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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Birthstones - Their Attributes And Ancient Virtues

Author: Rosamond Fulmer

( Article orginally published March 1943 )

In his development toward civilisation from barbarity, man has endowed few inanimate substances with the potentialities ascribed to gemstones. Because from ancient times the nativiy of a child was supposedly influenced by both planetary activity and certain precious or semi-precious stones deriving mystical virtues from the same cosmic source, great importance has always been attached to birthstones and their attributes. Even in this day of factual reasoning, these talismanic gems, primarily beautiful, steeped in romance and legend, are believed by many to benefit their possessors, to dispel their bad fortune as well as to add to their attractiveness.

The birthstones for the first four months of the year and their mysterious properties were described in the February issue. These the garnet, amethyst, the bloodstone and aquamarine, and the diamond own many similar qualities traceable to old lore. A11 the colorful gems used now for personal adornment, and especially the "fortunate stones" identified with the twelve months, have illuminated the literature of every century; all have had some part in the historic drama of the nations of the world.

May,The Emerald, typifying in its verdant brilliance immortality and once regarded as a curative for illness. Old emerald jewelry arzd gemstones with ancient glass apothecaries' vessels and an alchemist's pestle. Courtesy Hammer Galleries.

Dedicated with the good-luck moonstone to June, the pearl, the only true gem originating in the sea, owes most of its legendary fame to the Far East whence the finest come. Revered by the Hindus for its discovery by Khrishna who brought it from the depths of the ocean to give to his daughter at her marriage, the pearl of great value is said to insure love and happiness for its wearer, to banish grief and illness-the last a virtue proved to some extent by the curative qualities contained in its essence. Like the diamond's, its especial attribute is purity.

A similarity of mystical characteristics exists as well between the diamond and its radiant sister gems, the emerald, ruby and sapphire, gracing the months of May, July and September. For these three charged with sublime purport symbolise, in their order, immortality and incorruptibility, dignity and divine power, truth and fidelity. The emerald was said to be a restorative for dread diseases, and because its fresh color was thought to correct poor vision, spectacles were made from emeralds for Nero through which he viewed the gladiatorial contests in the Roman arena. In its vibrant color significant of eternal life, the emerald bestowed not only the gift of eyesight on its wearer but also that of profound insight and vision into the future when it was held beneath the tongue.

The ruby, center of fire, light of the abode of the Hindu gods, was considered a ruler's gem, for red in his garments marked one of the nobility and him who commanded. Although from early days the ruby was believed to embody a divine, inextinguishable flame, in the late sixteenth century it was written that this gem would change color according to the health of the wearer. Cellini, at the height of his renown, valued the ruby at eight times that of the emerald. It held the mind from evil thoughts and avarice, was a protection against plague and an antidote for poison.

The Greeks dedicated the sapphire to Apollo, believing that its heavenly color and beneficent qualities assured immediate response from the oracle. Both pagan and Christian documents extolling the sapphire's virtues have come to us. St. Jerome wrote that it secured high recognition for its owners and that it had the power to free them from enchantment and captivity. Its reputed influence against evil-doers and unchastity caused Pope Innocent III to command all his bishops to wear a sapphire ring for protection.

As dissimilar in meaning as in physical structure are the August natal stones, sardonyx and peridot, one alternately layered of light chalcedony and carnelian or sard favorable to domestic happiness, the other transparent and yellow-green in color signalling flirtatiousness. However, since peridots are found occasionally in meteorites, this attribute might be accompanied by another, less whimsical connotation for the individual, something derived from association with the luminaries, a supersensible quality. As well as any, this would establish a precedence for the fact that many of the finest peridots are used in ecclesiastical jewelry.

No longer is the opal considered an ill-omen, an idea started on its capricious way by Sir Walter Scott's "Anne of Geierstein," gaining impetus until effectively contradicted by Queen Victoria through her personal preference for the gem and her persuasiveness in its behalf. Symbol of hope, innocence and purity, exciting in its play of imprisoned dancing colors, it is a propitious charm for one born in October to possess. Of all the opal family, the Harlequin, provocative, flashing brilliant green and crimson, is the favorite. In the tourmaline, alternate stone for October, red and green again predominate, but frequently different colors are found in the same crystal and the range in which it occurs is as amazing as the adventure and variety it promises to its wearers.

Talisman of friendship and happiness, the topaz could be called "child of the Sun" as amber was by the ancient Greeks, for it is like other crystalline forms once believed to be solidified sunshine and it derives its name from the Sanskrit for "fire." Old narrators describe the remote isle of Topazus, veiled in fog and difficult of approach, where the stones were mined, but this is probably fable. Either clear and achromatic or rich in color, November's stone travels all the golden scale to brown; it may also be blue, green or even pink.

To December are given turquoise and lapis lazuli, for prosperity and spiritual happiness. If the potency of the first is to be assured, it must, according to hallowed tradition, be presented to the wearer. When the recipient is a woman, she must not violate the harmony of her home lest the stone pale in color and betray her infidelity. Originally, lapis lazuli was thought to be sapphire flecked with gold and as such was higly regarded by the Ancients. Today, again, because fine lapis is rare, it is very desirable. Powdered, it was used as a rich blue pigment by the artists of other centuries and its color in old masterpieces which have survived to this present has never dimmed. Its attributes, constancy and loyalty, reflect these, its material virtues.

Far beyond the mists of antiquity, man discovered the lure of gemstones. Transformed by him through the ages from curiously shaped, colorful pebbles into objects of incredible loveliness, he has kept them as his fortune-bringing charms. All the wealth of history and folklore has not increased the intrinsic beauty of these treasures but it has added to them a certain inescapable enchantment.

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