Everything You Need To Know About Birthstones: December
A birthstone is a gemstone popularly associated with an individual’s birth month. There are traditional and modern birthstones.
While most months have just one or two birthstones, December has four: turquoise, tanzanite, topaz, and zircon. All the December birthstones exhibit a rich blue color; invoking images of both crisp winter days and clear summer skies, depending on which side of the Equator you’re on.
Each December birthstone has a rich history, as well as different meanings and associations. If you want to learn more about the individual December birthstones, keep reading for our comprehensive guide.
First December Birthstone: Turquoise
Alongside lapis lazuli, the traditional December birthstone is turquoise. Turquoise is an opaque gem that’s famous for its intense blue color and intricate spiderweb-like matrix. Along with being December’s birthstone, turquoise is associated with the 11th wedding anniversary.
The History of Turquoise
Turquoise has captivated numerous civilizations for thousands of years. It was worn by the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and used in carvings by Chinese artisans over three millennia ago.
In the 13th century, turquoise was believed to grant good fortune and health to the wearer. It was worn by horse riders to stop them from falling off their horse.
More recently, turquoise played a role in royal history. The Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, famously wore a turquoise and amethyst necklace designed by Cartier.
Turquoise is also very prevalent in Native American culture. The Apache, for example, believe that turquoise lies at the end of a rainbow instead of a pot of gold. They would also attach turquoise to bows and firearms in the belief that the gem would increase their accuracy.
The name ‘turquoise’ is derived from the French word for Turkish stone, pierre turquois (pronounced pee-yare turr-qwah). Historians posit that turquoise was first brought to Europe from Turkey, which is how this December birthstone got its name.
Where Is Turquoise Mined?
Turquoise mining has occurred in the Nishapur district in Iran for more than a millennium. The turquoise produced by this region is renowned for its distinct color, which is frequently described as robin’s egg blue, sky blue, or Persian blue.
In the United States, New Mexico was once the most prolific producer of turquoise. However, most of the turquoise mining that occurs here today takes place in the states of Nevada and Arizona.
Another of the world’s most significant producers of turquoise is the Hubei Province in central China.
Most Popular Turquoise Jewelry Settings
This December birthstone adds a bohemian look to any ensemble and pairs well with all the precious metals. Cool-toned metals, like sterling silver and white gold, result in a more modern look, while warmer metals like yellow and rose gold will appeal to those with vintage tastes.
It is not uncommon to find a turquoise ring or pendant at most jewelry stores. Turquoise earrings and bracelets are also popular.
How to Clean and Care For Turquoise Jewelry
Rated at just a 5 or a 6 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, turquoise is a relatively soft gemstone. It is also porous, meaning it will absorb things like the oils in lotions and perfumes. For this reason, turquoise is often treated with resin or acrylic epoxy. This treatment fills any cracks in the gemstone, thereby improving its durability. However, you still need to be careful with your turquoise jewelry and take it off when cleaning, bathing, and swimming.
Turquoise can also fade under prolonged exposure to high temperatures. It is, therefore, best not to wear turquoise if you know you will be out in the sun for a while and to store it out of direct sunlight.
Clean your turquoise stone with warm water and a mild soap. This will keep your turquoise jewelry in good condition for many years to come.
Second December Birthstone: Tanzanite
A thousand times rarer than a diamond, tanzanite is one of the only trichroic gemstones known to man. This means that it has the ability to display three colors within the same gemstone. Often described as a geological phenomenon, this December birthstone is known for its velvety colors that range from intense blue to violet. It is also associated with the 24th wedding anniversary.
The History of Tanzanite
Tanzanite is a relative newcomer to the birthstone scene. It was discovered in 1967 when blue stones were found by Maasai herders near Arusha, Tanzania. After hearing about the discovery, a prospector named Manuel d’Souza began mining the area for what he believed were sapphires. Sometime later, D’Souza identified the stones as mineral zoisite.
The discovery of mineral zoisite instigated a marketing campaign by Tiffany & Co., which posed the gemstone as a more affordable alternative for sapphire. The campaign advertised the gemstone’s rich color, high clarity, and potential for large cuts. As a result, Tiffany & Co. quickly became the main distributor of this radiant blue gem.
The name ‘tanzanite’ pays homage to the stone’s country of origin. The name change took place after Tiffany & Co. decided that ‘tanzanite’ was better from an advertising perspective.
