Sourcing

Rocks On: The Evolution of the Birthstone List

SourcingAug 29, 2016

Rocks On: The Evolution of the Birthstone List

The birthstone list has changed only a few times since it was created more than a century ago, giving elevated status to a group of stones that continue to sell well today.

Added in 2002, tanzanite was the last gem to join the birthstone list before spinel, which became an August birthstone earlier this year. Pictured here is a tanzanite cabochon ring from Rock & Gems Jewelry.
New York--With the exception of the connoisseur, there aren’t many consumers who know their way around the colored gemstone world.

But ask any number of them what their birthstone is and they likely can tell you without hesitation, proof that the long-ago idea of codifying a list of gemstones to drive consumer awareness has been a success.

According to the American Gem Society, birthstones are believed to date back to the breastplate of Aaron, which contained 12 gemstones representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

It wasn’t until 1912, though, that the first official birthstone list was established by the American National Retail Jeweler’s Association (now known as Jewelers of America). It has changed only a few times over the last century.

According to JA, it updated the list in 1952 to add alexandrite (June), citrine (November), tourmaline (October) and zircon (December) as birthstones, and again in 2002, when tanzanite became a birthstone for December.

Most recently, spinel joined peridot in August.

The American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America jointly announced the change, and JA since has launched a consumer-facing marketing campaign to drive demand and excitement for the stone.

“As tastes change, fashion evolves, and as more consumers become interested in gemstones, it is important that our industry evolve to meet their needs,” said Doug Hucker, AGTA president and CEO.

Today’s birthstones
There are small differences among the various birthstone lists used by organizations in the trade.

The AGS, for example, doesn’t include moonstone for June, while JA and AGTA do. The AGTA also lists bloodstone for the month of March, in addition to aquamarine, while JA and the AGS don’t.

Some get as specific as hues, such as blue stones only--either topaz or zircon--for December.

When National Jeweler published the November Birthstone Baubles blog post, which was based on trade lists that included both topaz and citrine, the publication received Facebook feedback indicating that not all shades of topaz could be used to celebrate November. Blue, they contended, was only for December.

After surprise and curiosity led to more research about this, Google revealed that a few major retailers, like Helzberg, Zales and Blue Nile, and other businesses, use blue topaz for the last month of the year, listing only citrine or imperial topaz-like hues of topaz for November, and opting to go with topaz over the traditional zircon in December. 

The differences among all of these many birthstone lists can have both positive and negative effects.


Susan Eisen of Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry Watches Art & Appraiser in El Paso, Texas, said she uses several different lists to help customers choose an alternative if they don’t like what one list dictates as their birthstone. 

At the same time, having so many options can overwhelm consumers. 

“Like anything, when we start having too many options in a category, the uniqueness and thus demand for each option gets diluted, arguably defeating the purpose of having the special category in the first place,” designer Priyanka Murthy of Arya Esha said. 

But having birthstone status, it appears, does a great deal of good for a gemstone regardless. 

“I think birthstone jewelry still sells well and always will,” gemstone dealer and designer Kimberly Collins said.

In addition to giving those gemstones a certain cache, the awareness of birthstones also helps consumers learn about different gems, birthstone or not. It also prompts a store’s sales associates to better educate themselves on colored gemstones and be able to have a conversation at the point of sale.



Spinel is the latest to be afforded this status, offering lucky August babies a variety of different colors and price points.

“Adding spinel gives consumers a wider choice with which to celebrate their birth month. Peridot is a wonderful gemstone but is monochromatic. Spinel offers a wide range of colors and has a rich history in the gem kingdom,” Hucker said. “It has been underappreciated for years and is finally attaining a status befitting of its rarity and beauty.”

Still, Eisen thinks it will take a while for these benefits to come to spinel, noting that, “Having a new birthstone for a month will take ages to get accepted by the public, but we will try to educate them.”

Getting personal
Birthstones, by definition, have long meant something special to those with whom they are associated--it’s their birthday, a loved one’s birthday, a stone to mark a special date.

So today, they’re perfectly positioned to speak to the consumer trend of wanting personal, special pieces. Birthstones provide the perfect opportunity for a meaningful self-purchase or gift.

