Discovery

Born in December? Here’s Why Turquoise, Tanzanite and Zircon are Your Birthstones

By: Shmukler Design

A selection of three stunning gems are yours for the picking if your birthday happens to fall in the month of December. These sparklers include tanzanite, turquoise, and zircon. Turquoise is the original birthstone, for the month of December with the other two added over the last 67 years.

Do you gravitate toward the blue tones found in tanzanite and turquoise, or do your preferences draw you into the rainbow of options that Zircon offers? Perhaps you are enticed by the storied history of turquoise, or the excitement of a young gem like tanzanite. Regardless of where you are on the interest spectrum, everything you need to know about December’s birthstones appears below, starting with Turquoise.

History and Attributes of Turquoise

Turquoise has been cherished for thousands of years. The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt adorned themselves with turquoise, while ancient Chinese artisans were including it in their designs more than 3,000 years ago. Famously, the funereal mask of Tutankhamun (King Tut: b. 1342 – d. 1325 BC) is encrusted with turquoise. The British Royal family is a fan of the stone as well, proving that the popularity of this birthstone is truly timeless.

The name of this stone is fairly new compared to its beginnings. Turquoise is a French word derived from turquois meaning “Turkish” because the gem was brought from Turkey to Europe. Ancient Egyptians called turquoise “mefkat,” which means both “joy” and “delight.”

Turquoise is an opaque gem with hues that range from blue to green. It often has veins of rock remnant — called matrix — that runs through it. It has been mined in the Nishapur district of Iran for more than 1,000 years. New Mexico was once the largest producer of turquoise in the United States, but in the 1920s, Arizona and Nevada mines gained more prominence. However, the largest geographical producer of turquoise in the world today is China’s Hubei Province.

Turquoise is the traditional gem of 11th wedding anniversaries, and in European tradition, the gift of a turquoise ring means “forget me not.” This December birthstone is one of the only gems that is not judged by the 4 Cs, (carat, color, clarity, and cut) and — according to the Gemological Institute of America — is considered most prized when it is displayed in an even, intense, medium blue, which is sometimes referred to as robin’s egg blue or sky blue in the jewelry industry.

Legends of Turquoise

Turquoise remains very important to Native Americans and is a major gemstone in their jewelry. The Apache — which includes the Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Lipan, Mescalero, Salinero, Plains and Western Apache — believe turquoise could be found by following a rainbow to its end, and that attaching it to a bow or firearm made one’s aim more accurate. The Puebloans claimed turquoise receives its bluish hue from the sky, while the Hopi Native American tribe maintain the stone was produced by lizards scurrying over the earth.

Since its discovery many thousands of years ago, Turquoise is also believed to bring its wearer good health and fortune. Starting in the 13th century, the stone was thought to protect the wearer from falling (especially off horses), suggesting it was a good omen in the quest to protect oneself from disaster. Hindu mystics believe seeing turquoise after viewing the new moon will bring amazing wealth. Finally, when it comes to the legends associated with Turquoise, the gem is still to this today in Tibet considered a national treasure, where it is thought to grant health and good fortune, as well as protection from evil.

In addition to protection, turquoise is said to cultivate happiness and harmony, while some ancient cultures considered it an anti-inflammatory and detoxifying agent and used it to fight viral infections, as well as ward off depression and anxiety.

Care and Cleaning of Turquoise

Turquoise has a Mohs hardness rating of 5 to 6, which is moderately hard. This birthstone should not be treated at all. That said, some turquoise is treated to supposedly improve its durability, polish, and overall appearance — usually entailing dying or chemically enhancing the stone by adding an epoxy or acrylic resin for greater hardness or more enhanced color. While this occurs in the jewelry marketplace, we always recommend you avoid treated turquoise.

Turquoise is generally stable to light, but high heat can cause discoloration and breakage for this December birthstone. It can also be damaged by acids, and if not treated for stabilization, it can become discolored by some chemicals, cosmetics, and occasionally from prolonged exposure to skin oils and body perspiration.

At Shmukler Design, a Southern California-based custom jeweler, we recommend cleaning turquoise jewelry with warm, soapy water and avoiding steam or ultrasonic cleaners. Treated turquoise is easily damaged by heat.

Next up — December’s second birthstone, Tanzanite.

A Brief History of Tanzanite

Tanzanite is a newcomer to the gem world, not making it to the list of December birthstones until late-2002. In fact, it’s not even a century old. Seen as one of the most exciting gem discoveries of the 20th century, blue stones emerging from Tanzania were identified as the mineral zoisite in 1962. In 1967, the primary source of the stone was discovered to be the Merelani Hills of Tanzania near Mount Kilimanjaro, and the gem was officially named for its birthplace. Tanzania is still the only place this December birthstone is commercially mined.

