June birthstone is the result of Indian and Arabian influence on Western culture. June once sheltered the earth’s most celebrated green gem, before the round white birthstone arrived from the East. More valuable back in the day, the new birthstone for June knocked the green gem over to the preceding month.
The foundations of the city’s wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, lapis lazuli … the fourth, emerald …
— Revelation 21:19
Emerald is the original June birthstone from the Bible. Known by the name vareket in Hebrew,1 emerald is among the 12 gems of Aaron’s breastplate. Mentioned in Revelation by the Greek name smaragdos, emerald is the 4th foundation stone of the New Jerusalem.2 The green gem is accordingly the birthstone of the 4th sign of the zodiac, Cancer, and the partially concurrent month of June. Jewish culture, Rome, Italy, Spain and Ancient India accordingly honored emerald as the precious birthstone for June.
However, in Polish, Russian and Arab cultures, the June birthstone was switched with those of May. Emerald became May’s gem, while agate and chalcedony took June. By the 1400s, Europe honored both emerald and agate as May’s gems. The two gems shared the month until 1912, when America’s jewelers pronounced emerald the sole birthstone for May.3 It was then that June lost its precious green gem for good.
Emerald is the green variety of beryl, the mineral that also bears aquamarine and heliodor. The green beryl is extremely rare, and in consequence highly valuable. Today, emerald represents the color green of the precious stones.
Pearl must have first appeared as birthstone in India. When the lore of birthstones spread to the Asian subcontinent, the Hindus replaced emerald with pearl as June birthstone.3 This change influenced the Arabs, who traded with their Indian neighbors.4 Pearl, which came from both Arabia and India, was more valuable than emerald then.5 The Arabs echoed the Indians, and similarly adopted pearl as birthstone for June.
However, unlike the Indians, the Arabs did not part with the precious emerald entirely. They simply pushed the original birthstone for June over to the preceding month. Hence, as May’s agate and chalcedony shoved over to June, pearl tagged along and became June birthstone as well.
Though pearl persisted as June gemstone in India to this day, the birthstone failed to keep its month as it entered Europe. While agate held on to June from the 1400s to early 1900s, pearl was assigned to February and November instead. Still, in 1912, America turned the fate of both June birthstones around. Agate was removed entirely from the list of natal stones, and pearl came back to June, where it stays for good.3 June birthstone color indeed went from green to white.
Unlike most other stones, pearl is produced not by geologic activity, but through biological process. When a foreign particle, including sand, gets inside a mollusk, the sensitive creature tries to ease the discomfort by coating the irritant with mother-of-pearl. In doing so, the mollusk produces the round gemstone we know as pearl.
Originally the birthstone of May, agate switched places with emerald and became June birthstone in Arab culture, Poland and Russia. The Arabs may have initiated the move. In order to affirm the entry of India’s pearl as birthstone for June, the Arabs transferred the like-colored chalcedony and agate to June, while putting the native emerald in May. Poland and Russia followed suit.
The 1400s saw Europe consider agate as both May and June birthstone. Agate’s assignment as alternate gem to 2 neighboring months was due not to popularity, but to hesitation. Agate was on the verge of getting wiped off the list of birthstones. In 1912, America’s jewelers ceased acknowledging agate as birthstone of June or May, or any month for that matter. In 1937, Britain’s goldsmiths reinforced this decision.3
The banded variety of chalcedony, agate occurs in many colors and patterns.
When several cultures switched birthstones and propelled emerald to May, both May birthstones from the Bible went over to June. Arab culture, Poland and Russia had chalcedony as birthstone for June alongside agate. However, while agate remained as June birthstone up to early 1900s, chalcedony did not make it past the 1400s on Europe’s list.
While the mineral chalcedony consists of translucent to opaque quartz of any color, the name chalcedony popularly refers to the white variety, though the gem may also be a pale blue.
From the 1400s to early 1900s, Europe recognized turquoise as alternate June birthstone. Turquoise debuted as birthstone in Poland and Russia, who both placed turquoise in December, where other cultures had ruby. When Europe chose ruby over turquoise for December, the latter fell back on 2 neighboring months: June and July. In 1912, however, America wrested turquoise from both months, and returned the blue gem to December.
Most popular in a light blue shade — a color to which the gemstone lent its name — turquoise is among the most valuable of opaque stones.
Also known as cymophane, cat’s eye became an alternate June birthstone in Europe from the 1400s to early 1900s.
Like alexandrite, cat’s eye is a gemstone from the mineral chrysoberyl. This bright yellow gem is distinguished for its chatoyancy or iridescent luster, by which the stone resembles the eye of the cat, hence the name cat’s eye.
When America made pearl the June birthstone in 1912, they also designated moonstone as its alternate gem.3
White like pearl, moonstone is a feldspar gem made up of alternate layers of orthoclase and albite. The light, refracted across its parallel layers, gives moonstone the look of glowing from within.
Discovered in 1831, alexandrite was made an alternate June birthstone by America’s jewelry industry in 1952. Britain, however, does not honor this addition.3
Alexandrite is a variety of chrysoberyl that changes color depending on the source of illumination. Alexandrite gems from Russia shift from green during the day to red under incandescent light at night. Other alexandrite crystals can be yellow or pink at daytime.
India’s June Birthstone
West meets East in June, and the East’s birthstone prevails. When the lore of birthstones spread to India, the Asian subcontinent altered the original birthstone for June, emerald, with the then more valuable pearl. The repercussion reverberated across Europe via Arab culture. In the end, the precious emerald shoved over to May, and pearl reigns as June birthstone.
Know Their Magic
Each birthstone for June is attributed with magical properties. Know the magical powers of June stone, as well as those of your zodiac birthstones, when you read my book Power Birthstone.
“Exodus 28.” The Bible. Bible Hub, biblehub.com/interlinear/exodus/28.htm. Accessed 28 July 2019.
“Revelation 21.” The Bible. Bible Hub, biblehub.com/interlinear/revelation/21.htm. Accessed 28 July 2019.
Knuth, Bruce G. “Birthstones.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. pp. 293-327.
Warmington, E. H. “Introduction” The Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India. Indian ed. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd, 1974. p. 2.
Pliny. “Book 37 – XXXVII.” Natural History. Trans. D. E. Eichholz. Loeb Classical Library ed. Vol. X. Harvard University Press, 1962. Wikisource, en.wikisource.org/wiki/Natural_History_(Rackham,_Jones,_%26_Eichholz)/Book_37. Accessed 27 July 2019.