“There is a greater need and desire on the part of the consumer for meaningful purchases overall, and jewelry is one of them,” said designer Malak Atut of Zaiken Jewelry, adding that designers also are seeing a segment of consumers looking for non-traditional birthstone jewelry.

For example, she had one client who wanted a bracelet with her son’s birthstone on it, but also her dog’s, “because, as she put it to me, ‘he (the dog) was my first baby.’”

Or the pendant Atut created for a woman who had survived cancer and wanted to use the month marking the end of her treatment as a “new birth.” She chose garnet for January, when she was medically cleared.

Besides just representing their month, birthstones also seem to be surrounded by a sort of mysticism.

Gemstones in general are steeped in lore, and birthstones are thought by some to offer benefits to the wearer, especially when combined with the month with which they’re associated.

“Some people might feel like their birthstone offers them protection as well or could act like a talisman,” said Arun Bassalali, president of Lali Jewels.

Retail benefits
Love them or hate them, birthstones still sell, or at least that’s what National Jeweler heard from a number of industry members.

Eisen said that she’s still seeing a lot of interest from customers for birthstone jewelry. “Because so many colors are available for different gemstones, it allows someone to really find the color that calls out to them.”

A birthstone list also allows for more opportunity for sales and satisfying customers’ tastes for interesting-yet-out-of-the-ordinary gemstones, Hucker said. 

Not surprisingly, birthstone sales peak during their associated month. Bassalali said that it might start a few weeks prior to the month and carry through all four weeks. 

This means that birthstone sales also can have a lot do with timing. 

The holiday season, for example, might see more sales of November and December’s birthstones, as well as amethyst in February as both a birthstone and for Valentine’s Day, or emerald in May as both a birthstone and a gift for Mother’s Day. Not to mention, the “big three”--emerald, ruby and sapphire--tend to hold their own and aren’t in need of birthstone status, generally selling well all year round. 

On the other side of things, there might be a bit of a lag for some of the other stones. For Lali Jewels, these are garnet, aligned with January, and yellow-orange citrine, which is November’s birthstone but doesn’t sell well in the United States.

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to awareness and knowledge of a stone,” Bassalali said. “The more your sales staff is knowledgeable about the stone, the better the sales will be.”

Tanzanite, for example, benefited greatly from the television shopping networks picking up on it and flooding the market with goods, leading many retailers to get on board and educate their staff on the gem, he said. 

Outside of emerald, ruby and sapphire, which are always stronger for her, Collins said she does well with garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, peridot, tourmaline, blue zircon and tanzanite. 

Murthy of Arya Esha noted a similar pattern, and said that quartz birthstones seem to be recognized more than other gemstones, and posited that it likely had to do with the availability of quartz on the market. 

“What we are seeing is that a customer’s appreciation for colored stone designer jewelry is enhanced when the colored stone is a birthstone, and the likelihood of that appreciation for the design being translated into a sale goes up significantly when the stones used are birthstones,” she said. 

Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

The Latest

Supplier BulletinMay 26, 2022
Extraordinary Italian Jewelry at JCK and COUTURE

Sponsored by Italian Trade Agency

AuctionsMay 26, 2022
Bonhams New York Jewels Auction Is a White Glove Sale

Jewelry and objects belonging to Bette Midler, heiress Hélène Irwin Crocker Fagan, and Lady Sylvia Ashley were among the highlights.

FinancialsMay 26, 2022
Movado Posts Record Q1 Sales Despite ‘Challenging’ US Market

The company opted not to raise its fiscal guidance, citing a slowdown in the U.S. market as a key reason.

Brought to you by
Dive into GIA’s Pearl Expertise

When it comes to knowing the identity and quality of your pearls, count on GIA as your independent pearl experts.

TechnologyMay 26, 2022
State of Retail: The Pros and Cons of 4 Jewelry-Selling Platforms

From “old-school” eBay to new kid on the block 1stDibs, we asked jewelers about their experiences selling jewelry in non-traditional places.

