What's In A Stone?
Julie Potter

ES567/GO340 Gemstones and Gemology


Introduction    Birthstones   What's In a Color?    Links



Gemstones have always held a fascination for peoples of the world. Stones earliest uses were as tools and amulets. Tools were fashioned from stones to help ancient peoples in their everyday lives. These ancient peoples also believed the stones possessed magical powers. Certain aspects were eventually assigned to different stones and soon they were used as amulets and talismans to protect and heal their wearers. "It is said that King Solomon, who was considered the wisest king in the old testament, wore a leather breastplate containing 12 magical stones" (seemall.com). For centuries, gemstones were used for protection, healing and rituals. This webpage explores some of the early beliefs about some of our most popular gemstones -- birthstones.

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Gemstones have long been associated with birth months or astrological signs. There are different stones attributed to each month or sign depending on the source. For this webpage I have chosen the most common gemstones attributed to each month. To find out the properties associated with your birthstone click on your birth month below.

January February March April May June

July August September October November December

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January -- Garnet

Garnets occur in a variety of colors, but the color most associated with garnet is deep red.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

It was believed that if a garnet was engraved with the image of a lion it would protect the wearer, preserve health, cure all disease, bring honors and protect the wearer while traveling. Garnet was also believed to stop bleeding, cure inflammatory diseases and cure anger and discord (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 170).

In ancient Asia and the American Southwest, garnets were used as bullets because it was believed that the glowing red color increased the ferocity of wounds. Legend has it that garnets light up at night and protect the owner from nightmares. It has been said that Noah used a garnet lantern on the Ark at night. (egemstones.com/garnet.html).

The rhodolite garnet (a violet-red color) was popular in Greece during the period between the reign of Alexander the Great and the conquest of Rome. They were used for carving cameos (cwjewelers.com/stonegarnet.htm).

It has been said that King Solomon wore a large red garnet in his breastplate to help him win battles and keep in touch with God. In the 13th century, garnets were worn to repel insects and evil spirits. In Egyptian times, garnets were used to pay the gods of the nether worlds for safe passage for the spirits of the dead (seemall.com.gems/garnet1.html).

In the past garnets were exchanged between parting friends to symbolize their friendship and ensure they would meet again (Cunningham, 1998, p.99).

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February -- Amethyst

Amethysts are seen in a varying range of color from pale lilac to dark purple.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Amethyst is one of the most popular stones in the world, used for thousands of years. According to one legend, the amethyst originated from Bacchus, god of wine. As the story goes, he became angry with mortals and vowed that the next mortal to cross his path would be eaten by tigers. Amythyst, a beautiful young maiden, was on her way to worship Diana, who was aware of Bacchus' vow and turned the maiden into colorless quartz to keep her from being eaten. Bacchus saw the miracle and repented his hasty decision and poured wine over Amythyst, leaving her feet and legs colorless (seemall.com/gems/amethys1.html).

Another legend of the origin of amethyst comes from Greek mythology. Dionysus, the god of intoxication, was angered by an insult from a mere mortal and swore revenge on the next mortal to cross his path. He created fierce tigers to carry out his wish. Along came unsuspecting Amethyst, a beautiful young maiden on her way to pay tribute to the goddess Diana. Diana turned Amethyst into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The god's tears stained the quartz purple, creating the gem we know today (egemstones.com/amethyst.html).

The amethyst was believed to bring peace of mind to the wearer, prevent drunkenness, and if carved with the image of the sun or moon it would prevent death from poison (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 163).

Purple has been considered a royal color for centuries, making amethyst a stone that was very popular. Fine amethysts are found in the British Crown Jewels and were a favorite of Catherine the Great and Egyptian royalty. Amethyst was thought to encourage celibacy and encourage piety, this attribute made it a very important part of ornamentation in Catholic and other churches during the Middle Ages. Leonardo DaVinci once wrote that amethyst was able to drive away evil thoughts and improve intelligence. The Greek word "amethystos" translates into "not drunken". Amethyst was considered to be a strong antidote against drunkenness; wine goblets were often carved of this stone to help prevent drunkenness (egemstones.com/amethyst.html).

The use of amethyst can be traced back to the Minoan period in Greece (c. 2500 B.C.) where it was found as polished cabochons (dome-shaped stones) set in gold. The Bible tells us of a jeweled breastplate worn by Aaron, the high priest of the Hebrews. It contained 12 precious stones. Amethyst was the third stone in the third row (cwjewelers.com/stoneameth.htm).

