Which month of the year were you born in? If you were born in January, you might have heard that garnets are your birthstone.
However, no month of the year has just one clear birthstone, even though garnets have been popular in the birthstone tradition across both time and cultures. There are a few other choices when it comes to January birthstones, and they’re not all red gems, either.
Read on to discover more about the popular birthstone for January, and about which other stones could soon become a favorite of yours.
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History of Birthstone
You might be surprised to know that while precious gemstones have been held in high regard for thousands of years, it’s only in relatively recent history that birthstones have been a concept recognizable as we know it today.
For modern crystal fans, we know that there is one birthstone that is strongly associated with each month of the year. If you were born in that month, the correlating birthstone might have a special meaning to you. However, in years gone by, practices were quite different.
How it begins
The idea of birthstones was introduced by Titus Flavius Josephus. He was a Romano-Jewish historian living in the first century.
While Josephus popularized the idea of birthstones, it wasn’t the case that he recommended just one birthstone per person. He based his ideas on Aaron’s breastplate, which was made up of twelve precious stones.
These stones represented different tribes of Israel. In the 8th and 9th centuries, these ideas continued and it was recommended that you wear a different stone in each month of the year.
This is quite different compared to the idea of having just one stone that’s special to you. Anyway, that tradition dates back only a few hundred years.
The question of which stones we attribute to which months today comes from the Polish tradition.
Poems and lists of birthstones
The mainstream idea of birthstones was popularized in the late 1800s by the jewelers Tiffany & Co. They published a poem about birthstones to promote their gems, with one stone for each month of the year.
A standardized list of birthstones was compiled in 1912 by the National Association of Jewelers of America. The list was updated in 1952 by the Jewelry Industry Council of America.
In the UK, the National Association of Goldsmiths drew up their own standardized list of birthstones in 1937, which has many similarities to the American list.
By her who in January was born
No gem save garnets shall be worn
They will ensure her constancy
True friendship and fidelity.
—Gregorian Birthstone Poem
The most well-known January birthstone is garnet. The name of this stone comes from the 14th century Middle English word ‘gernet’, which means ‘dark red’. It’s not hard to see why garnet was given this name by the brilliant and rich coloring of the stone.
The word ‘gernet’ is derived from a Latin word, ‘granatum’, which has the meaning ‘seed’. If you think about the seeds of a pomegranate, which look like little ruby jewels themselves, you can see why this stone was named after the glistening red seeds.
Although most common in shades of red, garnet gemstones can be found in almost any color.
Do you want a January birthstone in a color other than red? Well, simply look for garnets in blue, purple, green, yellow, orange, pink, brown, black or colorless.
The glass-like luster gives these gemstones a dazzling look, and while not as stunning as a ruby, these stones are certainly a more cost-effective way to own a brilliant red stone.
Garnets have consistently been thought of as the sole and primary birthstone for January in both the US and UK, and across recent centuries.
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Garnets in history and today
Garnets became commonly used in the Late Antique Roman world. If you know much about antiques from this period, you’ll be familiar with cloisonné items that are embellished with garnets.
The stones are inlaid in gold cells, along with other gemstones, to give a glittering mosaic look. Many examples of cloisonné pieces, such as jugs, belt buckles, armor and jewelry, come from Anglo-Saxon England.
The history of these pieces comes from the migration of the Western Roman Empire, where beautiful artifacts were brought to new lands.
Tamraparni (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘with copper leaves’ or ‘red-leaved’) is an old name for places including Sri Lanka and Tirunelveli (in India).
This area was key in the sourcing of garnets to ship to foreign places. Thousands of shipments of Tamraparniyan gold, silver and red garnet were made in the old world, with destinations including Rome, Greece, the Middle East, Serica and Anglo Saxons.
Garnets are still a prized gemstone today, and a great alternative to expensive rubies. In the US, several states have chosen garnets as their state mineral. It is the state mineral of Connecticut, New York’s special gemstone, and the star garnet (which is a garnet with rutile asterisms) is the state gemstone of Idaho.
The Pyrope Hair Comb was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 1937 by Ales & Maria Herdlicka. The garnets used on this intricate piece were originally from mines in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic.
Garnets aren’t all the same type of stone, but closely related minerals with similar chemical compositions. The pyrope garnets used in the antique comb are named after a Greek word for ‘fire eyed’, evident in their brilliant flaming hue.
Each of the gemstones on the comb is in the rose cut, which was a popular style for the time it was made.
There are famous people from ancient history who are said to have been fond of these brilliant red January birthstones. The King of Saxony is said to have owned a garnet that weighted over 465 carats.
The philosopher Plato had his own portrait engraved on a garnet by a Roman engraver – a bit more unique than a #selfie of today!
Bohemia, the predominant place where garnets came from in the past, at one time had a rich industry for cutting, polishing, and mounting garnets.
If you visit Bohemian castles and churches even today, you can find brilliant interiors decorated with garnets. These stones remain a popular souvenir for tourists to the Czech Republic.
Because garnets are a cheap alternative to rubies, which are one of the four most precious gemstones, the rich and famous of today’s glitterati tend to snub garnets over more expensive stones.
