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The History of Birthstone Jewelry

The History of Birthstone Jewelry

By Beth Bernstein

 

Ever wonder how the month in which you were born became associated with a certain stone or stones which then became your birthstone or alternative birthstone? I’ve contemplated this and researched it to find out why the stone that makes my complexion look most sallow would wind up to be my birthstone—Topaz which is for November. I have thought about how I would have liked to be born in any spring or summer month which are connected to some of my favorite gemstones. I have also realized that while all gemstones signifying birthstone jewelry have a past—they are all not created equal, some have been popular since ancient times, linked to royalty, lore, legends and celebrities while others have found an intriguing but quieter place in history.

 

Let’s start by talking about how birthstones for each month were decided upon and then delve into a little history about each one. The concept of attributing a birthstone to each month is only centuries old and gemologists, historians and other experts different on exactly when. What is reported is that the first birthstones can be traced back to the book of Exodus and the twelve stones on the breastplate of Aaron which signified the tribes of Israel. But there are different translations and interpretations of that passage. However, what we do know is that two 1st and 5th century AD scholars, Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome, are credited with associating the 12 breastplate gems with the 12 months of the year and the 12 signs of the zodiac and that each person would own all of the stones and wear them on the corresponding month. The original stones changed. And then it gets a little murky –gem traders and astrologists running with the idea and bringing it first to Europe in the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century that we get a clearer picture of how gemstones by month became birthstones in the U.S. In Poland, gem traders ingeniously began marketing and selling each gemstone based on a person’s birth month. Then, in 1912 the National Association of Jewelers (now called Jewelers of America) carried on this practice, standardizing birthstones. All of these events set the stage for the continuing growth of birthstone jewelry. The list of stones was updated in 1952 by adding certain secondary stones to a few months and also switching out certain gemstones. There are two months that boast three primary gemstones: June—pearl, moonstone and Alexandrite and December---which is a range of blues: turquoise, tanzanite and zircon.

 

Here is are some tidbits of history for each of the gemstones including in most cases symbolism, legend and if applicable celebrities and royalty who owned the stones. For the purposes of this blog –photos and much of the popularity behind the gems will begin with the 18th century through the 1970s, although ancient discoveries are also included.

The Spare Room Antiques Georgian flat cut garnet pansy necklace

The Spare Room Antiques Georgian flat cut garnet pansy necklace

JANUARY Birthstone - GARNET

 

Meanings: Friendship, Devotion, Compassion, Female Empowerment

 

History: The sometimes fiery red pyrope garnet or more purplish deep majestic red almandine garnet associated with January babies is one that has a long storied past. In ancient Egypt, red garnet necklaces were worn by pharaohs and were entombed with their mummified bodies as prized possessions for the afterlife. In Rome, garnets were widely traded gemstones and carved garnet signet rings were used to stamp the wax that sealed the contracts on important documents. In the Middle Ages, from about 475 to 1450 AD, red garnets were favored by nobility and the clergy. And garnets have long been thought of as a traveler’s stone – Noah’s Ark is said to have had a garnet lantern to help navigate during the night. In the Hindu culture, garnets are associated with the first chakra, or the root chakra, at the base of the spine, meaning healthy sexual activity and feelings of security and stability.

 

Popular Styles And Periods: Large deposits of red garnet were discovered in Bohemia in Central Europe around the 16th century, which would become the main focus of jewelry in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the Georgian period, garnets were one of the most desirable gemstones – they were affordable and complemented almost every complexion. These garnets were flat cut and enhanced by backing them with tinted metal foil in a closed-back setting in styles that ranged from floral motifs to eternity bands. During Victorian times, garnets were rose cut and were set into low carat gold creating a unique vintage birthstone jewelry look for those seeking one today. There was also a trend towards the traditional handcrafted Bohemian design, which was designed in gilt metal and were designed in cluster-type motifs of the sun and the moon, horseshoes, and flowers, all which had significance such as luck, protection, love and guidance. Garnet in the later 19th century were cut as cabochons and set into Victorian bracelets that look as modern today as when they were designed. The cabochon styles carried over into Art Nouveau designs and then garnets weren’t popular again until the mid-twentieth century. Garnets are available in almost every color – from deep orange to vibrant green. One of the green garnets is called demantoid, which are pricey and harder to find today but were widely used in late Victorian and Art Nouveau jewelry as accent stones.

Keyamour pair of 19th Century Carlo Giuliano bracelets with amethyst cabochons

Keyamour pair of 19th Century Carlo Giuliano bracelets with amethyst cabochons

FEBRUARY Birthstone - AMETHYST

 

Meanings: Clear-headed, Calm, Peacefulness, Enlightenment

 

History: The imperial color purple was worn by the rulers of the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires; thus amethyst became associated with Ecclesiastical jewels and European aristocracy, adorning the fingers of bishops as well as the coronation regalia of British royalty. The early history of amethysts is tied to both the spiritual quality of amethysts and the folkloric, and begins with Greek legends that associated amethyst with Bacchus, the god of wine (which the color of the stone resembled). It was believed that wearing amethyst prevented drunkenness, leading to a broader meaning of clear-headed and quick-witted thinking in battle and in business affairs. Often seen as a stone of peace and calm, it was also thought to soothe nightmares. From the 20th century until present times amethyst is thought to calm the mind and keep it clear and centered while opening it to spiritual direction. Amethyst stimulates the Crown Chakra to open and promote intuition, wisdom and greater understanding of oneself and others.

