December's Birthstones – Turquoise and Zircon

December is an exceptionally lucky month for birthstones. Since techniques to scientifically distinguish different gemstones are a relatively new occurrence, traditionally it was the colour of the gemstone that was more important than the type. It might have been that Lapis Lazuli was the original December birthstone, and with lots of cases of mistaken identity, it became accepted that almost any blue stone could be chosen. Turquoise, Tanzanite, and Blue Zircon are the current top contenders for the honour of being December's birthstone, though blue zircon is relatively rare and most blue zircon on the market is regular zircon that has been heat-treated to gain its colour. So which blue December birthstone will you choose? Our favourites are the modern turquoise and traditional zircon.

What is turquoise?

Turquoise is considered a semi-precious stone that's an opaque blue-green colour. It can have a solid colour, or be veined throughout with browns and greys. It takes millions of years for turquoise to form, and it all begins when water trickles into sandstone that is rich with copper, aluminium or other minerals. The copper provides the blue colouration, while aluminium adds the green hue. The brown-grey veins, called matrix, are remnants of the host rock and devalue the turquoise gemstone slightly.

Iran (formerly Persia) is considered to have some of the finest turquoise deposits. The term "Persian Turquoise" is used to describe turquoise of the highest quality and a uniform vein-free colour. Veined turquoise is usually found in the American continents.

Turquoise has a moderate hardness, six on the Mohs scale, and is suitable for most jewellery applications when treated with care. It's been prized as a gemstone and a holy stone for thousands of years. Turquoise gets its name from the Turkish traders who brought the gemstone to the European market from Iran many centuries ago. It's from the French "Turk's Stone". It's now mined in many other countries including the United States of America where it was prized by Native American shamans, north-eastern Europe, South America and right here in Australia. Some turquoise gems on the market today have been stabilised with resins or dyed to improve their colour. A natural, unblemished turquoise gemstone of uniform colour remains relatively rare and highly valuable. Tiffany & Co.'s Gregorian Birthstone Poem, published in 1870, has this to say about December's turquoise birthstone ...

If cold December gave you birth,

The month of snow and ice and mirth,

Place on your hand a turquoise blue;

Success will bless whate’er you do.

What is zircon?

Zircon is a transparent gemstone naturally occurring in many colours. Clear zircons were long thought to be diamonds until reliable testing was developed to tell the difference, and clear zircon remains a common diamond alternative in jewellery use. Natural zircon can be found in shades of yellow, green, red, brown and blue. The more golden tones are the most commonly occurring, while blues, greens and reds are the rarest and most valuable. It is thought that zircon got its name from its golden hued stones; "Zar Gun" being the old Persian term for gold coloured.

Image attribution: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The confusion between clear zircon and diamond is easy to understand. Zircon can have within it the same 'fire' emitting flashes of colour. It's also incredibly tough. In fact, three zircon gemstones found in Jack Hills, Australia, have been scientifically proven to be the oldest minerals ever discovered on earth. The three zircons were all tested to be around 4.375 BILLION years old! Considering the earth itself is 4.5 billion years old, these zircons came along pretty soon after the earth formed, and have withstood intense heat, crushing pressure and tectonic activity before once again reaching the earth's surface to endure thousands of years of weathering - and they survived!

Australia is the place for zircon deposits, with 37% of the world's jewellery grade zircon being mined here.

Many zircon stones in high street jewellery stores have been heat treated to attain a brighter, bluer colour, and zircons can also be successfully reproduced in a laboratory. If the genuine article is important to you, check with your jeweller that you are buying a verified natural zircon.

Although the names are similar, zircon is not the same as cubic zirconia. Cubic Zirconia is an entirely man-made imitation diamond. You can learn more about cubic zirconia here. (If link is not available see the related posts below).

Zircon is a dense stone, meaning that a carat weight of zircon gives a smaller stone than a carat weight of most other gemstones. It's also reasonably durable, measuring 7.5 on the Mohs scale, though it's fairly brittle and can be subject to chipping.

What does turquoise symbolise?

Turquoise was the stone of ancient shamans, so it's rather appropriate that turquoise symbolises wisdom and good fortune. In other cultures it is associated with the blue of the sky and symbolises Heaven.

What does zircon symbolise?