During the Renaissance period, amethysts were engraved with the image of a bear and used as protective amulets. In Greco-Roman times, bronze rings set with amethysts were worn as charms against evil and cups carved from amethyst were said to banish sorrow and evil from those who drank from them. Hundreds of years ago people moistened amethysts with their saliva and rubbed the stone over their faces to cure pimples and rough skin (Cunningham, 1998, p. 72-3).

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March -- Aquamarine

Aquamarine ranges from pale blues to dark blues to greenish blue in color.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Because of its color, aquamarine has long been associated with the sea and element of water. This stone was the stone of sea-goddesses and sirens of the past. Fishermen and sailors used this stone as an amulet against danger. Aquamarine has been used to remove warts and cure other skin ailments, simply rub the stone over affected areas while swimming in sea water. Aquamarine is another of the stones rumored to be included in King Solomon's famous breastplate. Beads of aquamarine were found in ancient Egyptian tombs, they were used to buy safe passage through the nether worlds (seemall.com/gems/amarine1.html).

Aquamarine has been thought to bring love and affection. It was considered the symbol of youth, hope and health. It was said that if you dreamt of aquamarine, you were sure to make new friends (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 164).

Aquamarine is named with the Greek word for sea water. Legends say it is the treasure of mermaids, with the power to keep sailors safe at sea. It is said to be strongest when immersed in water. It was believed to help husbands and wives work out their differences and ensure a long and happy marriage. Aquamarine was also said to protect against the deceit of the devil (egemstones.com/aquamarine.html).

Ancients believed the gemstone imparted courage to the wearer, helped in winning disputes and protect from slander, cured laziness and improved mental power (hallmark-gemstones.com/aquainfo.html).

In the Middle Ages, it was believed to give the wearer both insight and foresight, as well as freedom from insomnia. Water in which an aquamarine had been soaked was believed to cure eye troubles, stoppage of breath and hiccups (cwjewelers.com/stoneaqua.htm).

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April -- Diamond

Diamonds have been cherished for centuries. They also come in a variety of colors.

Image courtesy of Africa Gems

Diamonds have long been associated with the wealthy. In ancient times, kings and nobles studded their leather breastplates with diamonds and other precious stones to protect them during battle. Diamonds were thought to give them strength, invincibility, courage and magical powers. In ancient India, a diamond set in a platinum ring was worn for victory in battles (seemall.com/gems/diamond1.html).

Diamond was an emblem of fearlessness and invincibility. It was thought to endow the wearer with superior strength, bravery and courage. For this reason, uncut diamonds adorned suits of armor. It was also thought to drive away the devil and spirits of the night (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 17).

Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor a heart-shaped yellow diamond that was originally a gift in 1621 from Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who also inspired the Taj Mahal (egemstones.com/famous.html).

In ancient Rome diamonds were set in steel rings and worn with the stone touching the skin, this was thought to bring bravery, daring and victory. The diamond has been regarded as a stone of protection for a long time. For the best luck, it was said the diamond should be cut into a six-sided faceted cut (Cunningham, 1998, p. 93).

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May -- Emerald

Emeralds are rare and highly prized by many cultures.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Archaeologist have traced the origins of the use of emerald to almost 3000 B.C. in both ancient Egypt and India (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Emerald.html).

It is said that Isis, the mother goddess, wore a green emerald and all who looked upon it were able to conceive or were guaranteed a safe trip through the land of the dead. This gem was highly prized by the Egyptians, though its high cost made it unobtainable by the average Egyptian. Ancient Romans valued the emerald for its calming and soothing effects. Nero watched the Roman games through a set of emerald glasses (seemall.com/gems/emeralds1.html).

The emerald has been treasured for at least 4000 years by cultures around the world. The ancients prized the emerald because they believed it symbolized love and rebirth because its rich green color was associated with spring. It is said to quicken intelligence as well as the heart. Cleopatra prized emeralds more than any other gem. The ancient emerald mines of Cleopatra were rediscovered a hundred years ago near the Red Sea. Tools found in the mine were dated back to 1650 B.C. In ancient Egypt, mummies were often buried with an emerald on their necks carved with the symbol for flourishing greenness to symbolize eternal youth. The Moguls of India loved emeralds so much they inscribed them with sacred text and used them as amulets. Some of these Mogul emeralds can still be seen in museums and collections today. Hernando Cortez was carrying emeralds taken from the Aztecs when he was shipwrecked. These emeralds included stones carved in the shapes of fish and flowers, a carved emerald bell, and an emerald the size of a man's palm. Many of the finest stones were lost forever to the sea. The Incas had an emerald goddess, an emerald the size of an ostrich egg (egemstones.com/emerald.html).