Where is Tanzanite Mined?
Currently, the Merelani Hills in northern Tanzania is the only place in the world where tanzanite is mined. The mines are located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
According to a study conducted in 2012, the supply of tanzanite is nearly depleted. As it stands, mining operations could cease in Block C, the largest mining region in the Merelani Hills, in the next decade or two. The findings of this report caused tanzanite prices to skyrocket. Experts hypothesize that the current generation will be the last to buy new tanzanite.
Most Popular Tanzanite Jewelry Settings
Although slightly more durable than turquoise, tanzanite is not indestructible. This December birthstone is, therefore, best suited to pendants and earrings as these are not exposed to as much wear and tear as rings and bracelets. That being said, tanzanite can make a magnificent birthstone ring provided it is mounted in a protective setting.
How to Clean and Care For Tanzanite Jewelry
Tanzanite is fairly durable with a score of 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale. It is also resistant to the effects of heat, light, and common chemicals. However, tanzanite can crack under exposure to extreme heat or sudden changes in temperature.
To increase the longevity of your tanzanite jewelry, clean your stone now and then with warm water and a mild soap.
Third December Birthstone: Blue Topaz
Blue topaz is the third birthstone for December. A fairly new addition to the list, this stunning stone exhibits beautiful blue shades that conjure up images of the ocean.
It is important to note that a lot of blue topaz on the market starts off as colorless. Colorless topaz is heat treated and irradiated, which brings out its signature blue hues. The most common shades that are available for this gem are London blue and Swiss blue.
The History of Blue Topaz
Blue topaz was first discovered on the Greek island of Topazios over two millennia ago. Ironically, the island did not produce blue topaz, but it was once a source of peridot (which was often mistaken for topaz before the advancement of modern mineralogy).
The Ancient Greeks believed that blue topaz would grant them physical and mental strength. The Ancient Egyptians also held the stone in high regard and used it to honor their god, Ra. Likewise, the Romans used blue topaz to honor their deity, Jupiter.
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, many people in Europe believed that topaz could dispel anger and break curses. It was, therefore, used in a variety of spiritual rituals because of its presumed healing properties.
It is generally accepted that the name ‘topaz’ derives from the Greek island ‘Topazios’, which may originate from the Sanskrit word ‘tapas’, meaning ‘fire’.
Where is Blue Topaz Mined?
Blue topaz is abundant and can be found in several countries across the globe, including Russia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, China, Mexico, and the United States. These countries also produce colorless topaz as well as other colored varieties like the highly prized Imperial topaz.
Most Popular Blue Topaz Jewelry Settings
Being a fairly durable gemstone, blue topaz is suitable for a range of jewelry settings and can be worn daily. Blue topaz is also available in a variety of shades, such as sky blue, Swiss blue, and London blue.
How to Clean and Care For Blue Topaz Jewelry
Despite having a score of 8 on the Mohs scale, it is still advisable to handle your blue topaz jewelry with care. This means taking it off when swimming, bathing, cleaning, and exercising. It is also recommended to keep this December birthstone out of direct sunlight because it can cause its color to fade.
Like tanzanite and turquoise, you can clean your blue topaz stone using warm soapy water and a soft cloth.
Fourth December Birthstone: Blue Zircon
Zircon is a brilliant gem that can be found in a wide range of colors. Colorless zircon is often confused with cubic zirconia, a lab-grown diamond simulant. However, unlike cubic zirconia, zircon is a naturally occurring gemstone. This makes it far more valuable. These rare stones also come in several shades of blue, although blue zircon is almost always heat treated.
The History of Zircon
Zircon is almost as old as the planet itself, with the oldest specimens providing a geological record of the pressure shifts and erosion that have occurred throughout the earth’s history.
During the Middle Ages, zircon was frequently used in treating insomnia and other physical ailments like sores, blisters, and varicose veins. It was also believed to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity and wisdom.
Blue zircon became popular during the Victorian era and was often used to embellish English estate jewelry from the late 19th century. Smoky or cloudy zircon was also often featured in mourning jewelry.
While the origins of the name ‘zircon’ are not entirely clear, one theory is that it derives from the Persian word ‘zargun’, meaning ‘gold-hued’.
Where is Blue Zircon Mined?
The majority of zircon gemstones are mined in Australia. These are typically yellow to orangy-brown, purple, and pink colored stones. The country is also home to Zircon Hill, which contains the oldest earth material ever found.