 

Popular Styles And Periods: Like garnets, amethyst was also used by ancient Romans and Greeks for intaglio seal stones. In the 18th-century, amethysts were set into closed foil-backed settings in all forms and jewelry and were a popular stone for antique rivières. The 19th-century discovery of a large deposit of amethyst in Brazil lowered the cost of the stones, allowing large amethysts to be set more frequently into jewelry throughout the 20th century. At various antiques shows, I continue to see amethyst pieces at dealers who specialize in Georgian and early Victorian jewelry. These include Georgian foil-backed rings, noble looking crosses which would make for gorgeous birthstone necklaces and wide bracelets adorned with intricate gold work such as cannetille and tiny granulation and was often complemented by a surround of half pearls or mine cut diamonds. After the Victorian era, amethyst went out of fashion until it came back during the 1940s and 1950s in large stone cocktail rings. While the use of crystals for healing has been connected to amethyst from ancient through modern times, it hit a high note during the psychedelic ‘60s and freethinking ‘70s. Amethyst were part of the culture, worn in the rough as amulets on leather cording, but used once again for its curative powers.

Doyle & Doyle Vintage Aquamarine ring with diamond accents

Doyle & Doyle Vintage Aquamarine ring with diamond accents

MARCH Birthstone - AQUAMARINE

 

Meanings: Tranquility, Happiness, Courage, Insight, Hope

 

History: This serene-colored gemstone dates back to 500BC. Aquamarine was name based on two Latin words aqua meaning ‘water’ and marina meaning ‘of the sea’. In Greco-Roman times, aquamarine was thought of as the sailor’s gem, ensuring safe passage while traveling by sea. In the Middle Ages, aquamarine was believed to guarantee a happy marriage and then in Medieval times, the stone was thought to reawaken the love of married couples. It is still believed that it soothes relationships and in addition to being the March birthstone, it is the gemstone associated with the 19th anniversary. A variety of cultures valued aquamarine as the universal symbol of hope, happiness and youth.

 

Popular Styles and Periods: Aquamarine was one of the paler colors that was used in combination with pink topaz, chrysoberyl or citrine in Georgian half hoop rings, pendant earrings and delicate drop necklaces in yellow gold settings which were foiled and closed back and which were detailed with intricate cannetille work. The Edwardian/Belle Epoque period saw some aquamarines in platinum negligee and lavalier pendants as well as drop earrings with lacy openwork or garland motifs. Art Deco designers use them in geometric statement rings, often with baguette side stones. They came back after WWII, once again in statement rings, this time in gold. They also made an appearance in the Retro period in large brooches, and pendant necklaces. Less popular through the 60s and 70s, this birthstone made a strong comeback in the 1990s with designers working primarily with cabochon and emerald cuts for bolder jewelry and smaller faceted stones for more delicate styles in birthstone pendants and stackable birthstone rings. The usage of Aquamarine was so rich and varied, it offers the vintage jewelry lover an especially broad range of options when thinking about birthstone jewelry additions to their jewel box.

Glorious Antique Jewelry Georgian rose cut diamond pendant earrings

Glorious Antique Jewelry Georgian rose cut diamond pendant earrings

APRIL Birthstone - DIAMOND

 

Meanings: Enduring Love, Permanence, Stability

 

History: In every culture and part of the globe, April's birthstone, diamonds have been ascribed certain values and powers, symbolism, lore and legends. The Greeks called diamonds adamas, meaning unconquerable. While primitively cut diamonds existed during the 14th-16th centuries, it was during the 17th century that the stone became more obtainable, when the jewelers of King Louis XIV of France brought back diamonds from the famed Golconda mines in India. The rose cut with its six-faceted domed top and flat bottom was born, while the 18th century welcomed the mine cut, which had more facets and deeper culet to let in light.

 

Due to the limitations of early cutting techniques jewelers compensated for quality by setting these cuts into silver-topped gold, with the gold adding strength and the silver allowing the diamonds to shine against the oxidizing of the white metal. Closed backs allowed for foil, which detracted from the imperfect color and gave the diamonds a whiter look and were most popular in girandole earrings and riviere necklaces, another wonderful choice for antique lover’s searching for birthstone jewelry, such as necklaces or earrings. The auction of ‘The Diamonds of the Crown of France’ at the Louvre in Paris in 1887 was the event that changed the cut of diamonds, styles of jewelry, and the greater accessibility to the stones. Jewelers from around the globe attended the sale. Tiffany & Co. bought the largest number of lots— approximately a third of the collection for £480,000 and then sold the items on to New York’s elite. Among the other buyers at the sale was Bapst wo bought back some of his own pieces; Van Cleef & Arpels, and Frédéric Boucheron. (More on this in our History of Diamonds post.)

 

Popular Styles, Periods and Legendary Provenances: The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw greater artistic expression in jewelry. The motifs of the Belle Epoque eras focused on delicate versions of garland and floral motifs, bows and scrolls first seen as motifs in the Georgian era and now able to be designed in more delicate lacy settings due the introduction of platinum. The linear geometry of the Art Deco movement, named after 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, was born of technological advances in diamond stone cutting, creating the round brilliant with its fifty-eight facets, as well as other unique shapes: marquise, half-moon, baguette and pear shapes. Ultra-streamlined designs were favored by some of the same houses that purchased pieces from the 1887 auction. Both of the eras have continually been a source of inspiration for collector’s as well as modern designers who borrow details from the aesthetics of both movements throughout the 20th century and modern times.

 

In 1932, in what would seem a paradoxical move for someone known for the simplicity of her fashion creations and her love of piles and faux and genuine strands of pearls, chain and colored gemstones, Coco Chanel presented her first fine diamond jewelry collection. With the onset of the Great Depression, fashions were changing, but Chanel pulled away from the drabness of bleak austerity. She accepted a commission from the International Diamond Guild to help boost sales. Breaking with tradition and with the techniques of formal jewelry design, she worked with some of her favorite motifs. She presented a dazzlingly lavish collection, a galaxy of constellations: shooting stars, crescent moons and comets all set with melée diamonds, offering the twinkling lights found in the evening sky, all set against her signature chic black outfits. Like her fashion designs, her pieces were easy to wear, versatile and practical; many pieces were convertible – necklaces became bracelets and pendants became brooches. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of her Bijoux de Diamants exhibit in 2012, the house of Chanel launched the aptly named 1932 collection of fine jewelry based on the original pieces which continue to twinkle brightly in the high collection today and have inspired a whole new generation of celestial jewelry.

 

From 1949-1953, Harry Winston, also known as "The King of Diamonds," exhibits some of his most precious and important diamonds, gemstones and birthstone jewelry in a cross-country tour called "The Court of Jewels", a collection of museum-quality historical gems including the Hope, Jonker and Golconda diamonds.  

 

The political and social changes of the 1970s called for a new, more stripped-down attitude toward jewelry and fashion. Tiffany & Co. brought in new designers, including in 1974 Elsa Peretti, a former model and designer for fashion designer Halston. Peretti was asked to create a simplified version of diamonds for women on a budget. For her first delicate, versatile jewel, she stationed twelve small diamonds set in gold bezels at uneven lengths on a 36-inch chain. In seeing the long chains with small diamonds an inch or so apart, Halston ingeniously dubbed them ‘Diamonds by the Yard’. The name stuck and modern versions are still being produced today. For more tidbits and fun facts, please see our blog on The History Of Diamonds.

Keyamour Triple Victorian snake ring with emerald center and diamonds

Keyamour Triple Victorian snake ring with emerald center and diamonds

May Birthstone - Emeralds

 

Meanings: Hope, Prosperity, Serenity

 

History: The ancient Egyptians prized emeralds; the Spanish brought emeralds to India during the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Mughal emperors were huge fans of emeralds.  These happy green gems embrace a long and rich history.

 

Popular Styles, Periods and Legendary Provenances: In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte gifted a stunning emerald and diamond parure, part of the Beauharnais Emerald collection, to his adopted daughter Stéphanie upon her marriage to the Grand Duke of Baden. The necklace and earrings, which are now held in the antique jewelry collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, are all that remain of a larger suite. And, if you are a May baby you share your birthstone with some of the greatest women in history, namely Queen Victoria - for whom Prince Albert set a symbolic snake engagement ring with this vibrantly colored gem in the head. But perhaps the most magnificent of Queen Victoria's emerald jewels is the 1845 tiara now displayed at Kensington Palace (below). It was given to her by Prince Albert and the only tiara designed by a consort for his Queen.  

 

There were also other famed emerald engagement rings in addition to Queen Victoria’s emerald set snake ring. In England in 1922, when Princess Mary appeared in public wearing an emerald engagement ring, the price of emeralds soared—sealing the gem’s status as a favorite among the stylish in society.

 

Over a decade later, her brother, Edward Prince of Wales abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson and proposed to her with a Cartier designed emerald engagement ring, which she eventually updated to meet the changing times but kept the original shank with the sentimental inscription, “We Are Ours Now, 27 x 36”. Then in the 1950s, another style icon received an emerald engagement ring. Jacqueline Bouvier was proposed to by John F. Kennedy with a Van Cleef & Arpels 2.79-carat cut emerald mounted next to a 2.84-carat diamond, accented with tapered baguettes. In 1962, Jackie Kennedy had the ring reset with additional diamonds to reflect more modern times, just as The Duchess of Windsor did before her.

 

But let’s step back in time for a moment. In the Georgian period, closed foil-back center stones in classic cluster or memorial bands with a vivid emerald center stone, which featured the name and date of the person who passed away on the shank, were popular styles of rings. Throughout the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, emeralds were also set into five stone rings as well as various earrings, brooches and necklaces often with rose or mine-cut diamonds as accents or surrounding stones.

 

Fast forward to the 20th century and various houses were linked to the celebrities or royalty who wore their birthstone jewelry. Boucheron designed pieces for the Maharajah of Patiala, whose emeralds were said to be the ‘size of apricots. Elizabeth Taylor and Bvlgari’s emerald and diamond brooch, ring, earrings, and necklace with detachable pendant signified her love affair with Richard Burton. The first piece which she received from Burton, while both were on set in Rome, and while Burton was still married, was the emerald and diamond brooch. Bvlgari named a room after the couple and snuck them in through a back door when they would shop there. Famously, Burton said, “The only word in Italian Elizabeth knows is Bvlgari.”  

 

Another great tale also involved the Duchess of Windsor. In addition to the beautiful emerald suite by Cartier and the engagement ring, it was the emerald necklace that The Windsor’s purchased from Harry Winston in 1956 that led to a revelation while at a ball in Paris the following year. It was attended by the Maharani of Baroda. All eyes were the new necklace The Duchess wore. The Maharani agreed that it was beautiful: “After all, those emeralds used to be one of my anklets.” This was a shock to The Duchess, who eventually exchanged the piece for another jewel and came to an agreement with Winston. The house could not sell the necklace—which Harry Winston had created from a pair of anklets that he had bought from the Maharajah of Baroda—to anyone who might have known about The Duchess’s brief ownership.

 

Emeralds continue to be as popular today as they were earlier in history and have graced the ears, fingers and wrist of such modern celebrities as Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and numerous actresses who have attended red carpet events.

