I’ve been doing research on birthstone history and the 7th Cavalry for a new book, and I’m reminded again of how much I love the Internet.
When I started writing, the Internet was just barely starting, so I had to rely on print sources. The research for my first historical romance, Rogue’s Hostage, took a long time. Some questions I had weren’t answered until my husband and I made a trip to Quebec City in Canada! (Plus it’s always fun to see the places you’re writing about. Any excuse for a chance to travel.)
In any case, the Internet is now chock full of wonderful information for writers to access in minutes or hours, rather than days or weeks. Ah, ye old inter-library loan.
Anyway, I had decided I needed a valuable piece of jewelry for the new plot and thought it would be cool to connect it to a character’s birthstone. But how old was the concept of birthstones?
Quite old, as it turns out. Apparently the concept of assigning gems to categories goes back to the Old Testament when Aaron’s breastplate had 12 gems on it, each representing one of the tribes of Israel. In the Middle Ages, Jewish jewelers transferred the gems to the signs of the Zodiac and introduced them to Europe. It wasn’t long before the gems became associated with months of the year rather than the pagan astrological signs. You can read more about birthstone history here.
But are the birthstones still the same today? Not exactly. Here’s a graphic of the modern birthstone system, though there are now subsidiary gems assigned to the months as well. The “modern” list dates to 1912.
Again, thanks to our wonderful World Wide Web, I was able to easily locate a Gregorian Birthstone poem that was published by Tiffany and Co. in 1870, perfect for my 1893-set Western historical romance. Most are the same, but not all. March, June, August and December vary.
But which gemstone to choose? Which was the most valuable at the time?
According to an article written in 1949 that some lovely person digitized and uploaded the Internet, I learned that “from 1872 to the present day (1949) the emerald has been the most expensive stone.”
Here’s the verse for the month of May:
Who first beholds the light of day
In spring’s sweet flowery month of May
And wears an emerald all her life
Shall be a loved and happy wife.
Great, but what kind of jewelry?
I talked to my neighbor, whose father was a jeweler, and she suggested a brooch. They’re not very popular now, but were in the 19th century. I found this photo of a vintage brooch at Deposit Photos and I think it will be perfect for my book, since it has not one but two large emeralds.
Would someone kill for that? Maybe, if he were desperate enough.
What are you researching?
Linda McLaughlin / Lyndi Lamont
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