March Birthstone History, Origins, Care, and Settings
March babies are fortunate enough to have two birthstones, namely aquamarine and bloodstone. Though very different in appearance, both March birthstones have a reputation for promoting the health of the wearer. Aquamarine gems evoke blue skies and calming waters, while the dark green bloodstone with its characteristic red flecks is associated with vitality and strength.
Why are there Two March Birthstones?
Although aquamarine is the most widely recognized birthstone for March, the traditional March birthstone is actually bloodstone. The National Association of Jewellers added aquamarine to the March birthstone range in response to consumer demand for a more affordable birthstone. Aquamarine was the first choice due to its clarity and diversity.
Nowadays, aquamarine is the number one March birthstone. Blue is also the most common color for March birthstones due to the characteristic light blue color of aquamarine gems. In other words, if aquamarine doesn’t appeal to you, but you want a stone that represents the month of March, then any blue stone will do.
Interestingly, March isn’t the only month with more than one birthstone. June, August, October, November, and December also have multiple birthstones, sometimes up to three.
Traditional March Birthstone: Bloodstone
As mentioned, the traditional birthstone for March babies is the bloodstone. A dark green gemstone, the bloodstone gets its name from the bright red flecks of iron oxide that dot the surface of the gem. The vibrant red spots often resemble blood, hence the name ‘bloodstone’. The color and number of spots play a role in determining the value of the gem.
Bloodstone has a long and interesting history and, given its associations with blood and vitality, is thought to promote the health of the wearer.
Bloodstone is also frequently used as a lucky charm. In the past, athletes would carry bloodstones to increase their strength and vigor.
The History of Bloodstone
Bloodstone is also known as heliotrope, which is derived from an ancient Greek word that means ‘turn to the sun’. This name likely stems from the age-old belief that the gem would turn the sun red if it was placed in water.
The ancient Greeks also believed in the healing powers of the bloodstone. It was thought to stop nosebleeds and hemorrhages, as well as cure tumors.
Gladiators would carry bloodstones in the belief that it could sharpen their skills. Some even believed that the gem could make them invisible to their opponents. Bloodstone was also thought to influence the outcome of courtroom decisions, so ancient lawyers and barristers would also carry bloodstone as a talisman.
In circa 1525, Italian artist Matteo del Nassaro carved ‘The Descent from the Cross’, a famous crucifixion scene, from bloodstone. Del Nassaro specifically chose bloodstone so the red flecks would represent Christ’s blood.
Bloodstone is one of the most unique birthstones known to man, and this is why:
It belongs to the chalcedony mineral group (also called cryptocrystalline quartz). Chalcedony is a variety of polycrystalline quartz, which means that bloodstone is composed of multiple layers of tightly-packed crystals. Other varieties of polycrystalline quartz include tiger’s eye, carnelian, aventurine, onyx, and agate.
Another name for bloodstone is dark green jasper, although it is not a member of the jasper family at all. Jasper often has a grainy structure, which bloodstones do not have.
Bloodstone is often found polished into shiny pebbles along riverbeds, having been rubbed smooth after being tumbled against other rocks and sediment in the river. Bloodstone has also been found embedded in other rocks.
Most bloodstone available today originates from India, although it is also being mined in Australia, South Africa, China, Italy, and Brazil. The American state of California also has some significant bloodstone deposits.
Ideal Settings for Bloodstones
Most gem-quality bloodstones are cut en cabochon. A bezel setting is ideal for this type of cut, which features a flat base and a domed top.
A bezel setting is a very secure way to mount a gemstone and gives it a bit of extra protection thanks to the metal rim surrounding it on all sides. This minimizes the number of scratches and dents your bloodstone jewelry will be exposed to and makes it more suitable for everyday wear.
Because of its relatively soft nature, the bloodstone birthstone is frequently used for lapidary work. As such, you can often find carved bloodstone seals, cameos, and signet rings. Beaded strands are also popular since lapidaries often make smaller gems into beads.
How to Clean and Care for Your Bloodstone Birthstone Jewelry
With a score of 6 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale, bloodstone is a relatively tough gemstone that is fairly resistant to scratches. However, you should still exercise caution when wearing your bloodstone jewelry and avoid exposing it to harsh chemicals and extreme temperatures. This will help prevent any discoloration and fading.
If your bloodstone is cabbed, running the stone under lukewarm water should suffice for regular cleaning. For very intricate settings, soak your jewelry in warm soapy water for a few minutes and then gently scrub with a soft brush.
It is very important that you only use soft materials when cleaning your bloodstone birthstone to prevent it from getting scratched. Gently pat your jewelry dry with a soft cloth and store it in a velvet-lined box or bag.
Modern March Birthstone: Aquamarine
Aquamarine is the modern birthstone for March. It belongs to the variety of the mineral beryl. The beryl family also includes famous gems like emerald and morganite.
Aquamarine typically exhibits a pale blue-green color and stones that are faceted are often free from inclusions. Aquamarine is also available in dark blue hues, though stones like these are typically more expensive than the pale blue variety.
