Why it is that certain months have multiple birthstones while others are assigned only one is a somewhat complicated question: According to the powers that be (that is, the Jewelers of America), additions are tacked on to their official list in order to “[recognize] the importance of historically significant gemstones and [give] gemstone lovers a choice that suits their preferences.” It also can’t hurt that giving a stone special significance for 1/12th of the population gives it a good shot at a sales boost.
August, which (eek!) kicks off today, has three birthstones, depending on whom you consult: peridot, sardonyx, and spinel. Peridot, the most commonly recognized of the three, is a brilliant green stone formed deep beneath the earth’s crust in the upper mantle, similar to diamonds. It’s brought to the earth’s surface through volcanoes or tectonic plate shifts and is mined in Saint John’s Island off the coast of Egypt, Australia, Myanmar, and locally in Arizona, Hawaii, and New Mexico. Its name derives from the Arabic word for gem, faridat, and it’s said to have healing properties that can rid the wearer of nightmares, increase strength, and ward off anxiety.
Sardonyx, meanwhile, is a form of onyx known for its reddish-brown hue banded with white. It’s a popular choice for cameos (so fans of vintage jewelry would be wise to look on Etsy and eBay for antique pieces) and was carried into battle by ancient Greeks and Romans in the form of heroic talismans with carved images of Mars and Hercules.
Just this year, Jewelers of America announced that spinel, too, would be recognized as an official August birthstone. “Ancient gemstone merchants revered spinel, and it was widely sought after by royalty,” said American Gem Trade Association CEO Doug Hucker. “It was then known as ‘balas ruby.’ It wasn’t until the late 18th century that we developed the technology acumen necessary to distinguish spinel as a separate mineral from ruby.”
Despite the ruby association, spinel isn’t only found in red hues: You’ll find black, pink, purple, and orange varieties of the mineral as well, in a wide range of cuts, thanks to its relative hardness compared to other semiprecious stones.
Ahead, shop necklaces, rings, bracelets, and more featuring each of the three gems (starting at just $68, too!), and click here for our guide to July’s birthstone, ruby.