A DIZZYING DICHOTOMY – MARCH’S BIRTHSTONES, AQUAMARINE AND BLOODSTONE
You cannot find two more different stones to pair together. Aquamarine, a blue variety of beryl, can be cut and faceted. Bloodstone, a green/red variety of chalcedony or jasper, is almost entirely cut as a cabochon and is cryptocrystalline. They’re two stones that have almost nothing in common.
THE HISTORY OF THE TWO AS A BIRTHSTONE
Kunz gives an account of the March bloodstone across the many cultures that had birthstones. The Romans, Arabians, and Poles supposedly regarded bloodstone as March’s birthstone. Curiously, Kunz says that other cultures regarded “jasper” as March’s birthstone. What variety of jasper he may be referring to is not known. It may be possible that it was just any kind of jasper.
It was not until 1912 that aquamarine joined bloodstone as March’s birthstone. In fact, for a long time before 1912, aquamarine was October’s birthstone. It’s hard to say for certain why aquamarine swapped with the vague “jasper” as March’s birthstone. Perhaps it was because jasper was too broad and having a specific stone was more formal.
ABOUT AQUAMARINE AND BLOODSTONE
With two stones, there will be quite a bit to say here.
As stated, aquamarine is a blue variety of beryl. The largest aquamarine known is the Dom Pedro. Today, one of the main sources of aquamarine is Minas Gerais, Brazil. In fact, it may be the best source for the precious stone. Minas Gerais is home to the Maxixe mine which produces the eponymous maxixe variety of aquamarine (beryl) among other gems and minerals.
Maxixe gemstones eventually lose their deep-blue color to sunlight exposure. Radiation can be used to restore its color (radiation is also thought to be the cause of the phenomenal color).
Most gem quality aquamarine are clear and range from a pale sky-blue to the deepest blues. Heat treatment is necessary to achieve gem quality aquamarine as it is known to have awful color tints, chiefly green and yellow. However, its pleochroism can be a boon; viewing it from one angle may give you a better blue while another angle will make it appear colorless. You can use this to distinguish it from other blue gemstones that do not display pleochroism.
Unlike other varieties of beryl, aquamarine rarely has mineral inclusions. This is in stark contrast to emerald (a variety of beryl) which has inclusions so frequently that it is part of the stone’s charm.
Bloodstone, a variety of jasper or chalcedony, displays iron oxide inclusions (mainly hematite) that give it the appearance of being stained by blood spots. The alternate name “heliotrope” is Greek in origin and it means “to turn the sun.” The blood spots on the stone took on a symbolic meaning and it became known as the “martyr’s stone” in Medieval Europe.
Unlike its companion, bloodstone never enjoyed a great degree of popularity. It did have some niche uses, however. Bloodstone was used for cameos and carvings of major statesmen and religious figures, for instance. Looking at just one catalog, one Byzantine intaglio depicts the head of emperor and empress. One cameo has the Virgin Mary. Another cameo depicts St. Michael, sword in hand.
It would not be right to overestimate the influence of bloodstone, however, in religious art. In the famous Marlborough Collection, of the six religious pieces, none have bloodstone. If not for bloodstone’s symbolic use or relative ease of carving, it may never have enjoyed any degree of popularity for centuries.
And here we are today. Aquamarine is still widely used in jewelry, although it is not as prestigious as the ruby or sapphire. And bloodstone is among the most popular tumbled pieces on the market, despite never being a popular stone among the ‘elite’ of the past. Although two very different stones, they have at least their title as March’s birthstone in common.
Augustyn, Allison, and Grande, Lance. Gems and Gemstones: Timeless Natural Beauty of the Mineral World. United Kingdom, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Catalogue of the Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, 3rd Duke of Marlborough ... which Will be Sold by Auction by Christie, Manson & Woods ... June 28, 1875, and Three Following Days. United Kingdom, n.p, 1875.
Kunz, George Frederick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones. Lippincott, 1913.
Miner, Dorothy Eugenia. Early Christian and Byzantine Art: An Exhibition Held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, April 25-June 22 . United States, Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, 1947.