Another productive mining region for zircon is Elahera in Sri Lanka. Nicknamed the Gem Island, Sri Lanka is also known for producing hessonite garnet, sapphire, tourmaline, moonstone, quartz, and many other gem varieties.
While all the other varieties of zircon are mined in several countries across the world, the only known source of blue zircon is Cambodia.
Most Popular Blue Zircon Jewelry Settings
This December birthstone is quite tough, making it ideal for jewelry for everyday wear. Like tanzanite and turquoise, however, it is best to mount blue zircon in a protective setting when worn in a ring. This is because rings are more likely to get bumped and scratched than necklaces and earrings.
How to Clean and Care For Blue Zircon Jewelry
Ranging between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale, zircon is a relatively durable December birthstone. It is also not generally affected by exposure to heat and light. However, because most zircon undergoes heat treatment to create the various blue shades, it should be noted that prolonged exposure to these elements can cause some stones to turn back to their original coloring.
Like all the other December birthstones, your blue zircon will occasionally need to be cleaned to keep it looking as good as the day you bought it. You can do this with warm soapy water and a soft brush.
What Do the December Birthstones Symbolize?
Given its long history, turquoise has gathered many different meanings across multiple cultures. Nowadays, turquoise is most commonly associated with wisdom, loyalty, tranquility, and good fortune. It is also thought to protect the wearer from harm.
Like turquoise, tanzanite also has several different meanings. These are based on the color and saturation of the stone.
For example, tanzanite stones with violet hues are associated with magic and mystery, attributes that have been closely linked with the color purple throughout history. Tanzanite stones that exhibit a velvety, saturated blue hue also symbolize royalty, while indigo tanzanite stones represent intuition, intellect, and purity.
This December birthstone denotes righteousness and loyalty. Not surprisingly, it is associated with trust and true love. Some also believe that blue topaz can help rid the wearer of fears and anxieties, allowing them to achieve their full potential.
While colorless zircon is said to purify the mind and aid in meditation, blue zircon is good for fostering positive relationships and building self-confidence. It is also associated with wisdom and prosperity.
Lab-Created December Birthstones
Natural gemstones often have less-than-reputable origins, with a long history of labor exploitation and environmental destruction. If you’re looking for a more ethical and sustainable choice, consider a lab-created gem for your December birthstone ring, bracelet, or pendant.
What Are Lab-Created Gemstones?
As the name suggests, lab-created gems are grown in laboratories. The process of making these stones mimics the way natural gemstones are formed. The result is a gem that is identical to its natural counterpart in every way, including its chemical composition. This means that lab-created gemstones are real gemstones; the only difference is that they are grown in a controlled environment.
There are several benefits to buying a lab-created or synthetic gem. Firstly, they cost 20-40% less than mined stones, making them ideal for those with a limited budget. Secondly, they eliminate the need for harmful mining practices, making them a more environmentally-friendly and ethical choice. Lastly, lab-created gems often have fewer blemishes and inclusions than natural stones, meaning they often have better clarity.
Synthetic turquoise is an affordable alternative that offers the same physical, optical, and chemical properties as its natural counterpart. You can also find synthetic turquoise with inclusions that imitate the famous marbling or spiderweb-like pattern of natural turquoise.
Tanzanite does not have a lab-grown variant. This means you can only find natural tanzanite. However, there are several imitations on the market that attempt to reproduce its characteristic blue color. The most common imposters are colored glass, yttrium aluminum garnet, synthetic spinel, and cubic zirconia. An amateur gemologist can tell the difference between the two with an inexpensive tool known as a dichroscope.
Lab-Created Blue Topaz
Blue topaz is both heat treated and grown in a lab. The heat treatment is what gives colorless topaz its range of blue colors.
Lab-Created Blue Zircon
Blue zircon is just like tanzanite in that it does not have a synthetic variant. However, it does have a lab-created simulant: synthetic spinel. Synthetic spinel was first discovered when scientists tried to grow synthetic sapphire. Instead, they created synthetic spinel. Besides blue zircon, synthetic spinel can also imitate aquamarine, tourmaline, diamond, sapphire, and ruby.
Verdict: Which December Birthstone Should You Choose?
Any one of the blue December birthstones mentioned above will make stunning additions to your jewelry collection. Each one offers something different and, ultimately, the one you choose will depend on your personal preferences.
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