Collecting Antiques: Vintage birthstone jewellery

29 Mar 2023

With Gauteng's two most popular antique fairs coming up, Brooklyn's Antique Fair on the first Saturday monthly in Pretoria, and Nelson Mandela Square Antique Fair on the first Sunday of the month in Sandton, we chatted to some experts about trends in antique and vintage jewellery shopping. 

It's no surprise that birthstones never seem to go out fashion – just like birthday celebrations, and we got pointed in the direction of some amazing statement jewellery pieces that talk to this trend. 

History of birthstones in jewellery

First, a little background info. You may be familiar with your own birthstone – the colourful gemstone associated with the month you were born, often chosen for sentimental pieces of jewellery – but this modern practice also has a rich, centuries-old history shaped by a tapestry of interwoven religious and cultural beliefs.

According to the International Gem Society, historians in the first century believed that a garment embellished with 12 unique gems described in a holy book held religious significance, encouraging followers to collect and use these specific stones in important ornamental objects. Over the first millennium, with the rise of global trade blending customs from around the world, the Eastern belief that gems could be imbued with certain gifts and associated with astrology merged with traditions in the West. This laid the stage for the practise of wearing a single stone during a given month, believing it possessed unique symbolism and would grant the wearer heightened powers.

The modern tradition of assigning gemstones to specific birth months is believed to have emerged amongst jewellery traders in Poland in the 16th or 18th century. In 1912, prompted by more commercial interests, the National Association of Jewellers formalised a list of “birthstones” that resembles what most of us are familiar with today. A few birthstones have been changed or added over the last century and there are also alternative lists of gemstones, including one associated with astrological signs. Here's the most common list: 

Popular Birthstones by Month

January – Garnet
February – Amethyst
March – Aquamarine
April – Diamond
May – Emerald
June – Pearl, Alexandrite, Moonstone
July – Ruby
August – Peridot, Spinel
September – Sapphire
October – Opal, Tourmaline
November – Topaz, Citrine
December – Turquoise, Tanzanite 

Where to find them?

Antique fairs are one of the best places to seek out unique pieces featuring your birthstone, and you can find them used in all types of jewellery, from statement rings to brooches, pendants and necklaces. Birthstones are a great way to commemorate special dates, says Clyde Terry, owner of Clyde on 4th Antiques and Collectables in Melville, who runs the Brooklyn's Antique Fair in Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Square Antique Fair. Clyde chatted to vendor Tyrone Sarkis of Tyrone Sarkis Antiques and Fine Jewellery about trends in antique and vintage jewellery collecting, including the persistent popularity of pieces featuring traditional birthstones. 

Owner Tyrone and in-store Gemologist Melissa say that demand for antique and vintage jewellery has never been higher. Buying antique and vintage jewellery aligns with the popular trend of conscious consumerism or investing in pre-loved pieces over the brand-new. Antique and vintage pieces are also not only durable and crafted using traditional techniques, but typically one-of-a-kind and designed in timeless styles that make a high-impact when worn as occasional statement pieces or everyday. 

Here are Tyrone and Melissa’s favourite antique and vintage jewellery items featuring popular birthstones from their collection. 
January birthstone, garnet. A royal favourite, the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt apparently adorned themselves with this gem.  

February birthstone, amethyst. Amethyst can be found in the collections of Royal families throughout Europe and Asia.

March birthstone, aquamarine. Aquamarine evokes the colours of the sea. They are normally free of inclusions and as clear as water, symbolising purity of spirit and soul.

April birthstone, diamond. A wild and wearable design. This gem is a symbol of clarity and strength.

May birthstone, emerald. Beloved for millennia, emeralds evoke rebirth and renewal and are widely regarded as the colour for spring.

June birthstone, pearl. Pearls originated from water sources around the world. A timeless wardrobe staple, long associated with purity, humility, and innocence, they are also a traditional wedding gift.
July birthstone, ruby. One of the most coveted gems, the name is derived from the Latin word ruber, meaning “red”, the colour of love and passion. 
August birthstone, peridot. Valued in many ancient and mediaeval cultures it has appeared in priests jewellery as early as the 2nd century BCE, and is believed to act as protective talisman.

September birthstone, sapphire. Long associated with royalty and romance and also said to symbolise fidelity and the soul. Sapphire comes from the Greek word sappheiros and blue sapphire is one of the most popular coloured stones.

October birthstone, tourmaline. Green tourmaline promotes courage, strength and stamina.

November birthstone, citrine.

December birthstone, tanzanite.  Tanzanite was one of the most exciting gem discoveries of the 20th century, and is often described as “velvety”, mostly because of its deep and saturated colour.


Related Events

Saturday Mar 2 09:00–15:00 …
Brooklyn's Antique Fair
Sunday Mar 3 10:00–16:00 …
Nelson Mandela Square Antique Fair


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