Birthstones and Gemstones: And Speaking of Citrine….

In 1912, when the birthstone list was first established by National Association of Jewelers (which is now Jewelers of America), fine jewelry was, for the most part, still the prerogative of the wealthy, and the types of stones considered “gems” were relatively limited. That was pretty much reflected in the original birthstone list.

ABOVE: This 22.75 cts. antique kite-cut citrine was cut by Nancy Attaway. Photo by Jim Lawson.

In fact, at that time, only diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls were considered “precious stones.” All the other gemstones that we have available today were considered “semi-precious.” You’ll still hear people say things like, “Oh, that’s only a semi-precious stone,” which is a shame. It makes it seem as if these gemstones are lesser somehow, when they are anything but.

But during the 20th century, things started changing. Wealth started trickling down. Women became more independent. Especially after WWII, there was a lot of money, at least in the US, for people to start wanting jewelry.

The look is all lush gold in these earrings by Lynette Cederquist. The 22k granulation, accented with faceted Madeira citrine beads and citrine briolettes give the pieces a classical look. Photo courtesy Lynette Cederquist.

The jewelry industry, in order to expand their market, expanded the list of birthstones, which was popular with customers. In 1952, The Jewelry Council of America added a variety of “alternates” to the main list of birthstones. Alexandrite was added to June, and pink tourmaline (sometimes you’ll see rose zircon) was added to October. They added citrine to November. They replaced lapis, the alternate for December’s turquoise, with blue zircon.
The addition of citrine to topaz as November birthstones wasn’t particularly new, as in 1938, the American Gem Society had allowed its members to sell citrine as an alternative birthstone to topaz. The additions have not stopped, either. In 2002, the American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America added tanzanite to December, and in 2016, they added spinel as an alternate to peridot in August.
What this has done is increase the choices that people have, and in some cases (definitely NOT in the case of alexandrite), it has made more affordable gemstones available to those wanting a birthstone of their own.

Having citrine as an alternate to topaz as your November birthstone does not mean citrine is a less worthy stone. On the contrary, citrine is one of the loveliest colors around, says a person whose favorite color is yellow. (I have a gorgeous 18 carat yellow citrine that I love.) In fact, quartzes are hard, durable, and boy, if you want variety, do they have it! Citrines come in a variety of lovely shades of yellow, from lemony yellow, to golden, to smoky gold, to deep yellow orange, to brownish orange. Because they are relatively inexpensive, you’ll often find cutters experimenting with faceting styles and carving. If you want something unique, you have a very good chance of finding it in a citrine.

So if topaz is not to your taste or in your price range, take a close look at citrine. It is a winner.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Jim Lawson. Citrine supplied courtesy Stuller.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.


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