SEPTEMBER BIRTHSTONE HISTORY: Gold Went Cold

September birthstone was a bright yellow gem called golden stone. A misinterpretation of this name saw the birthstone for September become a green stone. Later, jewelers decided to replace green with blue. Hence, September gemstone went from the warm, sunny color of gold to the coldest of blue.

Derived from work of Humanfeather / michelle jo, CC BY 3.0

Topaz

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 seventh, topaz …

— Revelation 21:19-20

Although unheard of as September gemstone, topaz must have been the original birthstone for September. The omission of topaz in September stemmed from confusion between 2 gems. Known as tarshish in Hebrew,1 the September birthstone from the Bible is called chrysolithos in Greek.2 While this name later designated the peridot, the chrysolite of the ancients was not a green gemstone, but a golden yellow gem, as evidenced by the name chrysolithos, which means “golden stone.”

It does not follow that, just because the ancient chrysolite did not refer to peridot, topaz would exclusively be the golden stone in question. The name chrysolite in fact applied to several other gems,3 including chrysoberyl and heliodor. Still, the ancients had distinguished these two stones from chrysolithos, and called them chysoberyllus and chrysoprasus respectively.

The only other gem among the traditional birthstones that fits the name “golden stone” is yellow zircon. This gem became known as jacinth, and was considered to be January’s gem, not September’s.

Why would topaz be the September birthstone when it already has November? The Book of Revelation mentions topazion as the 9th Foundation Stone. People interpreted this name to mean the true topaz, which accordingly became the birthstone of the 9th sign of the zodiac, Sagittarius, as well as the partially concurrent month of November. However, the topazion of the ancients did not actually refer to the true topaz, but to peridot.

In here is an evident swap between original birthstones. The peridot of November was erroneously switched with the September birthstone, topaz. Hence, in the same way that the topaz of November was not actually topaz, but peridot, the chrysolite of September would also be not peridot, but the golden topaz.

Topaz is a gemstone that occurs mostly in golden brown or yellow. A more expensive variety, the imperial topaz draws toward an orangey red and pink.

Peridot

Peridot had been widely embraced as the birthstone for September. This green gem was not actually expressly assigned to September by ancient cultures; the original birthstone was known by the Greek name chrysolithos, translated to English as chrysolite. Peridot became the September birthstone after it took over the name chrysolite, which previously applied to many other yellowish gems.3

Still, whether peridot was the correct September birthstone does not matter now. In 1912, America replaced peridot with sapphire, and repositioned the former as August’s gem.4

Peridot is a transparent stone from the mineral olivine. The gem is most popular in olive green and lime green.

Sardonyx

Sardonyx was the traditional birthstone for September in Poland and Rome. Poland had sardonyx both for August and September. The latter designation seemed to have influenced the Romans, who made sardonyx the September birthstone as well. From the 1400s to early 1900s, however, sardonyx went exclusively to August in Europe.

Sardonyx is a variety of onyx that has red and white bands. Sard makes up the red bands, hence the name sard-onyx. Sardonyx may also bear onyx’s black stripes.

Moonstone

Moonstone debuted as month stone in Ancient India, where the gem was made the September birthstone. Like sardonyx, however, moonstone went to August in Europe from the 1400s to early 1900s. This last designation came to an end after America assigned moonstone to June in 1912.

Moonstone is feldspar consisting of alternate layers of orthoclase and albite. These layers refract light between them, and give moonstone the look of glowing from within.

From Stanislav Doronenko, CC BY 3.0

Sapphire

Today, sapphire is the birthstone for September. Formerly the gem of April, sapphire was transferred to September in 1912 as America reserved the entire April to the popular diamond.4 Sapphire has remained the September birthstone since.

Sapphire is precious corundum occurring in colors other than red, which is otherwise called ruby. While sapphire is available in a wide range of colors, the variety commonly regarded as the September birthstone is the blue sapphire. Blue is also sapphire’s most popular color. The valuable sapphire accordingly represents the color blue of today’s precious stones.

Lapis Lazuli

In Britain, lapis lazuli is an alternate birthstone for September. 25 years after sapphire became the September birthstone in 1912, Britain added lapis lazuli as alternate gem for the month.4 Color would be the primary basis for this designation, since, like sapphire, lapis lazuli is a blue gem.

Lapis lazuli is a composite of several minerals, including lazurite, calcite and cuprite. Lazurite is responsible for lapis lazuli’s vivid blue color, calcite for its cloudy inclusion, and fool’s gold for the golden sprinkles.

Peridot Gemstone

Cold September Birthstone

Gold went cold in September. The original September gemstone was golden in color. Its name, chrysolite, literally meant “golden stone.” However, people identified chrysolite with peridot, and accordingly assigned the green gem to September. America’s jewelers came in and turned the color of September stone even colder. Now the birthstone of September is sapphire, a deep blue reminiscent of winter. September birthstone color today could not be any less sunny than the bright golden hue of the original chrysolite.

Know Their Magic

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

Learn the magic of September 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

Knuth, Bruce G. “Chrysolite.” Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore. Revised ed. Parachute: Jewelers Press, 2007. p. 67.

4

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

Published October 18, 2019