MARCH BIRTHSTONE HISTORY: The Little-Known Green Birthstone

March birthstone is green. Did you think that this month has only one green birthstone? On the contrary, there are not one, not 2, but as many as 4 birthstones for March. One bears the name of the original. Another is its prized variety. Still another is what the original gem may actually have been. Yet none of these three is today’s primary birthstone for March. What prevailed in the end comes from an entirely different month, not March.

Jasper

The foundations of the city’s wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper …

— Revelation 21:19

Jasper is the March birthstone from the Bible. Known in Hebrew by the name yashepheh,1 jasper was one of the 12 gems on Aaron’s breastplate. The 1st Foundation Stone in Revelation, jasper accordingly became the birthstone of the 1st sign of the zodiac, Aries, as well as the partially concurrent month of March.

Green jasper

Though identified in modern gemology as opaque chalcedony, the jasper of the Scripture came in translucent clarity too. The ancients described jasper, iaspis in Latin and Greek,2 as an often-translucent stone that is green in color,3 though other colors were also available as well as a variety of patterns. Today, jasper is most popular in red, better known as red jasper.

Jade

While jasper or iaspis was the name of the March birthstone from the Bible, the gem may in fact have been jade. The ancients identified stones primarily by color, not by chemical composition. Iaspis was described in the 1st century as a “green stone that is often translucent.”3 This description fits jade better than it does the modern-day jasper.

Western cultures were aware of jade, but did not identify the gem separately and simply classified jade as a variety of jasper. In 1295, for instance, Marco Polo visited mines of nephrite jade in Khotan, Turkestan, and called their stone jasper.4

The translucent jade, not the opaque jasper, must have been the gem on Aaron’s breastplate, as well as the 1st Foundation Stone of Revelation. Hence, jade must be the birthstone of the 1st sign of the zodiac, Aries, and the partially concurrent month of March.

By 1863, jade was discovered to consist of not one mineral alone, but two chemically unrelated minerals, distinguished from each other by the names jadeite and nephrite.4 Jadeite brings us an intensely green gemstone, which is among the world’s most expensive, while the affordable nephrite comes in a milky green shade.

Bloodstone

While jasper in general was the traditional birthstone for March, several cultures named a specific variety of jasper as March birthstone: bloodstone. The jasper of the ancients was a green gemstone of often-translucent clarity. A less common variety called jasper onyx has cloudy inclusion and red dots. This may have referred to bloodstone, as did a prasius that similarly has blood-red spots.3

The ancients thought bloodstone distinct from heliotrope, which, in a rather similar description, they spoke of as a leek-green gem marked with blood-red streaks.3 In truth, both bloodstone and heliotrope are chalcedony quartz, just with different clarity, the former being opaque and the latter drawing toward translucent luster. Today, the names bloodstone and heliotrope are used interchangeably.

Bloodstone came from India, who exported the gem to Europe designated as March birthstone. In response, the Arabs, Poland and Rome also put bloodstone in March in place of the generic jasper.

Today, bloodstone remains a birthstone for March. However, the green gem has been relegated in importance. Since 1952, America has made aquamarine the primary March birthstone, with bloodstone reduced to an alternate gem.5

From Mauro Cateb, CC BY-SA 4.0

Aquamarine

Aquamarine is March birthstone since 1912. Traditionally the October gem from biblical times until early 1900s, the sea-green beryl was hurled over to March by America’s jewelers in 1912. Furthermore, 40 years later, America’s jewelry industry favored aquamarine as the primary birthstone for March, and reduced bloodstone to an alternate gem.5

Aquamarine is a variety of beryl that is blue-green in color, reminiscent of the sea, hence the name aqua-marine, meaning “sea water.”

Green Jade Gemstone

Green March Birthstone

In March comes an ongoing rivalry between the old and the new. Found in many colors and patterns, the traditional March gemstone changed from the generic jasper into a specific variety: bloodstone. The 20th century, however, saw bloodstone reduced in importance. Yanked from its rightful place in October, aquamarine was crowned the primary birthstone of March. Unheard of amid the tug-of-war is the original March stone, jade, sitting quietly off the spotlight.

Know Their Magic

Each birthstone for March is attributed with magical properties. Know the magical powers of March gemstone, as well as those of your zodiac birthstones, when you read my book Power Birthstone.

Learn the magic of March Birthstone

Footnotes

1

“Exodus 28.” The Bible. Bible Hub, biblehub.com/interlinear/exodus/28.htm. Accessed 28 July 2019.

2

“Exodus 28.” Septuagint. Blue Letter Bible, www.blueletterbible.org/lxx/exo/28/1/s_78001. Accessed 28 July 2019.

3

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.

4

Knuth, Bruce G. “Jade.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. pp. 125-130.

5

Knuth, Bruce G. “Birthstones.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. pp. 293-327.

Published October 15, 2019