Birthstones

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While this risks stating the obvious, this collection consists of twelve pieces, one for each month. Julia chose the stone for each month from the list of Modern Birthstones compiled in 1912 by the Jewelers of America, a professional organization of American jewelers (sorry, more stating the obvious). 

Julia’s interest in the history and science of birthstones began during a 1976 trip to the newly opened Hall of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History, an 11,000-square-foot multilevel carpeted space with a definite 1970s vibe. Fifteen years after that first visit, this exhibit became Julia’s daughter Rachel’s favorite indoor play space where she fearlessly ran up and down stairs and ramps, sliding down bannisters and swinging from guard rails. Julia would like to think that she also developed an appreciation for geology but perhaps that’s just a maternal fantasy. Rachel is now a circus artist which is a surprise to no one who knew her as a child.

Julia’s obsession with birthstones and involvement with the Museum continued into the early 2000s when she designed greeting cards for both the Gems and Minerals exhibit and the Hayden Planetarium. Her Birthstone Birthday Cards, which incorporated actual Swarovski™ crystals, were sold quite successfully by the Museum and many other vendors over the years. Rachel, happily, has outgrown her tendency to vandalize museum exhibits, and she and Julia were able to pay one last rather emotional visit to the Hall of Gems and Minerals before it closed on October 26, 2017 for a much needed renovation. 

And now because Julia is Julia, she is going to discuss the history of birthstones so reading the rest of this section is most definitely optional. The idea of birthstones  -  a gemstone assigned to each month of the year  -  is thought to be an ancient one. Scholars trace it back to the book of Exodus. Moses’ brother Aaron, as the first high priest of the Israelites, wore a ceremonial breastplate adorned with twelve precious stones arranged in four rows of three said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Due to translating challenges, the exact stones remain somewhat of a mystery.

In the first century AD, the Roman scholar Flavius Josephus connected the twelve stones to the twelve signs of the zodiac. The idea was proposed that each of the gemstones had special powers associated with the corresponding sign, and that wearing these stones at the correct times would have therapeutic benefits. Based on this model, one should have a collection of all twelve stones, and wear each during its particular month in order to reap the benefits.

The idea of each person wearing a gemstone that corresponds to the month of their birth is a modern concept that started in 18th century Poland and has since spread throughout the world. The modern list of birthstones defined in 1912 has largely remained unchanged to the present day except for the addition of tanzanite as a birthstone for December in 2002. This was widely seen simply as an attempt by the tanzanite cartel to sell more jewelry, and the commercialization of birthstones was complete.

Do Julia’s birthstone collages have magical powers? Who knows? What Julia can promise is that they make excellent gifts which lead to much smiling. Perhaps this can be considered a magical power.