In past times, people tended to collect different gemstones for their symbolic, spiritual and therapeutic qualities rather than singling one of them out as a personal birthday symbol. The custom of wearing birthstones seems to have started in Europe either in 1700 or as early as 1500, depending on source.
Some think that the tradition developed from the mystical gemstones mentioned in the Old Testament. However, there is controversy about what these biblical jewels were, since the ancient names of the gemstones mentioned in the Bible are not so easily translatable.
The National Association of Jewelers announced an “official” list in 1912 that was almost identical to the gems mentioned in a promotional pamphlet by Tiffany & Co. in 1850, over sixty years earlier (see Birthstones Chart, right).
As the Tiffany pamphlet probably reflected popular folklore circulating at that time, and as spoken folk culture can be handed down over centuries, it’s impossible to know just how long birthstones have been part of western culture. We have documented evidence only for the past 150 years or so, but most likely the custom has been around for much longer.
The oldest and most important symbolism linked to gemstones has to do with color--something we shouldn’t overlook if buying that pigeon’s-blood ruby just isn’t in the stars this year. There’s much evidence to suggest that for most of history (and prehistory) people wore gemstones for the meaning attached to their colors.
Astrology has beautiful symbols that can be incorporated into birthday jewelry, such as the astrological glyphs, zodiac characters and planetary symbols. The Vedic as well as Chinese astrology systems are also a fascinating source for birthday symbols. There are also emblematic flowers for each month, and birthday lucky numbers.