Zircon symbolises prosperity and honour. In its gold and brown colours it is associated with the earth, and so is considered a grounding stone.

Turquoise healing powers*

Turquoise, like the tranquil waters and calm summer skies it resembles, is considered to be very soothing to the soul and stress-relieving. Physically, turquoise is said be anti-inflammatory and to aid in detoxification. If you suffer from issues of the jaw, wearing turquoise is said to help ease tight jaw muscles and relieve the symptoms of TMJD.

Zircon healing powers*

Wearing zircon is said to aid restful sleep, and increase self-confidence. In healing, different colours of zircon can have different restorative effects, for instance brown zircon relieves migraines, red zircon eases pain, and yellow zircon clears depression. Zircon has been considered to ease problems of the lungs, relieving asthma symptoms and bronchial discomfort, It can also relieve cramping and painful periods.

*NOTE: Any medical 'advice' contained in these articles is not to be taken as proven. It is merely based on historic superstition and belief. If you are suffering any worrying symptoms, please seek the help of your doctor or trained medical professional before seeking the help of a gemstone!

Turquoise superstitions and beliefs

Turquoise is a stone of protection, guarding against attack and accidents. It's particularly useful in protecting horses and their riders from falls and injury. Sixteenth century physician, Camillus Leonardus, wrote: "So long as a rider hath the Turquoise with him his horse will never tire him and will preserve him from any accident, and defend him that carries it from untoward and evil casualties."

In Middle Eastern cultures, turquoise is often still fastened to the bridles of horses for luck and protection.

Native Americans would place turquoise in the graves and tombs of their dead to guard and protect the resting place. Some tribes believed that turquoise was pieces of sky fallen to earth.

Ancient Persians would wear turquoise around the neck or wrist to protect against unnatural death. If the stone changed colour it was a warning of impending doom, though it has recently been discovered that exposure to light and chemicals naturally present in the skin and environment can change the colour of turquoise. King John of England (1167-1216) is said to have realised he had consumed the poison that caused his death when the turquoise he was wearing changed colour.

Turquoise has a long association as a stone of protection, so it's hardly surprising that this continues in our modern world. Wearing turquoise during flights is considered good luck!

Zircon superstitions and beliefs

As an ancient stone with many colours, zircon has attracted a wealth of superstitions and beliefs. Wearing pink zircon at night was thought to assist in astral travel for those willing to take spiritual flight while sleeping.

Orange zircon can guard the home against burglary and theft, and can even draw wealth and riches into the home.

Wearing of zircon is also said to guard against evil spirits and assist with achieving ambitions.

Turquoise in history

The first verified use of turquoise is by the Ancient Egyptians around 3000 years ago, though it's likely that people have used turquoise for many years before that. Ancient Egyptian graves have been found with decorative turquoise inlays, and Tutankhamun's death mask was decorated with turquoise.

Many eastern cultures have used turquoise to line the domed ceilings of mosques and other religious buildings to represent the sky and Heaven.

Many Native American cultures have a strong bond with turquoise, using it in religious and spiritual ceremonies. Warriors and hunters would sometimes tip their bows with turquoise for luck and to make their arrows fly true.

Decoratively, turquoise has been used as a mosaic decoration by Ancient Aztecs in the use of death masks and religious offerings.

Image attribution: Silverborders [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Zircon in history

Zircon was very popular during the late Victorian period in England. Its blue hues were considered perfect for the new Aesthetic Period of bright romantic jewellery, while smoky and brown zircon remained popular in Victorian mourning jewellery. You can read more about Victorian jewellery in our blog article. It was during the late Victorian period that Tiffany's gemstone buyer, George Kunz, proposed changing Zircon's name to Starlite to reflect its brilliance, but, try as he might, the name never caught on.

In biblical times, Zircon was known as Hyacinth.

Were you born in December?

December-born people are honest and open. They are great educators, loving to share their knowledge but not in a big-headed way - they simply want to help. The December-born have a great energy and drive, and their concern for others and willingness to help makes them both great leaders and team players. December people are generally cheerful, rational, calm and kind. Once they have settled on their point of view they are likely to stick to it, but that doesn't mean they don't also respect the opinions of others. Does that sound like you? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Next week: "Do Clip-On Earrings Hurt?" Find the truth - are clip-on earrings really as painful as people believe?

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