with Zambia second. In antiquity they were mined in Egypt since before 1500 BCE. They were also discovered, and subsequently mined, in the Ural Mountains of Russia around 1830. In the United States, emeralds can be found in North Carolina, South Carolina, Nevada, Connecticut, Montana and Nevada. Around the world, they also occur in Brazil, Pakistan, Norway, Austria, India, Madagascar, and Australia. Large quantities of emeralds were taken from the Peruvians by the conquistadors during their invasion of South America, but the source of the emeralds was not discovered. In 1537, the Spaniards found Chivor in Colombia, now the location of an important emerald mine. They also took over the Muzo mine following the defeat of the Muzo Indians. Mining operations at Muzo have continued almost uninterrupted since the Spanish invasion, and is said to produce the world’s best emeralds and is probably the most famous emerald mine in Colombia.
Emeralds are relatively hard; beryls generally have a hardness that ranges between 7.5 – 8 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. Although they are generally hard, Emeralds typically have lots of inclusions (pieces or pockets of other minerals), which make them more susceptible to breakage. Finding emeralds with a high level of clarity or few inclusions is much rarer than diamonds, which is why they are so highly prized, and unlike diamonds emerald clarity is graded by the eye alone. If it has no visible inclusions, then it is considered flawless. Perfect emeralds are among the rarest of gemstones. Most emeralds are oiled in the post-lapidary process to improve the clarity and stability of the stone, but makes the emerald worth much less than if it was untreated. If purchasing an expensive emerald, you might do well to insist upon a treatment report from a reputable laboratory.
Manufacture of synthetic emeralds was first achieved before World War II by German chemists. Shortly after that in 1946, the Unite States began growing synthetic stones of fine quality. There are also excellent imitation emeralds on the market made of colored cut glass. If you see stones or jewelry with emeralds that are clear and of a cheap or reasonable price, it is likely cut glass or synthetic at best.
Several famous historical artifacts were made of emeralds. Among them is the Crown of the Andes, said to be made from emeralds worn by Atahualpa, the last Inca (king) of Peru. The crown is set with about 450 emeralds, collectively weighing 10 ounces (1523 carats).
The word "emerald" is derived (via Old French: esmeraude and Middle English: emeraude), from Vulgar Latin: esmaralda/esmaraldus, a variant of Latin smaragdus, which originated in Greek: σμάραγδος (smaragdos; "green gem"), a term applied to several kinds of green stones. The history of emeralds can be traced back many years. They were worn by royalty in Babylon and Egypt. Tools dating back to 1300 B.C., during the reign of Rameses II, have been found in emerald mines in Egypt. Queen Cleopatra’s emeralds were believed to originate from mines in Southern Egypt, near the Red Sea.
There are many myths associated with the emerald. Its magnificent green color was said to rest and relieve the eye. Some thought it would heal any disease of the eye. They would put the stone in water overnight, then pour the water over the eye (I can tell you that doesn’t work. Stupid I know – but thought worth a try to reduce the cost of glasses). The stone was once believed to prevent epilepsy, stop bleeding, cure dysentery and fever, and protect the wearer from panic. Umm..no I didn’t try these yet. To the ancient Romans, emeralds were dedicated to the goddess Venus because the green emerald symbolized the reproductive forces of nature, and they also felt that the soul of an individual was restored by wearing emeralds. Early Christians saw it as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, and was considered to represent faith and hope. In the Middle Ages, emeralds were believed to hold the power to foretell the future.
MARCH BIRTHSTONES – Aquamarine – Bloodstone
March’s birthstones are Aquamarine – the stone representing beauty, honesty and loyalty – and Bloodstone – a mystical stone representing knowledge. Besides being March’s birthstone, it is also considered the anniversary stone for both year 16 and 19. My daughter’s birthstone is Aquamarine, and she definitely possesses all the qualities listed above – so maybe there is some truth to the meaning of the stones.
Aquamarine is a form of the mineral beryl and varies in color from the light blue of the sky to deep blue/blue-green of the seas. Stones of deep blue that occur naturally are highly prized because they are rare and expensive. Some stones can be heat treated to change the color to blue, such as yellow beryl. It is in the same family of minerals as emerald, morganite, and heliodor. Beryl consists of four elements: beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. The blue color for the aquamarines is caused by traces of iron included in the beryl crystal. The best commercial source for aquamarines is Brazil. High quality stones can also be found in the Ural Mountains of Russia, Columbia, India, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina.
Aquamarine is a relatively hard gemstone, ranking after the diamond, sapphire, ruby, alexandrite, and topaz. Gem and mineral hardness is measured on the Mohs scale and are based on the relative ease – or difficulty – with which one mineral can be scratched by another ranging from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamond). This scale can be deceptive though, because the hardness is not actually evenly spaced; for example, diamonds, at 10 on the hardness scale, are only one step away from corundum (rubies and sapphires), with a hardness of 9, but diamonds are many times harder than rubies or sapphires. Aquamarine is a 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale, so it is a durable gemstone for jewelry as long as it is treated with care to protect it against scratching or hard knocks. It can also become paler if left out in the sun too so store in a jewelry box.
The name aquamarine was derived by the Romans, “aqua,” meaning water, and “mare,” meaning sea, because it looked like sea water. Aquamarines, which captured the lucid blue of the oceans, were believed to have originated from the jewel stashes of mermaids. They were considered sacred to Neptune, Roman god of the sea. This association with the sea made it the sailors’ lucky stone, promising prosperous and safe voyages, as well as protection against perils and monsters of the sea. It was associated with the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, with its first documented use by the Greeks around 300 BC, who wore aquamarine amulets engraved with Poseidon on a chariot. The aquamarine was also thought to possess medicinal and healing powers in the Roman period – curing ailments of stomach, liver and throat. In the Middle Ages it was believed to be an antidote against poison.
One use that continued into at least near modern day was as eyeglasses. It is said that Emperor Nero used it as an eyeglass 2,000 years ago. Later they were in Germany as glasses to correct short sightedness. In fact, the German name for eyeglasses today is “brille,” derived from the mineral beryl.
The other birthstone for March is the Bloodstone, also known as heliotrope.
Bloodstone is a form of the mineral quartz, known as cryptocrystalline quartz, meaning it’s a mass of tiny quartz crystals formed in large lumps without an actual external crystal form. Yet, each individual crystal in the mass is a genuine crystal. This quartz variety is also called chalcedony. Dark green chalcedony spotted with flecks of red jasper is known as Bloodstone. Bloodstone is found embedded in rocks, or as pebbles in riverbeds. The best sources of this stone are India, Brazil, and Australia.
Bloodstone received its name because the red flecks in the dark green tone was though to represent blood, specifically the blood of Christ from his crucifixion. Babylonians used this stone to make seals and amulets, and it was also a favorite with Roman gladiators. In the Middle Ages, bloodstone was believed to hold healing powers. Powdered and mixed with honey and white of egg, it was believed to cure tumors and stop all types of hemorrhage. Ancient alchemists used it to treat blood disorders, including blood poisoning and the flow of blood from a wound. One of my favorites is that Bloodstone was also believed to draw out the venom of snakes! It doesn’t say if you are supposed to grind it up first though or just wave it over the wound, so you better grind some to have on hand just in case you don’t have time to after bit by a snake (you do know I’m kidding right?).
We have several items that incorporate Aquamarine into the designs and just a couple of Bloodstone items. Bloodstone is one of my favorite materials to use to make Rune stones. Happy shopping.
Credit for history and meanings go to earthsky.org. Check them out - I signed up for their newsletter and they have some truly amazing stories daily.
February – Amethyst
February’s birthstone, the amethyst, was the stone of royalty, representing power.
Amethysts contain the second most abundant mineral found in Earth’s crust – quartz. Like quartz, amethysts are a transparent form of silicon dioxide (SiO2). An amethyst’s color can range from a faint mauve to a rich purple. It’s not clear why they’re purple. Some scientists believe the purple color arises from the amethysts’ iron oxide content, while others attribute the color to manganese or hydrocarbons.
Quartz is often found lining the insides of geodes, which sometimes contain amethysts too. I have a fairly large amethyst geode (called a church) myself that was a graduation gift from my Dad. It stands about 1.5 feet tall with fairly large crystals throughout it. I’ve seen some larger than a doorway even. Geodes are one of nature’s most wondrous creations. The kids and I used to hunt for geodes in a creek like Easter eggs – and it was so much fun to crack them open and see what was inside. We never found amethysts in our geodes – but a lot of pretty quartz and calcite crystals. Commercial sources of amethyst are Brazil and Uruguay; while in the U.S., most amethyst is found in Arizona and North Carolina.
Amethysts are sensitive to heat and if heated to 400 or 500 degrees Celsius can change color from a brownish yellow to red. Some stones can turn green when heated too and it’s fairly common to see green amethysts used in jewelry. Heat may even transform an amethyst into a naturally-rare mineral called citrine. The violet color of an amethyst may fade over time naturally too – even without heat.
The amethyst has a rich history of lore and legend. It can be traced back as far as 25,000 years ago in France, where it was used as a decorative stone by prehistoric humans. It has also been found among the remains of Neolithic man. Early Egyptians believed the Amethyst possessed good powers, and were placed in the tombs of pharaohs. It’s said that the signet ring worn by Cleopatra was an amethyst, engraved with the figure of Mithras, a Persian deity symbolizing the Divine Idea, Source of Light and Life. It is also said to be the stone of Saint Valentine, who wore an amethyst engraved with the figure of his assistant, Cupid. Saint Valentine’s Day is still observed in February.