Weekly QuizMay 26, 2022
This Week’s Quiz
Test your knowledge of the latest jewelry news with this quick test.
Take the Quiz
Policies & IssuesMay 26, 2022
Barbara Wheat Named Executive Director of Ethical Metalsmiths

She has nearly 30 years’ experience in the gem and jewelry industry and a background in nonprofit management.

EditorsMay 25, 2022
7 Standout Tiaras in Sotheby’s Platinum Jubilee Exhibition

Senior Editor Brecken Branstrator chooses the pieces she’d most want to see in person.

Brought to you by
A.I. Grading is Changing Conversations at the Retail Counter

Advanced technology levels the playing field, helping jewelers give customers what they want.

MajorsMay 25, 2022
Anne Hathaway Is Bulgari’s Newest Ambassador

The actress joins Zendaya and others in a new advertising campaign.

IndependentsMay 25, 2022
The Mexican Shack to Close After 47 Years

Owner Steve Delzio shares his thoughts on retirement after nearly five decades in the jewelry industry.

IndependentsMay 25, 2022
Designer Theo Fennell Has Written a Memoir

“I Fear for This Boy” takes readers through the ups and downs of his business and is available for pre-order now.

IndependentsMay 25, 2022
MVEye, Wedding Report Partner on New Jewelry Research Platform

“Today’s Wedding Jewelry Consumer” shares data about engagement ring market size, lab-grown and natural diamonds, and more.

ColumnistsMay 24, 2022
The PR Adviser: 10 Questions to Contemplate

Columnist Lilian Raji wants to walk you through the customer journey. But first, she’d like you to answer a few questions.

Events & AwardsMay 24, 2022
8 Gold Jewelry Designers Unveil New Platinum Designs

Several Couture brands have partnered with Platinum Guild International ahead of the jewelry trade show.

Lab-GrownMay 24, 2022
Kendra Scott Unveils Lab-Grown Engagement Ring Collection

The jewelry company is moving into bridal just a month after branching out into the watch world.

Events & AwardsMay 24, 2022
WJA to Host Diversity Keynote at New Las Vegas Breakfast Event

The Generating Community Impact fundraiser on June 11 will feature Karine Bah Tahé of Blue Level Training.

WatchesMay 23, 2022
Steven Kaiser, Watch Industry Veteran and Beloved Mentor, Dies at 68

Kaiser, whose illustrious career spanned decades, died suddenly on Friday.

IndependentsMay 23, 2022
Long’s Jewelers to Open New Location

The family-owned jeweler is relocating its Braintree, Massachusetts, store to a new space.

IndependentsMay 23, 2022
Luxury Goods Veteran Olivier Stip Joins Chicago Jeweler CD Peacock

He will step into the retailer’s newly created role of chief development officer.

GradingMay 23, 2022
Gem-A Launches Digital Entry-Level Gemology Course

GemIntro is meant to give a broad introduction to gems and gemology.

Recorded WebinarsMay 20, 2022
Watch: Responsible Sourcing and the Gold Supply Chain

Three industry experts discuss “recycled” gold vs. mined, their challenges and benefits, and how jewelers can navigate the area.

FinancialsMay 20, 2022
Richemont’s 2022 Jewelry Sales in the Americas Nearly Double

Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Buccellati put on stellar performances.

AuctionsMay 20, 2022
Piece of the Week: ‘Birds in Flight’ by Oscar Heyman

The New York jeweler made this incredible, colorful Art Deco bracelet featuring tropical birds in 1927.

SurveysMay 19, 2022
5 Predictions for Jewelry Retail in the Second Half of 2022

From a slowdown in sales growth to rising costs, Fruchtman Marketing outlines its expectations for the second half of the year.

MajorsMay 19, 2022
As It Nears 75, Here’s How Grandview Klein Stays Competitive

Once a part of Julius Klein Group, the diamond company combines its direct supply and cutting expertise with a keen eye to the future.

SourcingMay 19, 2022
De Beers’ Rough Sales Up 21% So Far This Year

One analyst cited rising diamond prices and the sanctions on Alrosa as contributing factors.

CollectionsMay 19, 2022
Brilliant Earth Collaborates with Jade Trau

The two have partnered on a capsule collection.

×

This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy