January – Garnet
Garnet traces its roots to the Nile Delta in 3100 B.C., where Egyptian artisans would craft the gemstone into beads or inlay them into hand-wrought jewellery. Noah used garnet as a lamp on his bow as he cast about on the ocean. Garnet received its name from the ancient Greeks because the colour reminded them of the “granatum,” or pomegranate seed.
The versatile garnet comes in a virtual rainbow of colours, from the deep red Bohemian Garnet to the vibrant greens of the Russian demantoid and African tsavorite. The oranges and browns of spessartite and hessonite hail from Namibia and Sri Lanka and the subtle pinks and purples of the rhododendron flower, are also yours to explore.
Garnet is the traditional birthstone for the month of January, however, red need not be your color of choice if you are born in this month. Rich orange and golden hues, striking greens, petal soft colors of violet and lavender, all await your selection.
Most commonly found in round, oval, and cushion cuts. Availability depends on variety: tsavorite is very difficult to find in sizes above a carat or two, while rhodolite garnet is available in larger sizes.
This durable and brilliant gem is easy to care for with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the gemstone where dust can collect.
February – Amethyst
Quartz is found in abundance from every corner of the earth. In its purest form, quartz is colourless, but is most prized for its purple variety- amethyst. Purple has long been considered a royal colour, so it is not surprising that amethyst has been so much in demand throughout history. Fine amethysts are featured in the British Crown Jewels and were also a favorite of Catherine the Great and Egyptian royalty. Great thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci believed that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence.
Amethyst, the traditional birthstone for the month of February, is available in small and large sizes, although as with all gemstones, very large sizes in rich, deep colors have always been rare. Designers celebrate amethyst as the ideal choice for jewelry because of its regal colour, variety of sizes and shapes, affordability and wide tonal range from light to dark purple.
March – Aquamarine
The very name aquamarine brings to mind the limpid, clear blue tint of the sea. Legend says that Neptune, the King of the Sea, gave aquamarine as gifts to the mermaids, and from then on, it has brought love to all who have owned it. Aquamarine was long thought to have a soothing influence on married couples, making it a good anniversary gift.
Aquamarines are found in a range of blue shades, from the palest pastel to greenish-blue to a deep blue. While the choice of colour is largely a matter of taste, the deeper blue gemstones are more rare. Remember that Aquamarine is a pastel gemstone, and while colour can be quite intense in larger gemstones, the smaller aquamarines are often less vivid.
This elegant coloured gemstone is the birthstone of March and is the symbol of youth, hope, health and fidelity. Aquamarine was long thought to have a soothing influence on married couples, making it a good anniversary gift.
Aquamarines are mined in a number of exotic places including Nigeria, Madagascar, Zambia, Pakistan and Mozambique, but most of the gemstones available today come from Brazil.
Many aquamarines are greenish when mined and cut. For those who prefer a purer blue, these gemstones are heated to enhance their blue colour permanently. Some aquamarine fanciers prefer the greenish hues, saying the greener tones remind them more of the sea. The colour tones of aquamarine are subtle and varied. Their soft luster is a wonderful addition to any natural coloured gemstone jewellery collection.
April – Diamond
Diamond is celebrated for the purity of its brilliance. Yet within the structure of diamond, we often find impurities, or inclusions, that deflect light, distracting our eye from the radiance we so value. Many of these tiny imperfections are removed when the diamond is shaped. Today, cutters also have the option of using an enhancement technique that focuses tiny beams of laser light at imperfections and vaporizes them. The minute passageways created by the laser may then be filled with clear resins or glass-hard substances, rendering them nearly invisible to the naked eye. This method can also be used to fill fissures that reach the stone’s surface, rendering them less visible to the naked eye. This treatment is permanent: only extreme heat or specifically formulated chemicals will remove the filling from the laser passageways or fissures.
Diamonds may also be coloured in a variety of hues. Extreme heat and irradiation permanently enhance certain innate colour properties, allowing them to display their hues in more brilliant array. Black diamonds, for example, are usually enhanced in this way.
A new high-pressure high-temperature treatment, known as HPHT, can improve the colour of certain types of diamonds. HPHT treatment can remove tints from some diamonds, making them more colourless, or intensify the pink, blue, green, and yellow colours in others. Because HPHT diamonds sell for less than naturally colored diamonds, industry rules require HPHT-treated stones to be identified with an inscription on the girdle of the diamond to prevent misrepresentation.