Tanzanite is often described as “velvety,” because of its deeply saturated color, which ranges from a pure blue to rich violet. It gained popularity here in the United States after a 1968 campaign from Tiffany & Co., which became this birthstone’s main international distributor. Ergo, the company’s clever phrase: “Tanzanite can only be found in two places, Tanzania and Tiffany’s.” Tiffany’s campaign was a success, and tanzanite is now the traditional 24th wedding anniversary gift.

And since discovery of tanzanite is recent, there isn’t much folklore surrounding it. Some modern healers believe tanzanite has physical and mental soothing and calming properties.

Taking Care of Tanzanite

Tanzanite is resistant to the effects of normal heat, light, and common chemicals. It has a 6 to 7 rating on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness (where talc has a hardness of 1, and diamond has a hardness of 10). Most tanzanite begins as a brownish stone that is heat-treated to produce the blue to violet hues that characterize this December birthstone. The resulting color is permanent and there are no additional durability concerns.

Here at Shmukler Design, we feel tanzanite is best set in earrings or pendants if you are wearing it often. It is not recommended for a ring that gets daily wear, but with the right protective mounting, it is perfectly suited for special occasion jewelry.

Like turquoise, tanzanite is best cleaned with warm, soapy water. As a result, we recommend that you do not use ultrasonic or steam cleaners on your tanzanite jewelry, as this approach to cleaning it may result in permanent damage.

Finally, let’s turn our attention to the third birthstone for December — Blue Zircon, which joined turquoise as a December birthstone in 1952, and is considered the traditional stone for a 4th wedding anniversary.

A History of Blue Zircon

The eldest of the three December birthstones, blue zircon is considered the oldest known material on Earth. The oldest fragment of the stone, found in Australia, is thought to have been formed at a very early stage of our planet — a stone estimated to be 4.4 billion years old. It has a broad color palette of red, orange, yellow, brown, green and blue. And it also appears as colorless, a stone known for its brilliance and flashes of multicolored light. In fact, colorless zircon has for centuries been confused with diamonds, as well as synthetic cubic zirconia.

The origin of zircon’s name is often debated by those who focus on such things. Some believe it comes from the Arabic word zarkun, meaning “cinnabar” or “vermilion.” Others think the source is the Persian word zargun, or “gold colored.” Both could be true, given the rainbow of colors in which zircon can be found.

When it comes to mining of this December birthstone, that often takes place near where sapphire is found, with Australia and Sri Lanka being the two largest sources of zircon. Various hues of zircon can also be found in Brazil, Korea, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Thailand, and Vietnam. Cambodia and Burma produce some of the most valuable zircon due to the deep blues of the stones mined in these locations.

Myths of Zircon

During the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries), zircon was perceived to lull one into a deep sleep and scare off evil spirits. Other Middle Age myths surrounding zircon included the belief that the stone protected its owner from death, poison, and even general harm. (And in case you’re wondering, those myths were uncovered in a deep review by scholars of various religious writings.)

In the Hindu religion, for example, zircon alternates with hessonite garnet as one of the gems of the navaratna — a Sanskrit compound word literally meaning nine gems. When worn together, the nine gems were said to protect the wearer and bring wealth, wisdom, and good health. The stones are also thought to influence the wearer’s life on earth when matched with specific planets according to Hindu astrology.

Finally, zircon is also thought to spiritually ground those in need and is said, when worn, to positively impact low self-confidence and poor balance.

Cleaning and Care of Blue Zircon

Zircon is a 6.5 to 7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, making it durable but still susceptible to damage from harder gems, such as diamonds. It is commonly heat-treated to produce blue and colorless varieties, as well as orange, yellow, and red, and those stones may revert to a light brown color after prolonged exposure to bright light.

Non-treated variations of zircon are generally stable when exposed to light. The stone is stable when exposed to chemicals, but heat exposure can alter the color of some zircon. Zircon can also erode when exposed to friction, so we recommend refraining from wearing it in rough conditions, like when doing housework or when playing sports.

Just like its fellow December birthstones, zircon should not be put in an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. Instead, clean your zircon with a soft brush and mild soap in warm water.

For more information about turquoise, blue zircon, or tanzanite — or how to create a setting that makes December’s birthstones stand out and sparkle — please call us at (949) 870-9915 or use the online contact form on the Shmukler Design website.

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