StarStone is a monthly glimpse into the fabulous world of birthstones and the stories which have accompanied them for thousands of years into the modern day.
Each month and every zodiac sign is celebrated with several gemstones, varying by period, context and culture. While these designations are far from an exact science, exploring the historical context of your birthstones can serve as a window into revealing self-knowledge. And, yet another good reason to buy yourself an amazing piece of jewelry.
“A maiden born when September leaves
Are rustling in September’s breeze.
A sapphire on her brow should bind,
T’will cure diseases of the mind.”
—Gregorian birthstone poem
Sapphire is the precious gemstone most often associated with the month of September, and the sign of Virgo. My theory is that the association with Virgo, the Virgin is the backstory for why a sapphire—typically the shade called Cornflower Blue, caused by the presence of titanium in the earth’s crust as the stone formed—is a traditional choice for an engagement ring, assuring the bride’s virtue.
Many modern romantics fell in love with the Kashmir or Cornflower Blue sapphire when Britain’s Prince Charles presented Lady Diana Spencer with a blue sapphire engagement ring in 1981.
She wore it as her “something blue” for wedding-luck.
The ring consists of a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-karat white gold, created by Garrard, who was then jeweler to the Crown.
Diana picked out the ring herself from Garrard’s catalog, and the identical rings were made available for public purchase. Prince William later placed his mother’s ring on the finger of Catherine Middleton in 2010.
Referencing Middleton’s non-royal family of origin, some British society gadflies then dismissed the ring with its large stone ringed by 14 diamonds as the “Commoner’s Sapphire.”
We disagree. No sapphire is common, and in fact each is unique.
In the ancient world, the sapphire was held in the highest regard. A Persian creation myth explains that the earth rests upon a giant sapphire pedestal with the stone’s reflection giving the sky its blue color. According to this belief, the sapphires found on earth are chips that broke off the pedestal as the earth settled into position.
Some versions of the story of Moses state that the Almighty YHWH inscribed His Top Ten onto tablets not merely of stone, but of sapphire. King Solomon’s ring, the celebrated Seal of Solomon, is said to have been a large sapphire which enabled him to command demons and speak the languages of birds.
Helen of Troy loved sapphires, and the gemstone was considered sacred to the god Apollo, who communicated with Pythia, the oracle at Delphi, through the rustling of laurel leaves. She wore sapphires as a sort of decoder-ring, to receive and interpret these cryptic signals from Olympus, and those seeking knowledge from the oracle also wore sapphires to their appointments with Pythia, and made temple offerings of them.
For centuries in Asia and in Europe, sapphires were worn into battle to deflect the blows of enemies. The gems were inlaid into crowns, thrones, scepters, armor, swords and horse-appointments to protect the wearer. Emperor Charlemagne himself wore a sacred amulet of two sapphires surrounding a relic of the True Cross, for in his era (748–814 C.E.), the sapphire was regarded as a heavenly symbol of eternal salvation, should he be killed in battle. To this day, blue sapphires are sometimes embedded into the foundations of buildings under construction, to ensure prosperity.
The formation of sapphires began approximately 150 million years ago. Intense pressure and heat created sapphire deposits between 6 to 18 miles beneath the surface of the earth. Before modern mining techniques were developed, weathering and shifts in the earth’s crust would occasionally reveal the gemstones in their natural state.
The first known sapphire deposits were found along the borderline where the Indian subcontinent pushed into the Asian landmass, resulting in extreme heat and pressure.
Over centuries, streams and rivers wore down the layers of soil to reveal the rich mineral deposits. Today, sapphires are mined in Montana and North Carolina in the USA (slightly paler in tint than the traditional blue sapphire), as well as in Nigeria, Madagascar, Australia, China, Nepal, and many parts of South Asia.
The earliest and most cherished sapphires in history were discovered in India, Kashmir, Burma (now Myanmar) and Sri Lanka. Among the most precious are those which display asterism, “aster” being Greek for star. Needle-like inclusions in the gemstone called rutiles cross to form clear, bright six-pointed stars in the world’s most coveted star sapphires, including the 330-carat Star of Asia housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the even more colossal Star of India, tipping the scales at 563.35 carats, one of the largest gems of its quality ever recorded. It’s kept safely under lock and key at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
(Well, maybe not so safely. The golf-ball-sized stone was stolen, along with several other priceless gems in 1964. The thieves confessed and the Star of India, which was then uninsured, and several other stolen gems, were recovered from a bus-station locker in Miami.)
A Greek word that sounds like “sapphire” confuses the issue of this beloved gem’s origin: the blue stone the Greeks were talking about is actually Lapis Lazuli. And here’s the big reveal: sapphires don’t have to be blue.
Different mineral combinations in the earth’s crust during the formation of the stone can result in differing colors of sapphire.
When iron is present, the sapphire will take on a brilliant lemon-yellow shade reputed to bring martial harmony, and enhance male confidence.
When vanadium is in the mix during the formation, the sapphire may take on a majestic violet tone.
Today, peachy-pink sapphires are enjoying a huge spike in popularity, and topping the list is the voluptuous Padparadscha, named for the blushing petals of the sacred lotus. Jennifer Lopez sported a pink sapphire engagement ring in the past—and perhaps another is on the horizon.
Other gems belonging to September include Lapis Lazuli, probably because it’s blue, like the earliest-known sapphires.
Peridot, now associated more with the next star-sign in the queue, Libra, was considered the birthstone for September until 1912, when the gem was moved to August, for Leo.
Sardonyx, a handsome, red-and-black banded onyx, carries an association with the month of September dating back to classical Rome, where centurions wore this gem into battle to give them courage.
In the Hindu calendar, zircon is the birthstone for September, as well as the talismanic stone for Virgo. If you’re thinking “Whuuut?”, you may be confusing the zircon, a rare, precious gem, with cubic zirconia, a cheap, synthetic diamond imitator. Zircon is an exceptionally hard, brilliant stone which was incorrectly classified for centuries and mistaken for other gems. In fact, the huge, raspberry-jam center stone in England’s Crown Jewels called the “Black Prince’s Ruby” is, in fact, an enormous, uncut red zircon. Prior to the discovery of zircons, the Hindu calendar revered moonstones for September.
Each gem has its own properties and its own story. As a Virgo, you are a perfectionist who loves law and order, tidiness, and can fold a fitted sheet with excruciating precision. So it’s no surprise that sapphire, the gem believed to snap the arrows of enemies in mid-air, finds its home in your sign.
Your element is earth, which literally keeps you grounded. Mercury, your ruling planet, is the messenger between the realms, so you value clear, quicksilver communication.
Given the agitated state of the world in September in 2021, the classic blue sapphire may be the most soothing and empowering choice. And listen closely for whispered messages from Apollo.
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Photo: Pexels; Kuromi Lu via Unsplash; Pexels