The Three Graces (georgianjewelry.com) Art Nouveau cabochon moonstone ring

The Three Graces Art Nouveau cabochon moonstone ring

JUNE Birthstones - MOONSTONE, PEARL AND ALEXANDRITE

 

June is one of the two months that have three main birthstones. For the purposes of this blog we will concentrate on the magic of moonstones and the illustrious luster of pearls.

 

MOONSTONE

 

Meanings: Love, Protection, Safe Travel, Good Fortune, Harmony

 

History: Whenever I hear the saying “by the light of the silvery moon” I always thing of the magic of moonstones, which definitely reflect its namesake and have never gone out of style or favor through different periods in time from Victorian through contemporary times. The ever-changing color of blue and rainbow moonstones are magical with enchanting and ethereal properties. From antique to modern jewelry, these birthstone gems offer intriguing beauty and equally captivating significance. Variations on the theme of romance and passion as well as protection and luck are all deemed part of the mystical properties of moonstones. The Romans believed that the stone was a solid ray of moonlight filled with good fortune. In India it was sacred, given as a traditional wedding gift; while Middle Eastern cultures present it to couples to ensure fertility and a big happy family. From the East to the West, the moonstone’s main attribute is love. And one of my favorite beliefs about the gem is that if you put a moonstone in your mouth and gaze out at a full moon you will have the ability to foretell the future of your romantic life. Other legends include returning a parted lover to you, or when two people meet during a full moon and one is wearing a moonstone, they will fall passionately in love. It is associated with promoting harmony and a happy future among couples. Moonstones were also worn for centuries by travelers for protection and to guide them in the evening hours.

 

Part of the feldspar family, the most rare of the gems originated in Sri Lanka— although moonstones can be found in a range of countries. The stones have a crystal structure that shimmers as light rays are refracted and scattered within the gem. The effect is called adularescence and the more shimmer the stone has, the more valuable it is. If it has a variety of colors—green, blue, purple and pink, then it is a ‘rainbow moonstone’ rather than the more exceptional and higher quality blue moonstone.

 

Popular Styles And Periods: During the Victorian era, moonstones enjoyed popularity in cabochon cuts that dangled from multi drop necklaces or were set into rings. They were accented by rose or mine cut diamonds in earrings, which truly lit up the face. When set into a double heart tied with a ribbon or bow, it enriched the significance of the motif of two people joined together by love.

 

In the Art Nouveau period it acted as the stone that rebellious artisans would center naturalistic and figurative forms around and play off of darkened silver with gold and pliqué-a-jour enameling. Renee Lalique, master of this movement, set many of his jewels with blue and/or more milky moonstones.

 

During the Retro period after the WWII, moonstones were a less expensive stone for cabochon cuts sent into rose gold brooches that were fashioned into ribbons, bows and flowers. They were also designed into cocktail rings. Moonstones are another gem that has never gone out of style, continue to create a magical feel good vibe—each one slightly different and full of soul and lively character

 

NATURAL PEARLS

 

Meanings: Purity, Love, Union, Fertility, The Cycles of Life.

 

History: Associated with the moon and symbolic of enchanting powers, pearls in many cultures also have a connection to love and marriage. In Hindu folklore, it is believed that the story of Krishna (or Vishnu) plucked the first pearl from the depths of the ocean and gave it to his daughter Pandaia on her wedding day as a symbol of love, union, and purity. Ancient Greek legends vary from the thought that pearls were the tears of the gods, to believing that wearing pearls would prevent women from crying on their wedding day. Therefore, it’s no surprise that pearls have been the jewel of choice for brides to wear on their big occasion.

 

Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 20th century, natural pearls were the most valuable of all gems. Today, rare natural pearl jewelry is comparative in price to diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Unlike these other birthstone gems which were formed underground, pearls are considered gems but not stones. They are organic and form within various species of freshwater and saltwater mollusks. From Ancient Egyptian and Roman stories to Asian beliefs and Greek mythology, pearls revealed various lore and legends. There was a superstition that regarded pearls as unlucky if worn by a person of impure emotions (such as malice or jealousy) but if given in love or worn with a pure heart, the pearl was regarded as a symbol of purity, fertility, modesty, love, and the cycle of life.

 

Popular Styles, Periods And Legendary Provenances: One of the most legendary pearls, La Peregrina, had many owners and traveled through lands and time periods. It was reported that a 16th century slave won his freedom by bringing the pearl to the Spanish court. Owned by Queens Margarita and Isabella of Spain, and Mary Tudor of England, in the 1800s it became part of the Bonaparte family. This pear-shaped saltwater pearl, with a name that aptly means “the wanderer”, was auctioned in 1969 where it was snapped up by Richard Burton as a gift for Elizabeth Taylor. She had Cartier design a necklace of pearls and rubies around it, based on a portrait of Mary Tudor wearing it.

And, speaking of Cartier, in 1916, Jacques Cartier traded a pearl necklace for the property that was to become his landmark Fifth Avenue store.

 

In Troilus and Cressida Shakespeare wrote “Why she is a pearl, whose price hath launched a thousand ships, and turned crowned kings to merchants.” symbolically describing the tremendous value of pearls and how they compared to the loveliness and major effect that women have on love and the different aspects of life.

 

The value of saltwater pearls was first depicted when they were worn only by the nobility and the very wealthy, set into crowns and sewn on clothes, but this began to change when freshwater pearls were discovered in the US and seed pearls were imported to Victorian England from India and China. These were found in almost every type of jewelry of the day and in every conceivable motif. When Prince Albert died, they held a special significance as seed pearls were used to represent tears when set into mourning jewelry.