It was also believed that emerald had the ability to foretell future events. Women considered the jewel a protection against ills, especially childbirth (hallmark-gemstones.com/emeraldinfo.html).

Emeralds were often bound to the left arm with string to guard travelers and was given to "possessed" people to exorcise the evil spirit that possessed them. Many of these people were epileptic or asthmatic. Old magicians asserted that for best effectiveness, the emerald should be set in silver or copper (Cunningham, 1998, p. 94).

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June -- Moonstone

Moonstones come in variety of colors, ranging from colorless to gray, brown, yellow, green or pink.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central


The name moonstone was derived from a myth. It was said that you could observe the lunar month through the stone. A small white spot would appear in the stone at the time of the New Moon and would gradually move toward the stone's center, getting larger until the spot would take the shape of the Full Moon in the center of the stone. Moonstone was thought to arouse tender passion and give lovers the ability to tell the future if they placed the stone in their mouth while the moon was full. It was used in amulets to protect the wearer from epilepsy. If you wanted to insure a good fruit yield, you hung moonstones from the branches of your fruit trees (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 175).

The Romans thought that moonstones were formed out of moonlight (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Moonstone.html).

The moonstone is connected with the Moon in magical lore. An old ritual was used to see future events. This ritual was performed three days after a Full Moon and involved placing the stone under your tongue while contemplating a future course of action (Cunningham, 1998, p. 114-5).

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July -- Ruby

Ruby is one of the most sought after of the colored gemstones and comes in a variety of red colors.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

This stone was given as an offering to Buddha in China and Krishna in India. In 10th century China and Europe, dragons and snakes were carved in the surfaces of rubies to increase wealth and power. A common belief was that when one dreamt of rubies it meant the coming of success in business, money matters and love. The ruby was thought to grow darker when the owner was in danger or an illness was coming. People also thought it would chase away the spirits of the dead and evil spirits. Rubies were used for protection from attacks from road agents, evil ones, enemies, jealousy, plagues, evil spells and famine. Soldiers relied on them to guard against wounds and promote healing (seemall.com/gems/ruby1.html).

Ruby has been the world's most valued gemstone for thousands of years. Ruby was said to be the most precious of the twelve stones God created when he created all things and this stone was placed on Aaron's neck by God's command. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called "ratnaraj", which means "king of precious stones" (egemstones.com/ruby.html).

The Burmese believed that "blazing red" stones could be found in a bottomless valley. Natives threw pieces of meat into the valley hoping that some stones would cling to the meat and then be eaten by vultures. The vultures would then be killed to retrieve the stones. They believed the wearer of a ruby would be blessed with health, wealth and wisdom, as well as success in affairs of the heart (hallmark-gemstones.com/rubiesinfo.html).

The gold coronation ring of the English kings contains a large, tablet-cut ruby engraved with the figure of St. George's cross. Rubies are included in the crowns and scepters of the royal jewels of many nations. Rubies have been regarded as a symbol of freedom, charity, dignity and divine power. The Burmese believed that gemstones ripened like fruit, the redder the color the riper the ruby. A flawed ruby was considered overripe (cwjewelers.com/stoneruby.htm).

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August -- Peridot

Peridot ranges from summery light yellow-green to the bright green of new grass to olive.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Egyptians made small drinking vessels out of peridot to use in rituals. This stone is also rumored to be a part of King Solomon's breastplate. Peridot was said to ward off fevers, heal liver problems, calm anger and nervous afflictions. The ancients thought it guarded against illusions, enchantments, spells and night fevers. Ancient Romans used peridot to promote quiet sleep and ward off nightmares and ghosts (seemall.com/gems/peridot1.html).

Peridot was considered to be an aid to friendship, to free the mind of envious thoughts, and to cure or prevent diseases of the liver (Matlins & Bonanno, 2000, p. 178-9).

Peridot was prized by the Egyptian pharaoh for his personal adornment. It was also used by his counsel priests to keep their minds free from envious thoughts and jealousies concerning the pharaoh's powers (one-gallery.com/about_stones.htm).

The Romans called peridot "evening emerald" because its green color was still visible by lamplight. Peridot was also used to decorate medieval churches. Peridots larger than 200 carats in size adorn the shrine of the three magi at the Cologne Cathedral. Peridot had the power to drive away evil spirits and the power was considered to be even more intense when the stone was set in gold. Peridot was also said to strengthen the power of any medicine drunk from goblets carved from the stone (egemstones.com/peridot.html).