As such, you’re unlikely to find celebrities with garnet engagement or celebration rings are they’re more likely to plump for a ruby.
However, if you find a style of jewelry that you adore but can’t afford a ruby, having an imitation piece made with a garnet instead could be a great idea.
In the past, color symbolism had a large part to play in the attributes associated with particular gemstones. As such, it’s easy to see why garnets were thought to help with hemorrhages, because of their blood-red color.
Regulating the heart and blood are also physical manifestations of the garnet’s power. Because of the stone’s association with love and romance, it’s also thought that garnets can aid reproductive wellness in both men and women.
It’s no wonder that a stone with such a strong, rich red color has many links with romance. Garnet jewelry makes a great choice to wear on romantic occasions such as Valentine’s Day or anniversaries.
Also, the romantic power held within the stones could even aid you in finding your true love. Garnets are said to hold a sensual energy that can aid fertility and enliven passion.
In the past, garnets were prized as stones to aid mental health as they dispel negative thoughts and encourage restful sleep.
Garnets are said to rid the owner of nightmares, making it easier for them to get a good night’s sleep and face the day feeling positive.
Wearing a garnet gemstone can help to sharpen your perception and clarity, enabling you to make good decisions to positively influence your life.
If you were born in January, you might find yourself particularly connected with the positive energy of this January birthstone.
Red Zircon (Jacinth / Hyacinth)
Zircon is a gemstone famed for being a replica diamond – costume jewelry often uses clear, sparkly zircon to emulate a diamond.
These gemstones shouldn’t be confused with cubic zirconia, which is another diamond replica, but which is a synthetic stone. While not as hard as a diamond, with a Mohs scale rating of 7.5, zircon is a hard gemstone not to be underestimated.
Zircon gems come in a variety of colors. The red stones were sometimes known as hyacinth or jacinth in the past, but jewelers of today don’t usually use these names.
Blue zircon is more popular, but red zircon is a great alternative to a garnet birthstone. In Italian and Russian traditions, red zircon is the January birthstone.
Red zircon’s history
Zircon crystals are often overlooked, but their long history makes them worthy of respect. In 2014, a piece of zircon that had been discovered some years previously was positively dated as being 4.374 billion years old. This makes the zircon crystal, which was found in Australia, the oldest crystal ever found.
With such a long history, it’s no wonder that there are special meanings and attributes of zircon crystals that have been held by civilizations of the past.
Back in the Middle Ages, it was said that zircon could help its wearer to find rest and sleep by warding off nightmares. Zircon was also said to bring prosperity, honor and wisdom to the wearer.
Red zircon jewelry
Red zircon is not the rarest color of zircon, but also not the most common, so it can be tricky to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Large pieces of red zircon are rare, and so you’re more likely to find jewelry where small stones are used. Jewelry featuring clusters of small stones are very attractive and show off the sparkly luster of the stones.
The hardness of the stone makes them durable for daily wear, so an engagement ring with a red zircon stone would be a hard-wearing choice. For a deep red color, look for stones described as cinnamon zircon.
Some people believe that red zircon tends to look better when paired with gold or rose gold metals. On the contrary, we think red zircon gives out more charm with silver or platinum. For extra sparkle, pair a red zircon with smaller, sparkly clear zircon stones that look like diamonds.
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George Frederick Kunz was an American mineralogist who was employed by Tiffany & Co. He wrote a book called The Curious Lore of Precious Stones (published in 1913) in which he talked about birthstones from the Hindu tradition. For the month of January, he noted that serpent stone was the traditional birthstone.
However, even today, we’re unclear what this stone refers to. Some believe that the reference of serpent stone is actually a mistake, and that the January birthstone is actually a ruby.
Nevertheless, there is also a stone called serpentine stone, which would make more sense as a potential link, although these stones look completely different.
Serpentine stones are a dark, olive green colored and have stripes, so look very different to the description of serpent stones as blood red.
Either way, they’re not to be confused with snake stones, which are animal bones or stones used as folk medicine for treating snake bites – a practice that is seen in Africa, South America, India and Asia.
In the Tibetan tradition, an alternative January birthstone is emerald. This might be surprising as January birthstones are usually red, but in Tibet the color for this month was green.
Emeralds are the most famous green gemstones around, and are also one of the four most precious gems. They are members of the beryl’s family and, like diamonds, are very hard, making them difficult to cut.
Emeralds have been popular stones for centuries, and were particularly favored in ancient Egypt where Queen Cleopatra used to adore them.
These stones come in different sizes, and if you have a large enough budget, it’s possible to purchase big emeralds for exquisite pieces of jewelry. The largest emerald ever found was the Bahia Emerald, which was mined in 2001.
It was found in from Bahia (Brazil) and weighed approximately 752 lb (341 kg) (roughly 1,700,000 carats). The Bahia Emerald has an estimated value of $400 million.
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While garnets are by far the most popular choice for January birthstones, that doesn’t mean you have to choose a garnet, too. Perhaps you’d rather have a red zircon stone to show your personality, or an emerald in dazzling green? Whatever stone appeals to you, find a gemstone that you can really connect with and which has a personal meaning to you.