April birthstone – is diamond the only option?
One of the intriguing things about birthstones is the fact there is no unanimous agreement on what each one should be and most sources site multiple stones for the same month! Different cultures have developed differing birthstone calendars and these have often been revised and changed over the years. The advantage this has created for the modern day consumer is that it is now possible to choose from a number of stones for some months of the year according to your taste, ethical considerations and budget. April is a case in point, as traditionally diamond was regarded as the only birthstone for the month but there are actually four other birthstones that have been associated with it over the centuries which are also worth considering.
In recent times, diamond’s reputation as a gemstone has been sullied by its association with ‘conflict’ or ‘blood’ stones, which have been used to fund organised crime, violence, insurrection and civil war in many developing nations, most notably in Africa. Furthermore, diamond production has caused environmental damage in and around many production sites, as well as courting accusations of labour exploitation. Moreover, clever marketing of diamonds over the last century or so, largely by De Beers, has had the effect of inflating prices by a combination of increasing demand and deliberately restricting supply.
For these reasons, some have chosen to shun diamonds as an April birthstone in favour of four interesting alternatives that have proven credibility as true April birthstones: sapphire; opal; white topaz; quartz.
(The ‘traditional’ styled birthstone calendar most people have become accustomed to)
The inclusion of some of these gems as April birthstones stretches back to the ancient civilisations of antiquity, far pre-dating the use of diamonds. One such example is the Ayurvedic birthstone calendar from ancient India, which dates back more than 3,500 years. Some stones that are similar to diamonds have also been included more recently.
The main common element among all birthstones lies in the belief they bring good fortune and prosperity to their owners. Many of the ancient birthstones were largely dictated by the abundance (or absence) of particular gemstones in the environment surrounding each culture and they certainly had a influence on the modern birthstone calendars.
The first attempt at standardisation of the birthstone calendar was made by the American National Association of Jewellers in 1912. Since this time many other gemmological societies have established their own calendars, the more modern of which often refer to “alternative” or “secondary” birthstone options for certain months. Some calendars do list diamond as the only birthstone of April but this is largely a consequence of the intense marketing and popularity of this stone over the past century.
Two of the four alternative April birthstones, sapphire and opal, were long established for the month of April by many ancient cultures, long before diamond. White topaz and quartz were added more recently, largely due to their physical similarity to diamond, affording eye-clean colour and scintillation (or ‘sparkle’) at much lower cost.
(Sapphire is often associated with September but in ancient times it was an April birthstone)
Sapphire was recognised by the ancient Roman, Slavic, Hebrew and Arabic calendars as the April birthstone. Sapphire is a precious variety of the corundum family of gemstones, which includes ruby, and it is in fact true to say that a ruby is effectively a red ‘sapphire’ (whereas a sapphire may be found in a spectrum of colours, including blue, pink, yellow, orange, green, black and white). Blue sapphire is the most popular but pink, green and yellow are increasingly in demand. Sapphire is said to conjure inner peace and serenity, whilst facilitating the release of anxiety and tension. This enigmatic stone has also been linked with relieving depression and frustration, as well as aiding spiritual enlightenment.
Opal was hailed the birthstone of April in the ancient Tibetan calendar (sometimes referred to as the “mystical birthstone calendar” in ancient writings). Opal is a beautiful stone that is renowned for its refraction of a rainbow of colour, a phenomena caused by layers of silica embedded within the physical structure of the stone. Opal is a fragile gemstone and as such must be handled with care. In chemical terms it is a “mineraloid,” an “amorphous” stone with no crystalline structure. The Romans regarded opal as a symbol of optimism and purity, while the ancient Greeks revered it as a source of wisdom. In modern times, opal is highly regarded for its aesthetic and fine reflective qualities. Some spiritualists also believe it helps people express their thoughts and feelings more effectively and openly.
(Opal is another lesser known April birthstone)
White topaz has not been regarded as an April birthstone historically but it has come into modern use as such, largely due to its physical similarity to diamond. One of the key characteristics of white topaz is the ease with which cutters can facet the stone in order to generate spectacular scintillation. Spiritually topaz is said to help its owner abandon negative energy and trapped thoughts.
Akin to topaz, quartz is also a popular alternative to diamond due to its physical similarity and it is especially popular as an April birthstone in the UK. Quartz is said to inspire creativity and it is available in the full spectrum of colour but the white or colourless variety is most closely associated with April. A highly unusual member of the quartz family is the Herkimer Diamond. Herkimer diamonds are actually not diamonds at all but a form of quartz found only in Herkimer County, New York State, USA. They acquired the name “diamond” by virtue of the fact they form as double terminated crystals, or diamond shaped, crystals and they bear a close resemblance to the precious stone.
To those for whom the month of April holds a special significance, it is reassuring to know there are a range of birthstones available with varying degrees of historical connections and modern spiritual interpretations. The main consideration is that you choose as stone to which you are drawn and feel you have a connection with.
(White topaz closely resembles diamond)
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