If you love the color blue in all its shades, then December is your lucky month. Its four officially recognized birthstones showcase a spectrum from sunny turquoise and beachy blue topaz to the iciest indigo of tanzanite and mesmerizing blue zircon.
Turquoise comes from the French name for “Turkish stone” as it was known to traders in medieval times. It was one of the most popular gems from the beginning of recorded history – a favorite of Egyptian pharoahs and Aztec emperors alike.
Turquoise forms in many of the world’s desert regions, in copper deposits where water has moved through aluminous rock. During this chemical reaction, minerals give it its characteristic color and veining. The more iron and aluminum it contains, the greener the color of the turquoise, while higher copper content results in a stronger blue color that is most desirable.
Turquoise jewelry is highly versatile in its design potential and easy to wear if it receives proper care. Avoid exposure to chemicals and oils, and store safely where it won’t be scratched by harder gems.
Tanzanite, the newest addition to the birthstone array, was discovered in the 1960s, named for the African nation of Tanzania where it is found in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Its alluring, exotic color has made it increasingly popular ever since and in 2002, AGTA made it an official December birthstone.
Tanzanite is a form of the mineral zoisite that can appear to change color, ranging from deep blue to purplish pink depending on the lighting. Most jewelry-grade gems are heat-treated to preserve their color and enhance their clarity.
Tanzanite is a softer gem most commonly used in pendants and earrings to prevent accidental damage. It is suitable for everyday wear, but protect it from sharp impact and extreme temperatures, and clean gently – never use ultrasonic cleaners.
Like a diamond, topaz in its purest form is colorless – it’s the gases and other minerals trapped inside the crystals that give it color. The composition of a topaz makes it highly sensitive to treatments such as heat and irradiation that can change or enhance the color. This is how we get the hugely popular blue topaz, which is December’s most popular and beloved birthstone.
Topaz is a hard stone but always avoid impacts that could cause cracking. Clean gently with soapy water – ultrasonic and steam cleaners can discolor or damage the stone.
Lastly, the lesser-known blue zircon is a stunning alternative birthstone found in nature, and not to be confused with the “cubic zirconium” or man-made diamond simulant. Its intense color can take on a greenish hue when enhanced by heating. It’s a very dense gemstone but can chip easily, so it’s a better choice for earrings and beautiful pendant designs.
Want to read more about gemstones? See the Gemological Institute of America’s excellent website at www.gia.edu.
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