Whether colour enhanced, lasered, or cut from the most perfect raw state, your jeweller will inform you of the magical journey your diamond has followed, from deep within the earth’s mantle to the fine, finished gemstone you see before you.
May – Emerald
The ancient Egyptians mined emeralds nearly 4,000 years ago, and Cleopatra was an avid collector. South America’s rich bounty of emeralds was discovered by 16th Century Spanish explorers who found large emeralds in the possession of the Aztecs and Incas. Believed by the ancients to empower the owner with foresight into the future, emerald is regarded as an amulet for good fortune
Emerald, to many, symbolizes rebirth and the abundance of the life force. The rich green hue brings to mind the regeneration of life in spring and hope of new possibilities. Emerald is the birthstone for May and a talisman for Gemini.
Spring can also be seen in the network of inclusions in the depth of the emerald that the French call the jardin, or garden, because it resembles foliage. The inclusions are like a fingerprint, giving each emerald a distinct personality and distinguishing them as truly natural gemstones.
Today, most of the world’s emeralds are mined in Colombia, Brazil and Zambia. Emeralds can be cut in a variety of different shapes, ranging from the traditional rectangular step-cut, known as the “emerald cut,” to rounds, ovals, squares and cabochons.
Early gemstone merchants sought to purify the transparency of their emeralds by immersing them in clear oils or paraffin. They found that clear oils and waxes rendered surface fissures less visible to the eye. Today, we have many sophisticated technologies with which to clarity-enhance emeralds. In addition to the oils and waxes of ancient methods, we now use clear resins to penetrate the open fissures surfacing in the stones. Hardeners are often added to solidify these liquids. This step prevents the resin from evaporating, thus making the clarity enhancement more permanent than oiling or waxing the gem. Although emerald itself is quite durable, the garden of inclusions may make individual gems vulnerable to damage if handled roughly.
June – Pearl
According to ancient Chinese legend, the moon holds the power to create pearls, instilling them with its celestial glow and mystery. Pearls have been treasured for their lustrous, creamy texture and subtle iridescent reflections since the dawn of humankind.
Pearls are unique in the world of coloured gemstones since they are the only gemstone formed within a living creature. Because natural pearls are so rare and difficult to recover from the ocean’s depths, man invented the technique of culturing salt and freshwater pearls from mollusks carefully seeded with irritants similar to those produced by nature. The painstaking effort of culturing is one of the most dramatic examples of man’s quest to coax beauty from nature.
Today, cultured pearls are grown and harvested in many parts of the world including the fresh waters of the Tennessee River. The majority of cultured pearls come from Japan, China and the South Pacific.
Cultured pearls come in many beautiful colours including: gold, yellow, champagne, pink, peach, lavender, gray and black. Cultured pearls come in many shapes and sizes, and can be acquired in both graduated and uniform strands. They can be purchased singly or in pairs for rings, pendants and earrings. June birthdays and third and thirtieth anniversaries are celebrated with the gift of pearls.
Due to demand for perfectly matched white pearl strands, cultured fresh and saltwater pearls are often bleached to achieve a uniform colour. They may also be polished in tumblers to clean and improve their luster.
Dyes, heat treatment, and irradiation are sometimes applied to produce a wide range of hues such as yellow, green, blue, purple, gray, and black in freshwater and Akoya cultured pearls. Some South Sea cultured pearls are bleached to lighten their hue, but most South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls are not subjected to enhancements to create or improve their colour.
Pearls require special care because they contain calcareous crystals that are sensitive to chemicals and acids. To care for your cultured pearls, avoid using perfume, hairspray, abrasives, solvents, and nail polish removers while wearing them. Like your skin, cultured pearls contain water and may dehydrate and crack if exposed continuously to arid conditions.
July – Ruby
Celebrated in the Bible and in ancient Sanskrit writings as the most precious of all gemstones, rubies have been the prized possession of emperors and kings throughout the ages. Ruby’s inner fire has been the inspiration for innumerable legends and myths, and to this day, no red gemstone can compare to its fiery, rich hues. It was believed wearing a fine red ruby bestowed good fortune on its owner – although the owner must have already had good fortune enough to possess such a rare and beautiful gemstone!
