Birthstones are an accepted and cherished tradition. Although typically gifted for birthdays and anniversaries, they’re a beautiful present for any occasion. Rooted in history, each birthstone possesses unique properties and according to some experts, specific powers.

Scholars trace the origin of birthstones back to the Breastplate of Aaron, as described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. The Breastplate boasted 12 unique gemstones that represented the 12 tribes of Israel. It was a religious garment with specific symbolism regarding the tribes. To highlight the special attributes of each tribe, the gems were set in four rows of three.

Although birthstones have religious origins, modern day tradition dictates that the stones are assigned according to birth month. Scholar Flavius Josephus from first century A.D. and St. Jerome from fifth century A.D. first realized the connection between the 12 stones in the Breastplate of Aaron and the 12 zodiac signs. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that gemstones began to be assigned according to birth month. According to scholars, the tradition of month specific birthstones began in Poland.

In 1912, the National Association of Jewelers defined the modern day list of birthstones and the list has remained unchanged. Today, there are three separate lists of birthstones for each month: ancient, traditional, and modern. Gemstones on the “ancient” list have been widely recognized and used for thousands of years, while stones on the “traditional” list have been available for use for the past 500 years. The “modern” list of birthstones boasts gems that have only been widely available for the past 100 or so years. Many of the lists posses gems that overlap between “ancient” and “modern.” Because there are numerous gemstones available for use today, birthstones are often categorized according to color instead of specific stones.

Although birthstones are no longer widely believed to have religious significance, some experts claim the stones do possess healing powers. In fact, Opal, the birthstone for October, is said to hold powers of invisibility and protection from spiritual breakdown. In addition to specific powers, there are long-standing superstitions regarding birthstones. For example, a bracelet with birthstones will supposedly bring the wearer different gifts depending on where it is worn. Worn on the left wrist, a birthstone bracelet is said to promote openness; worn on the right wrist, the birthstone will bring self-confidence. Whether you believe in the superstitions or merely enjoy having a stone that is all your own, birthstones are a classic way to express individuality.