Apart from being the modern birthstone for March, aquamarine is also the traditional gift for the 19th wedding anniversary. It is thought that aquamarine brings clarity, hope, tranquility, and fidelity to a relationship, all of which are important for a happy marriage!
The History of Aquamarine
Derived from the Latin word aqua, meaning ‘water’, and marina, which means ‘sea’, ‘aquamarine’ literally translates to ‘seawater’.
In ancient times, aquamarines were believed to come from the jeweled caskets of sirens. The stones would fall off these bejeweled chests and wash ashore. Because the stones were supposedly born from the ocean, they were considered sacred to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. Dubbed ‘the sailor’s gem’, ancient mariners claimed that aquamarine could bring about smooth sailing and protect them from the dangers at sea.
Aquamarine was also revered for its magical and healing properties by many cultures on land. It was thought to bring about mental clarity and protect the wearer against the effects of poison. The stone was also extensively used by soothsayers in fortune-telling.
Emperor Nero is said to have used an aquamarine eyeglass some two millennia ago. Later, the Germans used it to correct short-sightedness. Interestingly, the German word for ‘eyeglasses’ is brille, which is derived from the German word for ‘beryl’.
Natural aquamarine occurs in six-sided crystals that can grow up to a foot in length. Synthetic aquamarine is also available for a more ethical and sustainable choice.
Among the most prominent producers of aquamarine is the Minas Gerais province in Brazil. Aquamarine is also mined in the Karakoram foothills in Pakistan. To reach the gems, miners must ascend to an elevation of 9,800 to 13,000 feet. Aquamarine also grows in the Mount Antero region of Colorado. As a result, aquamarine is Colorado’s state gem.
In addition to these prominent locations, aquamarine can also be found in China, Russia, Ukraine, Myanmar, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Nigeria, and Kenya.
As for famous aquamarine gems, a dark blue stone was gifted to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt by the Brazilian government in 1936. The gem is now housed at the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York. Another impressive specimen residing at the Smithsonian Institution is thought to be the world’s largest faceted aquamarine.
Ideal Settings for Aquamarine
Aquamarine crystals are easy to cut and polish due to their enormous size. This means several large gems can be hewn from the same crystal, making aquamarine a budget-friendly option for statement everyday jewelry. Gems that are pale blue or greenish blue are typically the most affordable, while darker stones tend to be more valuable and subsequently more expensive.
Aquamarine can be paired with virtually any gemstone but looks especially beautiful alongside white diamonds. This March birthstone can also be set in any type of precious metal and complements all skin tones.
How to Clean and Care For Your Aquamarine Jewelry
Aquamarine measures between 7.5 and 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, making it an excellent option for jewelry intended for everyday wear.
The best way to clean your aquamarine jewelry is with lukewarm water and mild dish soap. Gently scrub your jewelry with a soft-bristled brush to remove any built-up dirt and grime. Steam cleaning and ultrasonic cleaners are also generally safe provided your aquamarine has no fractures or liquid inclusions.
Tips for Buying a March Birthstone
After deciding which March birthstone best suits your personality and budget, it’s time to go shopping for the perfect gem. Here are a few tips to help you get the most bang for your buck.
The Four Cs
You might have heard of the Four Cs with regards to diamond appraisal, but they also apply to other gemstones. Below is a brief guide to assessing the quality of gemstones using the Four Cs.
Clarity is a measure of the number of internal and external flaws of a gemstone. Internal flaws are naturally-occurring imperfections called inclusions, while external flaws are the result of the cutting and polishing process and are known as blemishes.
Translucent gems, like diamonds and aquamarine, can be graded for clarity. But opaque gems like bloodstone have no clarity grade.
Color is the main factor that influences the cost of aquamarine, with darker gems typically commanding the highest prices. Bear this in mind when shopping for your March birthstone, as you might be able to find a lighter stone at a more affordable price.
Bloodstone displays a large degree of color variation. Occasionally, you’ll find that bloodstone’s characteristic dark green color can vary from dark to light within the same stone. There are also two different types of bloodstone: plasma (opaque with reduced red spots) and heliotrope (more transluscent with red spots). Bloodstone with more red detail tends to fetch higher prices.
Due to the size of aquamarine crystals, you can easily find faceted gems that are over 2 carats in weight. As a result, larger stones often have a lower price per carat than smaller ones. The price difference is due to the fact that smaller stones are more difficult to set in jewelry and, thus, require more labor.
The pricing for bloodstone, on the other hand, increases proportionally with the carat weight.
Contrary to popular belief, the cut of a gemstone refers not to its shape, but to the way light behaves when it enters the gem. Shape, by contrast, refers to the outline of the stone when viewed from above. These include round, oval, princess, and cushion, all of which belong to the ‘brilliant’ class of cuts.
Aquamarine is available in an array of cuts and shapes. One of the most popular cuts for aquamarines is the emerald cut because it emphasizes their size.
For bloodstones, the cut of your gemstone matters less for light refraction and more for shape. This is because bloodstones are opaque, meaning no light passes through them.
One final thing to note about bloodstone is that it may have a more waxy than shiny appearance, but this is normal. The stone’s unique structure simply causes it to reflect light differently from other gems.
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