Belief in gem powers has survived for nearly 5,000 years in the tradition of the birthstone. The concept of linking birth dates with particular gems, and attributing to those stones the ability to influence the wearer’s fate, is the oldest jewelry tradition. Because gemstones are created by nature, we humans have historically felt a primal link to their energy.
Depending on which experts you talk to, notions of gems as powerful charms were born in ancient India and Babylonia. Both cultures elevated the idea that gems harbor magical powers and virtues linked to the moon, sun and planets. From its astrological genesis, the birthstone concept made its way into Judeo-Christian tradition centuries later, with its symbol a 12-gem-set breastplate that theologians developed interpretations of what each stone signified.
The list of birthstones used today came into being in 1912, by the National Association of Jewelers, from lists that evolved over the centuries from various cultures and traditions. Even since then, the list continues to be tweaked with gem alternatives, adding in 1952 alexandrite for June, tourmaline for October, citrine for November, and zircon for December. Then fifty years later, in 2002 tanzanite became a gem option for December; and in 2016 spinel joined the list as another choice for August.
Crystals are a mounting trend among the younger generations of consumers. In fact, Etsy merchandiser Emily Bidwell told Refinery29 in 2017 that crystals have been a “mounting trend” on the web site for the past decade. The Guardian, in an article last February, declared crystals “one of the breakout stars of the everyday wellness movement” — yoga, meditation, alternative medicine, supplements and essential oils — citing a 40% increase in Google searches for “crystal healing”. Young celebrities, including Kylie Jenner, Katy Perry and Miranda Kerr, and fashion designers like Victoria Beckham and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are inspiring the movement for products like gemstones that promote wellbeing.
Moreover, millennials have been more open to gemstones in engagement rings and wedding bands to signify the couple’s birthstones or even the stone representing the month the met, according to an article in The Guardian, March 2017, about the popularity of birthstones among the younger generations.
Color stones allow jewelers to get personal. Birthstones are the go-to design element that personalizes any piece. The color versatility of the stones, as well as their meanings and timeless appeal, make birthstone jewelry the perfect accessory and keepsake. Not only are there gem alternatives for every month, but many of the gem varieties that are birthstones come in different colors like garnet in January or sapphire in September.
Birthstone jewelry is something every jeweler should carry and incorporate as a custom design opportunity. “Jewelers should have a few styles to offer in birthstone jewelry,” advocates Theresa Namie, Merchandise Manager Ostbye, Minneapolis, Minnesota. “It pleases both the traditional customer when presented in the more classic designs. And, it appeals to the modern woman who likes bezels and stackables, making a statement of fashion and heart.”
Among the jewelry styles that lend themselves well to this trend are stackable birthstone bands and bezel rings. She describes these bestsellers as not only ideal to represent the wearer’s birthstone, but also those of loved ones, a popular choice as an updated mother’s ring look, or to celebrate special anniversaries. And, she reminds that birthstones can be bought by and for a variety of people and occasions, as well as self-purchase.
Allison Peck, with the New York City-based Color Merchants, sees styling with birthstones as more about story telling than matching colors. “Each color is personal to each customer,” she says. “If they’re looking for an amethyst, they’re going to choose a style first, then the stone, since in the birthstone category all stones are available. We see popularity increase with different colors depending on the time of year, just because of the specific month’s color.”
Peck advocates every jewelry retailer carry at least the basic birthstone styles (basic birthstone stud display in 3mm, 4mm and 5mm sizes), whether the stores average ticket is $100 or $10,000+. “It’s a quick sale for the customer, not looking to spend a lot, but wanting a piece that’s considered fine jewelry.” There is someone celebrating a birthday or an anniversary every day of the year.
Birthstones have become a huge part of the gemstone category, says Karen Crowe, Marketing/Merchandising for Quality Gold, Fairfield, Ohio. Not only does the manufacturer have birthstone collections in all jewelry styles, birthstones are a popular choice to customize any piece — added to monograms, signet rings, heart pendants, and signature jewelry.
In addition to using birthstones, three, four, and five stone diamond bands are popular, signifying family members, or denoting one stone per decade for milestone anniversaries or birthdays.