The Science and Legends of Birthstones

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

The lure of birthstones

The basic human need to own and wear materials we deem "sacred" or special is what drives us to collect rocks and minerals. Perhaps this explains the lure of birthstones; how powerful it is to have our month of birth represented by a beautiful natural gemstone. We can own and display our special stone and feel embraced by its beauty. We hope you enjoy these facts, legends, and history behind each birthstone.

Difference between minerals and gems

All birthstones are minerals, but why are some minerals considered gems? Interestingly, there is no geological definition for the word gem, because a gem is a human creation. Minerals are formed by geologic processes in rocks in their natural environment. When we excavate precious or semiprecious stones, cut, and polish them into specific shapes, they become gems. When a gem is set into metal to be worn on the body it becomes a jewel.

Several key factors determine the value of a gem: To be considered worthy of jewelry, the mineral must have rarity, durability, attractiveness, size, and color.