Historical records show that peridot was found and prized as a gemstone as early as 1500 B.C. Powdered peridot was used as a remedy for asthma. It was believed that if held under the tongue, it would reduce thirst during fever (hallmark-gemstones.com/peridotinfo.html).

Ancient Egyptians called peridot "the gem of the sun" even though they believed you might not see it in the sunlight. Because of their brightness in the desert sun, they were located during the night. Markers were left, then the miners would return during the day to pick them up. Peridot was believed to have the power to dissolve enchantments. A peridot was pierced, strung on the hair of a donkey and worn on the left arm to protect the wearer from evil. The high priest's breastplate described in the Bible includes a peridot (cwjewelers.com/stoneperidot.htm).

Some historians suspect that some of the "emeralds" worn by Cleopatra may have been peridot (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Peridot.html).

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September -- Sapphire

Sapphires come in all colors except red.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Egyptians associated the clear sapphire with the eye of Horas. Greeks linked the white sapphire with Apollo and it was used by the oracles at Delphi. In ancient times, sapphire was used to banish envy and jealousy, and to promote chastity in virgins and fidelity in marriage. The stone was also worn as protection. Soldiers wore them to prevent capture by enemies (seemall.com/gems/sapphir1.html).

Ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire and its reflection colored the sky. Sapphire has long symbolized truth, sincerity and faithfulness. Some say Moses was given the ten commandments on tablets of sapphire. The British Crown Jewels contain a large number of blue sapphires. Sapphire was considered the symbol of pure and wise rulers (egemstones.com/sapphire.html).

Legend has it that if a poisonous snake was put in a vessel with a sapphire, the rays from the sun would kill the snake. The Sinhalese believed the star sapphire would protect them from witchcraft. The three intersecting rays were thought to represent faith, hope and destiny (cwjewelers.com/stonesapph.htm).

The ancients regarded star sapphires as very powerful talismans. It was said they would continue to protect the wearer even after being passed on to someone else. (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Sapphire.html)

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October -- Opal

Opals are prized for their "play of colors".

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

Opals have been known for their powers for over fifteen centuries. Ancients wore opals on gold chains near the heart to ward off evil, protect from the evil eye and to protect oneself when traveling to far away lands. The Arabs believed that opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning and that's how they got their fiery color. Romans believed the opal was the symbol of hope and purity, and that it kept the wearer safe from disease (seemall.com/gems/opal1.html).

Archaeologist Louis Leakey found 6000 year old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya. During the Middle Ages, opal was called "ophthalmios" which means eye stone. They believed it was beneficial to eyesight. Blonde women wore opal necklaces to protect their hair from losing its color. Some thought the opal's effect on sight could render the wearer invisible, for this reason it was recommended to thieves. A beautiful opal was set in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor; it was thought to guard the honor of the Emperor (egemstones.com/opal.html).

Opal's name evolved from the Roman word "opalus" from the Greek word opallios, which means "to see a change of color." Early Greeks thought that opals gave their owners the powers of foresight and prophecy. Eastern peoples regarded it as sacred (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Opal.html).

In the 19th century, opal acquired the reputation of being an unlucky stone because of its role in the plot of a novel by Sir Walter Scott. The heroine in the novel owned an opal that burned fiery red when she was angry and turned ashen gray when she died. Queen Victoria dispelled the curse by giving opal jewelry wedding presents to her relatives (cwjewelers.com/stoneopal.htm).

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November -- Topaz

Topaz comes in a rainbow of colors, some of the most popular being blue or yellow.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central

In ancient times, peridot and olivine were sometimes known as topaz, which all contained the power to make the wearer invisible (seemall.com/gems/topaz1.html).

The Egyptians said that topaz was colored with the golden glow of the sun god Ra. Topaz was a very powerful protection amulet. The ancient Greeks thought it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was said to change colors in the presence of poisoned food or wine. People believed its curative powers waxed and waned with the phases of the moon (egemstones.com/topaz.html).

Topaz began to be used during the 13th century. It was believed that if the stone was mounted in gold and worn around the neck it would dispel enchantment. Powdered topaz put in wine was considered to cure insomnia, asthma, burns and hemorrhages (hallmark-gemstones.com/topazinfo.html).