 

In the Edwardian/Belle Époque era, pearl jewelry continued to be popular, but was now paired with mine or European-cut diamonds in platinum for the all-white look that was the jewelry fashion at the time.

 

By the beginning of the 20th century, Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a restaurateur, was being credited with creating the cultured pearl industry as we know it today, which allowed a wider audience of women to wear perfectly matched strands of pearls. This monumental accomplishment offered a whole generation of women expanded June birthstone jewelry options.

Bentley & Skinner Victorian ruby and diamond crescent moon brooch

Bentley & Skinner Victorian ruby and diamond crescent moon brooch

JULY Birthstone - RUBY

 

Meanings: Passion, Desire Invincible, Wisdom, Everlasting Love

 

History: The stones the color of blood and fire have been around for centuries and have had a starring role in history. Due to their deep, rich hue, they are the gem most associated with passion and desire. The glowing intensity of the ruby suggests an inextinguishable flame burning in the stone and radiating out to ignite love. Speak about a stone with a romantic past! The word ruby comes from Latin ruber, which means ‘red’, and in the ancient language of Sanskrit, Ratnaraj, which is the word for ruby or ‘king of precious stones’. Rubies were first found in Myanmar (Burma)—a source since 600AD and were revered by great European adventurers, gem hunters and merchants such as Marco Polo and Jean Tavernier. These vibrantly saturated stones from pinkish red to pigeon blood were believed to hold the power of life. Warriors carried the red gem in the belief that it would make them invincible in battle.

 

By Medieval times they were worn as adornments and many thought them to be talismans that guaranteed wealth, wisdom, beauty, and everlasting love.

 

Popular Styles, Periods and Legendary Provenances: They were popular during all time periods from Georgian through the mid-20th century. While much of Edwardian/Belle Époque jewelry was  predominantly white—platinum, diamonds and pearls—ruby added a touch of color. It also figured into Art Deco designs when it was desired in all cuts and sizes.

Fine rubies compete in price with the costliest of diamonds. In 18th and 19th century jewelry, rubies were often complemented by mine and cushion cut diamonds set in crescent moons, floral sprays set en tremblant and cluster rings with cushion shaped centers. They also appeared in pave set padlock hearts and double heart rings- one side ruby, the other a diamond symbolizing passion and enduring love, and tied together with a ribbon or bow for ‘together as one’ or a crown for ‘love triumphant’.

 

During the beginning part of the 20th century, they appeared in the more embellished Rococo designs of Belle Epoque jewelry as well as the pared down beauty of Art Deco designs in which advanced cutting techniques allowed for French square cuts to surround a central diamond or create a geometric pattern in bracelets. These were often set with piercing work and diamond accents. Like sapphires and emeralds, they were also carved and set into Tutti Frutti styles and were often shown in floral and foliate motifs in brooches, clips and bracelets.

 

One of the dramatic pieces given by King Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson for her fortieth birthday in 1936 was a platinum necklace made by Van Cleef & Arpels with an asymmetrical tassel of five rows of rubies accented by diamonds. As had become a custom of the couple since they began seeing each other clandestinely, there was an inscription that would link together the jewels with their love story. The clasp on the necklace read: ‘My Wallis from her David 19.VI.36’. (‘David’ was his family’s name for him and many of the pieces would be engraved with that name.) Wallis wore this trendsetting necklace during Edward’s brief reign as King Edward VIII. She then wore it on numerous occasions after they were married and had it changed to reflect the new creativity and technology of the house, making it an even more exceptional piece. The inscriptions on Wallis’ jewelry documents their romance. The couple often used the expression ‘HOLD TIGHT’ to comfort and support each other in difficult times. This was the inscription Edward VIII had engraved on a Van Cleef & Arpels platinum, ruby and diamond bracelet around the time that he first approached Ernest Simpson about seeking a divorce from Wallis.

 

In 1956, the tiara became the essence of Princess Grace of Monaco’s personal style—understated and feminine with a regal air. Her official wedding photos show her in a Cartier diamond tiara with three detachable floral clips with ruby cabochons surrounded by diamonds and set in platinum. The total carat weight of the rubies in the clips was approximately forty- nine. She wore the clips both as brooches together and separately throughout her life.

 

The following year, Elizabeth Taylor received her first ruby piece, a necklace from her great love and third husband Mike Todd in the summer of 1957, one year before he tragically died when his private plane, The Liz, crashed in New Mexico.

 

Almost a decade later Richard Burton, had just cleaned up after Christmas Day—the gifts were given, the food eaten, and Taylor’s daughter Liza was holding a box behind her back, telling her mother that Burton had said she left something in the bottom of her Christmas stocking. When Taylor opened the box, she found a perfectly colored ruby and diamond ring. In My Love Affair with Jewelry she explained: ‘Four years before, when Richard purchased me the Bulgari emeralds, he told me one day I am going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world. It’s my favorite stone—red for Wales. But it has to be perfect.’ It was at Van Cleef & Arpels that he found her an 8.25-carat ruby. It was mounted in an 18K yellow gold ring and surrounded by eight brilliant-cut diamonds.

 

Love stories abound when it comes to rubies and the romance behind the captivating stone.

Bentley & Skinner Early Victorian peridot parure

Bentley & Skinner Early Victorian peridot parure

AUGUST Birthstone - PERIDOT

 

Meanings: Compassion, Friendship, Creativity, Balance

 

History: Peridot is associated most with ancient Egypt as that is where it was originally mined in 1500 BC on an island in the Red Sea called Topazios, which is now called St. John’s Island or Zabargad. The fall of the Egyptian empire and the fact that the island is shrouded in fog led it into obscurity until it was rediscovered in the early 1900s. Since then, Zebargad’s Peridot deposits have been exhausted and sources for peridot are as diverse as the United States, Myanmar, Pakistan, and the Himalayas.