Many people associate its brilliant crimson colors with passion and love, making ruby an ideal choice for an engagement ring. Ruby is the red variety of the corundum mineral species, while all other colours of corundum are called sapphire.
This most sought after gemstone is available in a range of red hues, from purplish and bluish red to orangish red. Ruby is readily available in sizes up to 2 carats, but larger sizes can be obtained. However, in its finest quality, any size ruby can be scare. In readily available small sizes, ruby makes an excellent accent gemstone because of its intense, pure red colour
Ruby is mined throughout Southeast Asia. While Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) produce exquisite examples of this gemstone that the ancient Sinhalese people called “Ratnaraj,” the King of Gemstones.
Despite all the best efforts of gemstone merchants to use technology to enrich color, fine ruby is still exceptionally rare. After being extracted from the earth, rubies today are commonly heated to high temperatures to maximize the purity and intensity of their red hue. Impurities may also dissolve or become less noticeable after heating. However, heating will only improve the colour if the gemstone already contains the chemistry required. Occasionally rubies with small imperfections are permeated with a silicate byproduct of the heating process, which helps to make small fissures less visible. This enhancement, like heating, is permanent and rubies, whether enhanced or not, remain among the most durable of gems.
Today a new method of artificially colouring the surface of paler rubies through the diffusion of beryllium, or a similar element, has made the red of ruby more affordable. Although this method is not yet common, in the future beryllium-diffused rubies may offer an affordable alternative to either untreated or heat-enhanced rubies, which are both much more rare. However, re-cutting or re-polishing may affect the color of some beryllium-diffusion treated rubies.
August – Peridot
Peridot is treasured in Hawaii as the goddess Pele’s tears. The island of Oahu even has beaches made out of tiny grains of peridot. Although Hawaii’s volcanoes have produced some peridot large enough to be cut into gemstones, virtually all peridot sold in Hawaii today is from Arizona, another state with extreme geology.
The fresh lime green of peridot is its distinctive signature. Its spring green colour also is ideal with sky blue.
Today most peridot is mined, often by hand, by Native Americans on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Peridot found here is beautiful in colour but relatively small in size. Faceted peridot from Arizona is rare in sizes above five carats. Fine large peridot are found in Burma and large quantities of peridot are also mined in China. In 1994, an exciting new deposit of fine peridot was discovered in Pakistan, 15,000 feet above sea level in the far west of the Himalaya Mountains in the Pakistanian part of Kashmir.
Peridot, the birthstone for August, is harder than metal but softer than many gemstones. Store peridot jewellery with care to avoid scratches and protect from blows. Because peridot is sensitive to rapid changes in temperature, never have it steam cleaned and avoid ultrasonic. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.
September – Sapphire
Velvety blue, Liquid blue, Evening-sky blue, Cornflower blue Sapphire, beloved for centuries as the ultimate blue gemstone. The ancient Persian rulers believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire and its reflection coloured the heavens blue. Indeed, the very name in Latin, “Sapphiru,” means blue.
But like the endless colours that appear in the sky, sapphire is also found in many, many other shades besides blue, from the gold of a sunrise, to the fiery reddish-orange of sunset, to the delicate violet of twilight. Sapphire may even resemble the pale white gloaming of an overcast day. These diverse colors are referred to as “fancy” colour sapphires.
A gift of a sapphire symbolizes a pledge of trust and loyalty. It is from this tradition that sapphire has long been a popular choice for engagement rings.
One of Nature’s most durable gemstones, sapphire shares this quality with its sister, the ruby.
Sapphire is found in many parts of the world, but the most prized sapphires are from Myanmar (Burma), Kashmir and Sri Lanka. The purer the blue of the sapphire, the greater the price the gemstone can command, however, many people find that the darker hues of sapphire can be just as appealing.
Over the centuries, methods have been developed to enhance the purest hues of sapphire. This is now commonly achieved by controlled heating, a technique that not only improves colour but also improves clarity. But heating will only improve the colour if the gemstone already contains the chemistry required. Heating sapphires is a permanent enhancement, as lasting as the gemstones themselves.
