Bare Feet and Breastplates: The History of the Birthstone

August 21, 2016

Bare Feet and Breastplates: The History of the Birthstone

As a person who sells jewelry, I've often found myself engaged in conversations about birthstones with customers, particularly with December babies who like to have bragging rights to the diamond as their birthstone.  I understand a birthstone is supposed to exaggerate the "good" qualities associated with a persons particular zodiacal character while simultaneously thwarting evil spirits and generally keeping your vibe in check, but I've never known the particulars of the history of the birthstone.  So, I've dedicated this weeks post to going a little bit deeper with this most popular of amulets.  

The notion of the birthstone dates all the way back to the old Testament.  Aaron, Brother of Moses, wore a breastplate like the one pictured above pretty much all the time whilst doing his priestly duties.  The 12 stones on this piece of body bling were meant to represent each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  I like to imagine that it lit up like E.T.'s heart light when Moses was performing miracles like parting the Red Sea or ascending the Holy Mountain to retrieve the 10 commandments.  It also seems to be a stylistic precursor to the bank of controls on Darth Vader's chest.  

At some point the 12 stones on Aaron's breastplate became associated with the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  People would wear the stone of that sign when it was in season to exploit the good characteristics of that sign regardless of when they were born much like the green lantern's decoder ring:  "You too can have the Scorpio's sting for one month only by wearing this ring of Topaz!".  

This was how the Birthstone game was played up until the 18th century when gem dealers in Poland started selling the birthstone as something special just for your birthday.  In 1912 the official list of birthstones was set in place (obscure jeweler joke).  This is when people started wearing their own particular birthstone all the time to help their good qualities to shine like a diamond.