The story of the Birthstones (known as the stones of the zodiac) is an ancient story, a story that is strongly intertwined with the history of the Jewish religion, with what is called the breastplate of Aaron.

Aaron was the brother of Moses and the first high priest of the Jewish people. In the book of Exodus (ch. 28) God instructs Moses on the vestments that Aaron and his sons should have worn during their offices. Among these vestments was included a breastplate in which twelve stones were to be set, on each stone the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel was to be written: in this way Aaron kept the tribes of Israel on his heart and presented them to God.

Since then the pectoral, called the pectoral of Aaron, was part of the sacred ornaments worn by priests.

This is the origin of the Birthstone story.


According to the biblical description, the twelve jewels of Aaron's breastplate each had to be made from specific minerals, different from each other. Each of them represented a Jewish tribe, whose name was to be engraved on the stone.

The twelve stones were set in the breastplate forming a rectangular figure with 4 rows and three columns.

Today it is not known with absolute certainty which were the twelve stones of Aaron's breastplate. The meanings of the Hebrew names referring to minerals, given by the Masoretic text (the Hebrew version of the Bible officially in use among Jews) are unclear, and although the Greek names for them in the Old Testament are clearer, some scholars believe that they cannot be fully relied upon, both because the breastplate was no longer used at the time of writing the Old Testament, and because different Greek names for various gems changed their meaning between the classical era and modern times.

What, then, were the stones that made up the breastplate?

First line

Odem in the Masoretic text and Sardios in the Old Testament. All authors agree that this stone was red in color. Odem could refer to carnelian or jasper.

Pit'dah in the Masoretic text and Topazios in the Old Testament. Although the name refers to the mineral known today as topaz, this stone was poorly known at the time the Book of Exodus was written. Some suggest that topaz was simply peridot.

Bareḳet in the Masoretic text and Smaragdos in the Old Testament: Bareketh etymologically means 'lightning bolt', hence shimmering or brilliant. Probably the mineral in question was an emerald.

Second Row

Nofekh in the Masoretic text and Anthrax in the Old Testament: there are conflicting opinions on this stone. According to some it would have been red, according to others greenish blue, thus suggesting turquoise or malachite.

Sapir in the Masoretic text and Sapphiros in the Old Testament: Although it appears to refer to sapphire, sapphire was essentially unknown before the Roman Empire era and its use in Greek texts is believed to be a mere transliteration of Hebrew. It is more likely that the term Sapir referred to a mineral similar in color to sapphires, scholars think that the most likely candidate is lapis lazuli.

Yahalom in the Masoretic text and Iaspis ἴασπις in the Old Testament: the word Yahalom seems to be connected with the Hebrew meaning of hitting hard. Some scholars have suggested that Yahalom may refer to diamonds, due to their hardness, although diamond cutting did not occur before the classical era.

Third Row

Lešem in the Masoretic text and Ligurios in the Old Testament: the name seems to refer to some places: Leshem and Liguria respectively. Theophrastus mentions fossilized pine resin, amber, called in Greek liggourrion or lyngurium.

Ševo in the Masoretic text and Acate in the Old Testament: acate certainly refers to agate and ševo can be related to the Assyrian word subu, which means agate. Agates were common in Egypt and Assyria and were considered powerful talismans.

Aḥlamah in the Masoretic text and Amethystos in the Old Testament. Amethystos refers to amethyst, a purple mineral believed to protect against alcohol fumes, commonly used in Egypt. Aḥlamah appears to derive from a term meaning strong, although it may equally be derived from Ahlamu, a place where amethysts have been found.

Fourth Row

Taršīš in the Masoretic text and Chrysolithos in the Old Testament. Chrysolithos does not specifically refer to chrysolite, which was so named much later, but it is an adjective that translates as "golden stone". Could refer to topaz or amber,

Šoham in the Masoretic text and Beryllios in the Old Testament - Beryllios refers to beryl.

Yašfeh in the Masoretic text and Iaspis in the Old Testament. Although yasepheh and iaspis are related to jasper, they do not have the same meaning; while jasper is usually red, the mineral that the Greeks called iaspis was generally green.

The 12 stones

How we go from the stones of Aaron to the zodiacal stones of today is not clear.

Over the years, the twelve stones of Aaron's pectoral have been gradually, between superstitions and legends, probably connected to the twelve signs of the zodiac, only to be associated with the twelve months of the solar year.

Already the first century AD Jewish historian Josephus Josephus believed that there was a connection between the twelve stones of Aaron's breastplate, the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

The stones of the zodiac are found in the history of many cultures, past and present. Magical healing powers or, more simply, the ability to bring good luck were recognized and still are.

However, rarely different cultures agreed on the belonging to the months and zodiac signs of the various stones. There are, therefore, different lists of birthstones over time, which are assigned different properties depending on the place and time.

The reality is that, while descending from the twelve stones of Aaron, modern lists of zodiac stones have little to do with the stones that originally made up the breastplate.

The tastes, the economic interests, the availability and the confused translations of the texts have removed them from their historical origins.

In 1912, the National Jewelers Association in the United States, in an effort to standardize the list, adopted an official list of zodiac stones, which is roughly what we know today. The list has then undergone other changes in the last century, with the addition of some stones and the elimination of others.

So what are the twelve zodiac stones today?

The minerals that make up the official lists vary slightly from country to country, we use the list drawn up in 2013 by the national goldsmiths association of the United Kingdom.

- The birthstone for the month of January is garnet . Some believe that garnets provide safety while traveling.

- February's birthstone is amethyst, which is thought to make you brave.

- If you were born in March, your birthstones are aquamarine and heliotrope. Aquamarine is associated with certain healing powers.

- April welcomes the most coveted birthstone: the diamond . Diamonds remain a symbol of lasting love. The other stone of the month of April is rock crystal.

- Another birthstone associated with love is the emerald, which is the May birthstone along with chrysoprase.

- The June birthstone is the pearl . Pearls are a symbol of purity, as is the moonstone which is also considered the stone of this month

- July birthstones are ruby ​​and carnelian. Ancient cultures believed that ruby ​​could ward off evil while carnelian is considered a stone of vitality, rationality and optimism.

- Peridot is the birthstone of August. It symbolizes strength and is sometimes known as the "evening emerald" due to its light green color.

- The September birthstone is the sapphire which was thought to protect against evil, especially poisoning. The other stone of this month is lapis lazuli.

- The opal belongs to those born in October. It represents fidelity and trust.

- The November birthstone, citrine , is usually associated with love and affection. Topaz is also considered to belong to this month.

- Finally, the December birthstones are tanzanite and turquoise. The latter often used to symbolize luck and success.

Birthstones are a popular and mysterious introduction to the world of minerals. They appeal to audiences around the world regardless of gender, age, nationality or religion.

Birthstones contain secrets and traditions that are peculiar to different cultures and contexts.

There are countless legends about the different powers and properties that the stones of the zodiac possess. Whether you believe these legends or not, it's hard to resist the mystical curiosity that the stones of the zodiac arouse. Getting to know the stones of the zodiac can be an educational and fun experience.