But back to the ancient Egyptians, they called peridot “the gem of the sun” and it was worn as a talisman to ward off evil. Some historians believe that Cleopatra’s legendary emerald collection might have been peridot instead. More confusion ensued in Medieval times, when the stone was confused again with emeralds. It has been reported that the 200 carats of gemstones adorning one of the shrines in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral were believed to be emeralds; however, it was found that they are peridots as well. Somewhere in time after the Middle Ages when peridot was worn in religious jewels, it became a stone that is said to improve all types of relationships.

Popular Styles and Periods: Peridot was a stone used in Victorian times in drop and pendant earrings, but it was the Art Nouveau movement that popularized peridot when combined with plique a jour enameling in pendants, and swag necklaces surrounded by naturalistic floral motifs. Peridot was one of the gems that returned during the mid-twentieth century in cocktail rings. It went in and out of style until the 1990s when independent designers brought it back in delicate designs in facets of small stones and beads.

Bentley & Skinner Art Deco sugarloaf sapphire ring with diamond cluster surround

Bentley & Skinner Art Deco sugarloaf sapphire ring with diamond cluster surround

SEPTEMBER Birthstones - BLUE SAPPHIRE

 

Meanings: Loyalty, Faithfulness, Fidelity, Truth

 

History: Sapphires naturally occur in a vibrant rainbow of colors, but velvety blue is the most popular, legendary and valuable of the sapphire family. Medieval kings wore sapphires around their necks as a defense from harm and by the 11th century, sapphires were chosen for ecclesiastical rings. In Roman times it was believed if someone were untruthful, the sapphire’s color would change. While researching my book, If These Jewels Could Talk: The Legends Behind Celebrity Gems, I found that when the first betrothal rings were given by royal families in the 14th and 15th centuries, sapphires were favored over other gems and many were passed down through generations of nobility. In the 1930s sapphires regained popularity for engagement rings, worn by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies.

 

The finest sapphires came from the Kashmir region of the northwestern Himalayas and were the color of rich and lush velvet blue. Since the Kashmir mines are no longer producing stones, when one is on the market - it’s either taken out of its original setting or set into an antique ring - it is usually at auction. These sapphires are known for their rarity and prized color has resulted in record breaking prices for gemstones. Most notably fine blue sapphires come from Sri Lanka, which was formerly known as Ceylon, hence the name ‘Ceylon sapphires.’ Madagascar and Myanmar (formerly Burma) are two more countries that have long been associated with royal blue sapphires. Today, Myanmar produces smaller quantities than Sri Lanka or Madagascar, but its prices are often at least double the price for the stones.

 

Popular Styles, Periods and Legendary Provenances: These ‘Burmese’ sapphires- like the rubies- were the gemstone most seen in Victorian jewelry. Five stone rings with mine and rose cut diamonds set in 15ct and 18ct gold were a popular ring style of the era, as were cluster rings and single drop cluster earrings—with a halo of mine cut diamonds set around a lively blue cushion cut sapphire. Like turquoise, smaller stones were set into the eyes of snake rings and snake bracelets. Another popular motif, crescent moon brooches/pendants feature a row or two of mine cut diamonds with a row of mine or cushion cut sapphires in between adding depth and dimension for collectors who are drawn to both celestial imagery and sapphires.

 

During the turn of the century, sapphires were discovered in Montana and Australia. These were set into platinum for Edwardian earrings and pendants that were mixed with diamonds and natural pearls. The Art Deco era saw the use of cabochon sapphires mixed with diamonds. Other new cuts such as princess and calibre were set into line bracelets while carved sapphires were mixed with rubies and emeralds for Tutti Fruitti style jewelry and long baguettes and geometric shapes for brooches, clips and platinum Deco earrings.

 

It was also during this later 1930s and 1940s that sapphires had first regained popularity for engagement rings, worn by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies. It was also during this period that cabochon-cut and star sapphires surged in popularity as movie-goers admired the stone’s beauty on film, as worn by icons of the day.

 

Mary Pickford, known to audiences as “America’s Sweetheart” for her acting roles, was also an enterprising businesswoman. She co-founded the film studio United Artists Corporation, along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., whom she married in 1920.

 

Pickford had an eye and a desire for important jewels. Fairbanks acquired the most exceptional of all star sapphires for her, The Star of Bombay, which the well-known jeweler of the time. Trabert & Hoeffer (which later became Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin) had set into a platinum ring. The stone features a six-point star. The three crossed lines of the star sapphire represent faith, hope and destiny, sometimes associated with three angels who offer protection to those who wear the stone. Upon her death, Pickford bequeathed the Star of Bombay, which she had owned for almost 60 years, to the Smithsonian, where it resides today.

 

The ‘sapphire craze’ spread across Hollywood. Joan Crawford was renowned for her love of the gemstone—so much so that the press dubbed her suite of sapphires “Joan Blue.” Through a succession of four marriages and three divorces, Crawford received gifts of fine jewels, and also purchased pieces for herself. The bigger, the better—and the showier—was the way in which she liked to wear her jewelry. She often attached clips to necklaces or wore them on head wraps with big gemstone necklaces.

 

After Crawford’s first marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Jr.—whose father had lavished Mary Pickford with some of the finest sapphires in the world—ended in divorce, she became engaged to actor and frequent co-star Franchot Tone. Her favorite jeweler, Raymond Yard created an engagement ring featuring a 70-carat star sapphire. She already owned a 72-carat emerald-cut sapphire ring, and would often wear them together. The most publicized of all of Crawford’s pieces were designed by Yard–a bracelet with three-star sapphires of 73.15 carats, 63.61 carats and 57.65 carats in a wide platinum Art Deco bracelet, featuring fine piercing work with baguette, half-moon and marquise-shaped diamonds.

 

All of actor William Powell’s leading ladies, both on and off screen, wore star sapphires, and they were all true blue in their choice of jewelry. Powell bought his second wife, actress Carole Lombard, a star sapphire ring when they married in 1931.Though they stayed together for just 26 months, the pair remained friends and continued to star in movies together, including My Man Godfrey in 1936. Lombard opted to wear her own jewelry in the film, including a huge sapphire ring that Powell had bought for her and a 150-carat sapphire, which she purchased and had mounted as a brooch; it could be converted to also be worn either as a ring or a pendant. In the film, she wears the brooch at the neckline of a full-length evening gown with a duster.

 

Another woman in Powell’s life was co-star Myrna Loy, who acted with him in 14 films, including the Thin Man series. Loy also owned an important star sapphire, set into a platinum leaf mounting with baguette diamonds on the shank. According to the ring’s most recent owner, Hollywood jeweler to the stars and collector, Neil Lane, Myrna Loy wore the sapphire in the Thin Man publicity shots. Lane notes that this particular Art Deco ring is truly reflective of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is thought the ring was created by Paul Flato.

 

William Powell was also attached to Jean Harlow, an avid collector of sapphires and an actress who knew her own mind. There was a story doing the rounds in Hollywood that when leading man William Powell first proposed to Harlow in 1936, he offered her a beautiful, but traditional, diamond ring; Harlow accepted the proposal but refused the ring. The platinum-blonde bombshell supposedly felt a large star sapphire would better suit her personal style. Powell purchased a large sapphire. She wore it on the set of Libeled Lady and her final film, Saratoga in 1937 when she was taken seriously ill and died with Powell at her side.

 

Lady Diana Spencer is credited with bringing back the sapphire engagement ring in the late 20th-century when Prince Charles proposed. Jewelers around the world wasted no time in turning out similar style rings almost immediately after Diana chose the vivid blue from a selection shown by Garrard of Mayfair, crown jeweler at the time. A global trend was born for women who wanted an engagement ring fit for a modern-day princess, strengthened in the 21st century by the passing down of the ring to Kate, Duchess of Cambridge igniting an interest in sapphire engagement rings by a whole new generation of women.

Glorious Antique JewelryBlack Opal Victorian bow and heart ring

Glorious Antique Jewelry Black Opal Victorian bow and heart ring

OCTOBER Birthstone - OPAL

 

Meanings: Foresight, Good Fortune, Hope Purity, Wisdom

 

History:There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald – all shining together in incredible union. Some by their splendor rival the colors of the painters, others the flame of burning Sulphur or of fire quickened by oil.” This is how Roman scholar Pliny the Elder described the rare beauty of opals.

October’s birthstone, opal, with its fiery luminescence and vivid hues that change with the light, has acted as a metaphor for Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Opals have also been written about by other great authors and playwrights such as Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Oscar Wilde.

 

Throughout history, they have been gemstones with a rich cultural past of lore and legend, filled with magic, mystery and superstition. Over the past 10 years, they have also become one of the most widely regarded gems among antique and modern-jewelry collectors alike making them ideal gems for birthstone jewelry.

 

Opals were prized throughout various cultures and thought to bring good fortune, good health and foresight. The Romans ranked opals as second only to emeralds and believed these gems symbolized hope and purity. The Ancient Greeks believed that opals brought prophecy. The word opal derived its name from “opalus”, which means “to see a change in color”.

But two stories at different times in history associated opals with bad luck. One is of a cursed opal that King Alfonso XII of Spain received in a ring from a vengeful Comtesse he had previously courted. After giving the opal ring to his wife, she died unexpectedly. The ring was passed down through generations and each new owner also died mysteriously. The depressed king decided to wear it himself, and he, too, died shortly afterward. In reality, at the time, cholera had reached epidemic proportions, killing more than 100,000 people from all class levels, and this was most likely the real reason for these untimely deaths.

 

Perhaps the most widely known story of opals bringing ill fortune to the wearer was derived from Sir Walter Scott’s Anne of Geierstein, published in 1829. In the novel, the character of princess Hermione wears a beautiful opal in her hair, which sparkles with iridescence when she is in good humor, but flares red when she is not. For this reason, the gem is sprinkled with Holy Water, causing it to lose its luster. The next day there is nothing left of Hermione but a small heap of gray ashes found on her bed. This story caused the opal market to crash.

 

After a huge discovery of opal mines was made in Australia, a British Territory, in 1870, Queen Victoria wore opal jewelry to negate the superstition. She also presented her friends and five daughters with gifts of fine opals. Adelaide, Australia native Tullie Cornthwaite Wollaston, introduced Australian opals to the UK, Paris and the U.S. after discovering mines in Queensland and then New South Wales. He unearthed black opals at Lightning Ridge, New South Wales. He spent a year traveling to the UK and then worked with agents to transport the opals to different countries.

 

Popular Styles and Periods: After the rumors were dispelled, intriguing opals were set into every category of jewelry. Although opals first saw popularity during the Victorian era in cluster style rings and drop earrings with mine cut diamond surrounds as well as rings with bowed tied hearts, the most artistic pieces were created during the Art Nouveau period when brooches and pendants featured carved opals and appeared to be naturalistic settings.

 

During Edwardian and Belle Epoque times, opals were set into lavaliere pendants surrounded by garlands of leaves and flowers, adding pops of color to the original white on white diamond and pearl designs of that time period. The mid-20th century saw the arrival of large cocktail rings with diamond borders. Although there are an abundance of the more common flecked blue/green variations, the vivid rainbow-effect of Australian Boulder opals have become one of the most widely sought after, while the most luxurious and collectible are the fine, mysterious black opals with pops of blue, pink and violet.

 

Anyone looking for their birthstone jewelry with sapphires can celebrate the rich history and legacy of these stones.

The Three Graces  Georgian Topaz pendant earrings

The Three Graces Georgian Topaz pendant earrings

NOVEMBER Birthstone - TOPAZ

 

Meanings: Confidence, Clarity, Integrity, Optimism, Rejuvenation

 

History: Topaz was mined originally on the island in the Red Sea called Topazios, which is now called St. John’s Island or Zabargad. The name topaz comes from the original name of the island and also in Sanskrit, topaz means “fire” which connects it to the birthstone’s rich yellow orange color. (Topaz is available in a range of colors, but for November babies—it is the yellowish color that represents the energy of the sun.)

 

Another early source for topaz was (Sri Lanka) now Ceylon.

 

Popular Styles and Periods: The stone was not popular again until the 18th century after topaz was discovered in Brazil during the Georgian and Regent time periods, and gained popularity in Spain and France before becoming fashionable throughout the rest of Europe. Most topaz was set in closed foil backed to intensify their hue.  

 

Rivière necklaces were one of the most fashionable styles for topaz gems and the foil backs also helped jewelers match the stones that created these styles of birthstone jewelry. The gem was also set into Georgian rings with repousse work in cushion or oval cuts. We saw them during Victorian times but they were not as fashionable as many of the other stones used during this era. They made a major comeback during the Retro period and mid-twentieth century in the bolder jewelry of the times such as brooches, cocktail rings and suites of jewelry.

Glorious Antique Jewelry Victorian Turquoise, pearl and diamond pendant necklace

Glorious Antique Jewelry Victorian Turquoise, pearl and diamond pendant necklace

DECEMBER Birthstones - TURQUOISE

 

Meanings: Good Luck, Protection, Success, Tranquility, Wisdom

 

History: Reportedly the first stone to be mined and set into jewelry, turquoise is one of December’s three birthstones, which also include zircon and tanzanite, yet out of the three it is the gem that reveals longstanding legends and symbolism that date back to ancient times.

 

The earliest turquoise stones originated in Persia and were known for their pure, robin’s egg blue color. The gem also gives off a bluish-green hue, depending on what country/mine produces it. Turquoise was named after the French expression pierre torques, or “Turkish stone”, due to the trade route the stone traveled from Turkey to Medieval Europe. Revered as a talisman since it was first found, it has been carved into amulets that brought good fortune and protected the wearer from evil and harm.

 

Popular Styles, Periods and Celebrity Provenance: Fast forward to the 19th century and turquoise became one of the prominent opaque gemstones for all classifications of jewelry. Its beauty was derived from its versatile color that accented the fashions of the times, complemented almost every complexion, and offered an surprisingly luxurious contrast to warmth of yellow and rose gold. It was an affordable stone for women of all classes to wear. Additionally turquoise was fashionable and was set into pavé settings that covered the head of serpent motifs or the full body of a dove or a puffed padlock heart. The late Georgians and Early Victorians used turquoise predominantly in sentimental birthstone jewelry. It mimicked the color of the forget-me-not flower which symbolized both friendship and remembrance, which was widely popular during this time period, and it was set into all categories of jewelry which featured this motif. In the mid to later Victorian era, turquoise was paired with mine cut diamonds or half pearls for rings, earrings and lockets with either symbolic motifs or geometric patterns that featured calibre cuts.

 

Turquoise saw some signs of a comeback during the mid 20th century with David Webb and Van Cleef & Arpels, set into suites of statement necklaces and earrings. Merle Oberon was a well-established client of Van Cleef & Arpels. In 1967 when Arthur Hailey’s book Hotel was adapted for the big screen, the actress, then in her mid-fifties, was cast as a glamorous duchess. The film’s director persuaded Oberon to wear her own pieces for the part, with the studio agreeing to cover the insurance bill. In the film she wears a turquoise parure, which had been redesigned by Van Cleef & Arpels to make the turquoise and diamond clusters and pear-shape drop into a large pendant that would hang from the center of the necklace, or alternatively could be worn as a brooch. There are also pendant earrings which she had recreated into a more fashionable yet still timeless look. During the sixties, an era of sweeping, weepy melodramas, David Webb stole the spotlight when he created a turquoise and diamond suite for Lana Turner in Madame X and other pieces she wore in Portrait in Black. He also designed the jewelry for ‘Rae Smith’ (Susan Hayward) in the 1961 film Back Street, with the jewels selling out within days of the film opening.

 

Although Native Americans had been using the stone for its spiritual, mystical and healing properties for centuries, it was in the 1970s when Native American jewelry witnessed a strong revival particularly Zuni turquoise. Styles of the ‘70s included turquoise inlaid silver rings, dangling earrings and various Southwestern turquoise cuffs. These pieces have now become vintage and collectible. Today turquoise is primarily set into rich gold and has become a seasonless gem for all types of birthstone jewelry.

 

Today all these gems can be worn as your own birthstone or that of your significant other, children or the entire family in birthstone jewelry, such as stackable rings, earrings, necklaces and more. Watch for Monica Rich Kosann’s distinctive and alluring take on birthstone jewelry which she will launch for spring.


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