The word amethyst comes from the Greek word “amethystos” meaning “not drunk,” and was believed to prevent its wearers from intoxication. In ancient Rome, amethyst cups were used for wine, so drinkers would have no fear of overindulgence. However, during the Middle Ages it was as a medication that was thought to dispel sleep and sharpen the intellect – nothing like drinking ground up stones to keep you awake huh? It was also thought to protect the wearer from sorcery and to bring victory in battle.
We have quite a few lovely items that incorporate amethysts into the designs, so be sure and get one for the good power, protection from sorcery and victory in your battles. I wouldn’t recommend grinding them up and drinking them thoughJ. Happy shopping.Credit for history and meanings go to earthsky.org. Check them out - I signed up for their newsletter and they have some truly amazing stories daily.
Continuing in our vein of providing birthstone information on a monthly basis, January’s birthstone is garnet. It is also the state mineral of Connecticut, and the gemstone of New York.
The name “garnet” is derived from the Latin “granatum” meaning “pomegranate” because the crystals resemble the red color and seed-like form of this fruit. The garnet is considered by some to symbolize a light heart, loyalty and enduring affection. But to geologists like myself, garnets are known as a group of silicate minerals with a range of hardness from 6.5 to 7.5 - and sometimes higher - on the Mohs scale of hardness. Unlike many gemstones, the garnet is not just one mineral, but has many different chemical compositions, which accounts for the reason it comes in such a wide range of colors including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, blue, black, pink, and colorless, with reddish shades most common. Geologists also use the garnet group as a key mineral in defining the genesis of metamorphic and igneous rocks. Each variety is found to occur within certain temperature ranges and as such when found in a rock formation it can help to determine the temperature / time of the rocks surrounding it were formed. Garnets are commonly found as small pebbles in streams, where the igneous and metamorphic rocks that contain them have weathered away. They are also found intact as part of metamorphic or igneous rock facies. They’re found in many places around the world, including North and South America, Australia, India, Asia and Spain.
Garnets have been used since the Bronze age as both jewelry and abrasives. In the former Czechoslovakia, evidence of garnet jewelry dating to the Bronze age was found in ancient graves in the former Czechoslovakia. Garnet jewelry has also been discovered dating back to 3100 B.C. in Egypt, 2300 B.C. in Sumeria, and 2000-1000 B.C. in Sweden. Red garnets were the most commonly used gemstones in the Late Antique Roman world, and the Migration Period art of the "barbarian" peoples who took over the territory of the Western Roman Empire. They were especially used in the cloisonné (inlaid in gold) technique, a style often just called garnet cloisonné, found from Anglo-Saxon England, like that of pieces found as part of the Staffordshire horde discovered in 2009. Pre-Columbian Aztec and Native Americans also used garnets in their ornaments. Besides being used as jewelry, ancient warriors believed that garnets brought victory and the Crusaders used them for protection. Asiatic warriors believed that glowing garnets, used as bullets, inflicted more severe wounds. In 1892, during hostilities on the Kashmir frontier, the Hanza tribesmen fired on British soldiers with garnet bullets, believing them to be more effective than lead bullets. Garnet is still used today for both jewelry and as an abrasive, such as that found in sandpaper.
Although there is only one gemstone for the month of January, as mentioned there are many varieties of Garnet, a few of which are described further in this article. One of the most common garnets is Almandine sometimes called almandite or almandine ruby. The name Almandine is a corruption of the world Alabanda, from an Asia Minor region where stones were cut in ancient times. The deep red transparent color of this iron/aluminum-rich garnet make it one of the most commonly used of the gem garnets and occurs in metamorphic rocks like mica schists.
Andradite garnet has a variable composition and as such it may be found as red, yellow, green or black. Demantoid (green) is a particular favorite variety of Andradite and has been called the “emerald of the Urals” and is one of the most sought after garnet varieties.
Grossular garnet is a fairly common variety where the name is derived from the botanical name for gooseberry, grossularia, in reference to the green garnet that is found in Siberia. There are other shades of grossular though that include cinnamon brown, red, and yellow. The grossular garnet from Kenya and Tanzania is called tsavorite for the Tsavo area of Kenya.
Pyrope (from the Greek pyrōpós meaning "fire-eyed") is red in color and chemically a magnesium aluminum silicate, though the magnesium can be replaced in part by calcium and ferrous iron. The color of pyrope varies from deep red to black. A beautiful orange variety of garnet, Spessartine, is found in Madagascar, while violet-red varieties, sometimes called rhodolite (Greek for “rose”) are found in Colorado and Maine. Blue Pyrope-Spessartine garnets discovered in Madagascar, parts of the United States, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania and Turkey, change color from blue-green to purple depending on the color temperature of the viewing light. The color change is due to the high amount of vanadium in the garnets. This is the rarest type of garnet. Pyrope has many tradenames: California Ruby, Rocky Mountain Ruby, Arizona Ruby, Cape Ruby, and Bohemian Garnet.
Finally, Ubarovite is a rare garnet, a very bright green in color usually found in the Ural mountains of Russia and Finland.