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  • Writer's pictureValerieBound

Who gets to decide birthstones anyway?

Earlier this week, I got news that spinel is now officially one of two birthstones for the month of August. Woo hoo! Right? After all, there must have been all those people with August birthdays who felt so limited by peridot…. I mean, what if green just isn’t your color?

<img class="wp-image-1478 lazyload" title="birthstones" src="" alt="beautiful peridot" width="500" height="476" srcset=" 1135w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 370w, 1040w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> beautiful peridot

Who gets to change birthstones?

As usual, it just got me thinking about who gets to just do that. Who is this all-important entity that decides what the official birthstones are? You must have some serious street cred to get to make that kind of change.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I DO love spinel, it’s really an under-rated stone, and it comes in so many beautiful colors. But I also love peridot, with its lovely shade of green. I just am not sure why August gets two stones, and why now.

Here’s the official quote:

“At certain moments in history, when there is a strong call from gem enthusiasts to expand the list of official birthstones, Jewelers of America believes in recognizing the importance of historically significant gemstones and giving gemstone lovers a choice that suits their preferences.” -David Bonaparte, President & CEO of Jewelers of America

Hmmmmm….. I find it hard to believe that American customers were clamoring for spinel to be added. I could be wrong, but I think it’s more likely that there’s an excess supply of spinel, and this is a good way to create desire or demand.

<img class="wp-image-1480 lazyload" title="birthstones" src="" alt="spinel" width="501" height="242" srcset=" 945w, 300w, 768w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> the many colors of spinel (image courtesy of GIA)

Of course, I started thinking beyond spinel and wondered how birthstones even came about. I found out some pretty interesting info. So let’s get right to it!

Birthstones here in America

After coming out of my research rabbit hole, I discovered birthstones were essentially a ploy to get people to buy more jewelry. Shocking, right? Our friends over at Tiffany published a little pamphlet in 1870 encouraging customers to buy birthstone jewelry for birthdays and anniversaries. They had lovely little poem too:

<img class="aligncenter wp-image-1399 lazyload" title="birthstones" src="" alt="" width="501" height="752" srcset=" 800w, 200w, 768w, 683w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" />

Now, you have to hand it to Tiffany’s marketing department. That’s a lovely little poem.

It’s a little-known fact that Tiffany is actually responsible for introducing Americans to lots of colored gemstones. Besides the big three – sapphire, ruby, and emerald – there weren’t really other colored stones on the market. Tiffany gave us tourmaline (from Maine), kunzite (from California), garnet, and topaz (both from Utah). Most recently, they gave us tanzanite (from Tanzania). You, dear consumer, probably wouldn’t have even heard of them if it weren’t for Tiffany. Or been able to purchase them here in America.

Retailers make it official

Although Tiffany introduced Americans to the idea of birthstone jewelry, it wasn’t until 40 years later that the list became official. In 1912, a group called the National Association of Jewelers (now the Jewelers of America, or JA for short), adopted this list at one of their meetings. Since they represented a huge proportion of retailers selling jewelry, it stuck. It hasn’t really changed very much from that original 1912 list.

However, in 1952, birthstones were updated to add alexandrite to June and citrine to November, and to specify it was pink tourmaline for October. Lapis got kicked out of being a December birthstone (what?!), and was replaced with zircon. The next big change happened in 2002, when the very beautiful tanzanite got added as a December birthstone.

With the recent introduction of spinel for August, we now have a chart that looks like this:

<img class="aligncenter wp-image-945 lazyload" title="birthstones" src="" alt="" width="500" height="274" srcset=" 1112w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 370w, 1040w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" />

Let me just be blunt: there’s lots here that I don’t really understand. Why does December has four different birthstones? Are there really that many December babies asking for more options with birthstones? I’m cool with adding tanzanite, I just don’t understand why it went to December. It’s the same with June. Why does June get three options for birthstones and January only one? Also, three of the months – March September, and December – have blue birthstones. Two have green (May & August), and two have red (January & July). The color distribution seems off. It also seems like birthstones only get added, never subtracted.

Buying Colored Gemstones

Here’s the thing, gem gals. I get that jewelry stores want sell you jewelry. And it’s fascinating to see what kind of marketing they come up with. And if jewelry retailers have a list that aids with that marketing, that’s ok too. I just don’t want to feel like I’m being manipulated. Tell me the real reason why spinel is the new stone for August. Is it because it has more affordable price points? Did a recent discovery make it especially alluring? That’s what I want to know!

Did you know that diamonds are 95% of the American marketplace for jewelry? That’s just a travesty, in my opinion. There’s so much beautiful color in the world! And I’m all for any efforts to make consumers more aware of colored gemstones.

What do you think, gem gals? Are you happy that spinel is part of the August palette? Let me know in the comments.


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