OCTOBER BIRTHSTONE HISTORY: Bible vs. India

Nowhere in the month can the original October birthstone be found. The biblical birthstone for October was sent to another month by an exotic natal stone from India. This Oriental gem became October gemstone with its colorful beauty and value.

Beryl

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 eighth, beryl …

— Revelation 21:19-20

Beryl is the original October birthstone. Known in Hebrew as shoham, beryl was one of the 12 gems on Aaron’s breastplate.1 The Book of Revelation speaks of beryl, beryllos in Greek, as the 8th foundation stone of the New Jerusalem.2 Beryl accordingly became the gem of the 8th sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, and the partially concurrent month of October.

The color of beryl on the priestly breastplate, however, remains uncertain. Beryl is a mineral occurring in a wide range of colors. Emerald itself is a variety of beryl, and the ancients knew of this fact.3 Still, since the intensely green gem was placed separately on Aaron’s breastplate, the possibility of the other beryl being an emerald can be ruled out. This leaves one of the other beryls as the October birthstone.

Rome valued several varieties of beryl:

  • Sea-green beryl (aquamarine)
  • Golden beryl (chrysoberyllus)
  • Golden prase (chrysoprasus)
  • Deep blue beryl (hyacinthosontes)
  • Pale blue (aeroides)

Of these varieties, chrysoprasus may likewise be ruled out, since the yellowish green beryl is the 10th Foundation Stone, the original birthstone reserved for December.

On the other hand, the most popular beryl in antiquity was aquamarine. The sea-green beryl is the most likely candidate to have been the gem on the priestly breastplate corresponding to the month of October. In fact, ancient cultures — namely, Jewish, Arabian, Roman and Polish cultures — specifically designated aquamarine as October birthstone.

Whether the original birthstone for October was aquamarine or another variety of beryl, however, makes no difference now. Beryl lost the month of October entirely. In 1912, America removed beryl as October birthstone, and transferred aquamarine to March.4

Aquamarine

While other cultures broadly designated beryl as the October birthstone, the Jews, Arabs, Rome and Poland specifically designated aquamarine as October’s beryl. This did not hold past the 1400s in Europe, who preferred the broad name beryl for the birthstone of October. Moreover, both beryl and aquamarine ceased being October gemstone in 1912. America removed all beryls from October, and transferred aquamarine to March.4

As its name suggests, aquamarine refers to the sea-green beryl. The name aquamarine means “seawater,” and denotes this glassy gemstone of the sea’s blue-green color, though the term now designates the blue beryl as well. Besides emerald, aquamarine is the most highly esteemed beryl since antiquity.

From CRPeters, CC BY-SA 3.0

Opal

Today, opal is the birthstone for October. Opal debuted as birthstone in Ancient India. When the lore of birthstones spread to the Asian subcontinent, the Hindus replaced aquamarine with opal for their October birthstone. This alteration influenced Europe, who made opal an alternate October gemstone to beryl since the 1400s. A decision by American jewelers in 1912 cemented opal’s reign in the same month.4

The most popular and valuable of opals are called precious opals, which display a play of colors known as fire. This magnificent play of colors shines mostly against white body tone. The most expensive, however, is the black opal.

The weakness of opal lies in its susceptibility to breaking. Opal contains a significant amount of water. When the water dries out, the opal cracks on its own, leaving the owner with a broken gem. Possibly due to incidents of this sort, opal has acquired the notoriety of being a stone of bad luck.5

From Doronenko, CC BY 3.0

Tourmaline

Tourmaline is an alternate October birthstone in the United States. This designation was made by America’s jewelers in 1912. Britain, however, has not accepted this change.4

In 1952, America specified the October birthstone as pink tourmaline.4 Even so, other colors of tourmaline have been adopted by many as birthstone for October. Tourmaline is found in a rainbow of colors. The most expensive variety is the Paraiba tourmaline, which is a bright blue.

Milky Aquamarine Necklace

Indian October Birthstone

Abandonment is a theme that surrounds the birthstone for October. The original October gemstone, beryl, was left with March. The replacement itself, opal, was abandoned by the very culture that introduced the birthstone. India now has coral instead of opal for its October stone. In addition, opal’s growing reputation as stone of bad luck5 saw the gem getting deserted too.

What goes around comes around, says the Indians. With more people shying away from opal, the gem traders who ditched the beryl of old to make a fortune out of opal may see their profits forsake them as well.

Is pink the October birthstone color? While the alternate birthstone for October, pink tourmaline, corroborates the idea, the multiplicity in color of the primary October stone, opal, leaves the question unanswered.

Know Their Magic

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

Learn the magic of October Birthstone

Footnotes

1

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

2

“Revelation 21.” The Bible. Bible Hub, biblehub.com/interlinear/revelation/21.htm. Accessed 28 July 2019.

3

Pliny. “Book 37 – XX.” 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. “Birthstones.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. pp. 293-327.

5

Knuth, Bruce G. “Opal.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. pp. 157-158.

Published October 19, 2019