A new method of artificially changing the natural colour of a sapphire is diffusion, whereby beryllium or a similar element is diffused into the surface of the gemstone, producing a richer colour. Sapphire treated by diffusion is far less costly and much more available than rare fine untreated gems or those successfully heat-treated. Diffused sapphire is available in shades of orange, pinkish orange, yellow and sometimes even blue. Information about diffusion should be provided on the invoice for your jewellery. Re-cutting or re-polishing may affect the colour of some diffusion-treated stones.
October – Opal or Tourmaline
Revered as a symbol of hope, fidelity, and purity, opal was dubbed the Queen of Gems by the ancient Romans because it encompassed the colors of all other gems. Opal is prized for its unique play of color, the ability to diffract light into flashes of rainbow colour.
Opal occurs in different colours, ranging from semi-transparent to opaque. The most common is white opal. Crystal or water opal has a colorless body. The most valued variety, black opal, has a dark blue, gray, or black body color. Boulder opal combines precious opal with the ironstone in which it forms. Bright yellow, orange, or red fire opals are quite different from the other varieties of opal. Their day-glow tones, which are translucent to transparent, are beautiful with or without play of colour. Opal, along with tourmaline, is the birthstone for October and the suggested gift for the fourteenth anniversary.
Today’s supplies of opal come primarily from Australia, Mexico and the United States. Most opals are not faceted but cut into rounded or free-form cabochons that enhance their play of colour.
Although opal is rarely enhanced by methods other than cutting and polishing, opals can be treated to bring out their play of colour. One technique is to immerse white, gray, or black opal in a sugar solution and then in strong sulfuric acid, which carbonizes with the sugar and leaves microscopic carbon specks that blacken the body color, making its flashes of colour more visible. Opals can also be permeated with colourless oil, wax, resin, plastic, and hardeners to improve their appearance and durability. Occasionally, some thinner or translucent opal may be painted with a black epoxy on the backside of the gemstone to darken the body colour and improve the play of colour. Fire opal is not commonly enhanced.
Opal, with or without enhancement, should be treated with some care. Opal is softer than many other gemstones and should be stored carefully to avoid being scratched by other jewelry. It should also be protected from blows, as exposed corners can chip. Opal should not be exposed to heat or acid.
November – Topaz or Citrine
The Egyptians said that topaz was colored with the golden glow of the sun god. Legend has it that topaz dispels all enchantment and helps to improve eyesight. The ancient Greeks believed that it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Early discoveries from Brazil in rich reddish cognac colors to vivid pinks, were used to grace the jewellery of the 18th and 19th Century Russian Czarinas, hence earning the moniker of “Imperial Topaz.”
Topaz sometimes has the amber gold of fine cognac or the blush of a peach, and all the beautiful warm browns and oranges in between. Some rare and exceptional examples are pale pink to a sherry red.
Topaz is found in Brazil, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Africa and China. The birthstone for November, topaz is a talisman for the sign of Sagittarius and is the suggested gift for the 23rd anniversary.
Blue, once the most rare colour of topaz, is today the most common, thanks to a stable enhancement process that turns colourless topaz blue. After the raw topaz is extracted from the earth and cut, it is irradiated to brown and then heated to sky blue. This enhancement process is permanent. Due to the popularity of blue topaz, a new treatment process called vapor deposition has been developed to create additional colours of topaz. In this treatment process, similar to those used by opticians and camera makers to make lens coatings, a thin colored film is bonded on the surface of topaz to create dark blue, red, pink, and green colours or rainbow iridescence. These vapor deposition-enhanced topaz colours must be handled with special care, as the coating can be scratched or abraded.
Topaz is a very hard gemstone, with a Mohs hardness of 8, but it can be split with a single sharp blow, a trait it shares with diamond. As a result it should be protected from hard knocks. Clean with mild dish soap; use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.
December – Zircon, Turquoise, or Tanzanite
In the middle ages, zircon was said to aid sleep, bring prosperity, and promote honor and wisdom in its owner. The name probably comes from the Persian word zargun which means “gold-colored.”
The fiery, brilliance of zircon can rival any gemstone. The affordability of its vibrant greens, sky blues, and pleasing earth tones contributes to its growing popularity today.
Zircon is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and other countries. Because it can be colourless, green, blue, yellow, brown, orange, dark red, and all the colors in between, it is a popular gem for connoisseurs who collect different colors or zircon from different localities.
Zircon jewellery should be stored carefully because although this ancient gem is hard, facets can abrade and chip. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.