Topaz was considered as protection from envy, intrigue, disease, injury, sudden death, sorcery and lunacy. The stone was thought to be more effective when set in gold and bound to the left arm (Cunningham, 1998, p. 141).

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December -- Turquoise

Turquoise color ranges from light blue to bright blue to blue-green.

Image courtesy of Jewelry Central


Turquoise may be one of the oldest known gemstones. The stone has been used by southwestern Native Americans and many tribes from Mexico since about 200 B.C. (jewelrycentral.com/Target_Turquoise.html).

Egyptians used turquoise for beads as early as 5500 B.C. Sumerians and Egyptians combined turquoise with other ornamental stones and inlaid gold to create intricate necklaces, bracelets, anklets, belts, head dresses and earrings. Turquoise was believed to confer foresight and protect the wearer from danger. In many cultures, the stone was believed to bring good fortune, success and health. Aztecs and Egyptians considered it a symbol of prosperity. In India, they believed if you wore a turquoise on your little finger and looked at the stone after a new moon you would gain great wealth. Ancient doctors used turquoise to treat hip problems and cataracts. In the 14th century, harnesses of dogs, horses and other animals were decorated with turquoise stones to protect the animal and owner from injuries (cwjewelers.com/stoneturq.htm).

Turquoise is a sacred stone to many American Indian tribes. The Navajo used ground turquoise in sand paintings and to bring rain. Some Southwestern tribes place turquoise in tombs to guard the dead. The Pueblo Indians laid turquoise under the floor when a house was built as an offering to their deities. Turquoise was also attached to bows and arrowheads to ensure accurate shots (Cunningham, 1998, p. 143).


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What's In a Color?

Colors occur because of differing light frequencies. They can affect us in many ways. Color can affect our moods, create physical change, and invoke emotional response. Different colors can make us hungry, content, excited or calm.

RED - Red gemstones promote courage and are used to increase energy to the mind and body (Cunningham, 1998, p. 16). Red gemstones were worn to guard against loss of blood in battle, to protect yourself from fire and lightning, as antidotes for poison and to banish anger and violent emotions (seemall.com/gems/red.html). Ancient healing practices used red stones to heal blood disorders such as bleeding, rashes, inflammations and wounds.

PINK - Pink promotes peace, happiness, joy and laughter. Pink stones are used to relax the body and mind, and to attract love (Cunningham, 1998, p. 17).

ORANGE - Orange symbolizes creativeness (seemall.com/gems/orange.html). Orange gemstones can increase your self-esteem. They are thought to be luck-attracting and symbols of success (Cunningham, 1998, p. 17).

YELLOW - Yellow symbolizes intelligence (seemall.com/gems/yellow.html). Yellow stones can improve communication, increase understanding and intelligence. They are also used to aid digestion, regulate the nervous system and to cure skin problems (Cunningham, 1998, p. 18).

GREEN - Green is the symbol of nature, fertility and life. Green stones are thought to strengthen the eyes, control the kidneys, relieve stomach problems and prevent migraines. They used to insure fertility while gardening and for attracting wealth (Cunningham, 1998, p. 18).

BLUE - Blue promotes peace and calm. Blue stones are thought to halt nightmares, reduce fever, cure ulcers and to relieve inflammations (Cunningham, 1998, p. 19). In ancient times, blue sapphires or aquamarines were rubbed on wounds to stop bleeding or inflammation and to relieve pain (seemall.com/gems/blue.html).

PURPLE - Purple is a color of healing and peace. Purple stones are thought to cure headaches, mental illness, concussion and hair problems (Cunningham, 1998, p. 19).

WHITE - White is linked with sleep and psychism. In the past, white stones were used my mothers to aid lactation (Cunningham, 1998, p. 19). Ancients wrote that rubbing a white chalcedony (moonstone) on the temples would relieve headaches and clear your thinking. It was said that nuns and priestesses wore them while healing the sick during the dark ages (seemall.com/gems/white.html).

BLACK - Black symbolizes self-control, resilience and power (Cunningham, 1998, p. 20).

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GemHut Crown Jewel's Links The Seemall International Colored Gemstone Association

Jewelry Mall Links

Top 50 Gem & Mineral Sites Hallmark Gemstones Gallery of Gems
Jewelry Central Links Gemstone Information Center American Gem Society Mineral & Gemstone Kingdom


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This page was created on November 26, 2000 as a student assignment for a Gemstone and Gemology course from Emporia State University. It was last updated 12/9/2000.
Send me e-mail at: julie_potter@excite.com

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copyright 2000 © Julie Potter. All rights reserved.