Birthday Gems

Jewellery expert Liz Bailey explores the magic and meaning behind birthstones

A common question jewellers are asked is: “What about my birthstone?” The birthstone convention is entwined with historical significance and folklore and plays a huge part in jewellery buying trends throughout the year. But where did it all start? Historians have argued that there are passages as far back as the Bible where birthstones allocated to set months are mentioned, albeit the actual identity to the stones (listed as ‘a red stone, a blue stone, and so on..’) remains a mystery. Modern day jewellers employ the Gregorian birthstone calendar (see below) which was unofficially confirmed by Tiffany & Co in 1870. It seems fitting that garnet is the birthstone for January, its deep sumptuous red hue has a warming effect – perfect for chilly New Year days! It is a stone with an exceptionally high lustre, meaning that it reflects light off its surface to a much greater effect than most of the other birthstones.

HISTORY LESSON

Garnets also have great historical significance – only in 2009 the famed Staffordshire Hoard was uncovered and in this fantastic collection garnets appear to be the gemstone of favour for the Anglo Saxons with the majority of the embellished pieces being garnet set. Thankfully, garnets can be found in an array of stunning antique jewellery, mostly owing to the discovery of the Bohemian garnet deposits in central Europe around 1500. Consequently, garnets became massively popular set in suites, occasionally foil backed to enhance the colour and often set in yellow gold, giving that warmth and richness of colour. Mid-Victorian pieces can be found at auction, often cut as cabochons (rounded, with no facets), occasionally inset with pearls or diamonds, and very often set with gold tassels and in fitted cases. These antique pieces are a joy to behold and a testament to the history of jewellery. Although deep red garnets are often seen in antique jewellery, the range of colours is vast going from greens, oranges, pinks, purples and occasionally some blue examples. According to folklore, the stone is said to signify eternal friendship and trust, perhaps due to the durability of the stone.

CAST IN STONE

  • January – Garnet
  • February – Amethyst
  • March – Bloodstone
  • April – Diamond
  • May – Emerald
  • June – Agate
  • July – Ruby
  • August – Sardonyx
  • September – Sapphire
  • October – Opal
  • November – Topaz
  • December – Turquoise
Liz Bailey is the jewellery expert at Birmingham auctioneers Fellows. For more information and sales details visit www.fellows.co.uk or call 0121 212 2131.