What better way to celebrate a birthday than with a birthstone? Usually found in the form of a ring or pendant, birthstones are gemstones associated with various qualities that symbolise the month of birth in the Gregorian calendar.

How these gemstones were associated with different months isn't entirely clear but, like all traditions, they evolve over time. Some believe birthstones originate from Biblical times when a priest's breastplate was adorned with twelve different coloured gems. The first century Jewish historian Josephus is said to have believed there was a connection between the twelve stones in Aaron's breastplate, relating to the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

As the tradition developed, people wore a different gem each month as a sort of talisman, believing each stone held certain powers. And gradually, specific gemstones became attached to specific months.

It was in 1912 that the American National Association of Jewellers created a birthstone list. Although it was controversially developed for commercial purposes, the list is now accepted worldwide as the definitive list of birthstones, with some months taking on more than one gemstone.

There are of course numerous legends and myths about birthstone healing powers and their therapeutic influence. According to these legends, wearing a gemstone during its assigned month heightened its healing powers and for the full effect, individuals needed to own all twelve and alternate them monthly.

Whether you take this as true depends entirely on your faith, but it never hurts to add a colourful gemstone to your collection with its own very special meaning.

January's garnet symbolises passionate devotion, friendship, vitality and balance and is often seen in its most popular reddish-brown colour, although it's also available in shades of purple, pink, red, brown and even colourless.

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February's amethyst symbolises sincerity and security. Its rich colour - ranging from deep violet to pale lavender - is associated with royalty and nobility.

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March's aquamarine symbolises loyalty, honesty and beauty and is most prized in its vivid aqua blue tone.

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April's diamond has a place in the hearts of women the world over, and symbolises purity and strength. The diamond colour spectrum stretches many hues, however value is based on colour and clarity.

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May's emerald symbolises wisdom, faith, success in love and domestic bliss, and has been used in many cultures to ward off evil. Best known in its brilliant green colour, emeralds can also reveal blue or yellow hues.

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June's pearl symbolises success, happiness and love, and is harvested from saltwater oysters and freshwater clams to produce the desired lustre.

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July's ruby symbolises love and passion and is said to attract good luck. From the Latin word for red, ruber, some cultures also believe this pink to deep red gemstone can offer protection from evil.

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August's peridot symbolises strength with its naturally occurring olive green colour. Often called the 'evening emerald', peridot is said to protect the wearer from evil dreams if set in gold.

September's sapphire symbolises peace and serenity, purity, wisdom, loyalty and faith. Most commonly associated with a strong blue colour, sapphires also come in pink, white or yellow (known as fancy sapphires).

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October's opal symbolises hope and innocence, with repeating patterns producing its renowned radiance. Derived from the Latin opalus, or stone, most opals are white but can be black or transparent with flecks of colour.

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November's topaz symbolises consistency, faithfulness and friendship, and is thought to have healing properties to help breathing disorders. Found in a variety of colours, the prized Imperial Topaz is orange with pink undertones.

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December's blue topaz symbolises strength, wealth, protection from harm, psychic sensitivity and connection to the spirit world - hence its use by many ancient cultures as a protection amulet. Also known for its healing properties, blue topaz is said to take on the properties of its wearer.

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