June Birthstones | Pearl, Alexandrite & Moonstone Gems
June is one of only two months that has three birthstones associated with it, giving the lucky people born in June a choice of gemstones between pearl, alexandrite, and moonstone.
June’s birthstones range from creamy-colored opalescent pearl and moonstone to the rare color-changing alexandrite. With this spectrum of price points and color options, people with June birthdays can choose a beautiful gemstone to fit any mood or budget.
Pearls are the only gemstones made by living creatures. Mollusks produce pearls by depositing layers of calcium carbonate around microscopic irritants that get lodged in their shells—usually not a grain of sand, as commonly believed.
While any shelled mollusk can technically make a pearl, only two groups of bivalve mollusks (or clams) use mother-of-pearl to create the iridescent “nacreous” pearls that are valued in jewelry. These rare gemstones don’t require any polishing to reveal their natural luster.
Appropriately, the name “pearl” comes from the Old French perle, from the Latin perna meaning “leg,” referencing the leg-of-mutton shape of an open mollusk shell. Because perfectly round, smooth natural pearls are so uncommon, the word “pearl” can refer to anything rare and valuable.
The rarest, and therefore most expensive pearls are natural pearls made in the wild. The majority of pearls sold today are cultured or farmed by implanting a grafted piece of shell (and sometimes a round bead) into pearl oysters or freshwater pearl mussels.
Pearls are very soft, ranging between 2.5 and 4.5 on the Mohs scale. They are sensitive to extreme heat and acidity; in fact, calcium carbonate is so susceptible to acid that pearls will dissolve in vinegar.
The finest pearls have a reflective luster, making them appear creamy white with an iridescent sheen that casts many colorful hues.
Cultured freshwater pearls can also be dyed yellow, green, blue, brown, pink, purple, or black.
Black pearls—which are mostly cultured because they are so rare in nature—aren’t actually black but rather green, purple, blue, or silver.
Pearls used to be found in many parts of the world, but natural pearling is now confined to the Persian Gulf waters near Bahrain. Australia owns one of the world’s last remaining pearl diving fleets, and still harvests natural pearls from the Indian Ocean.
Today, most freshwater cultured pearls come from China. South Sea pearls are cultured along the northwestern coastline of Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Besides being one of three birthstones for June, the pearl is also the birthstone for babies born under the signs of Gemini and Cancer, and frequently gifted on 1st, 3rd, 12th and 30th wedding anniversaries.
Pearls have been used as adornment for centuries—at least as far back as ancient Greece, where they believed pearls were the tears of the gods. The oldest known pearl jewelry was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 B.C.
Ancient Japanese folktales told that pearls were created from the tears of mythical creatures like mermaids and nymphs. Early Chinese civilizations believed that dragons carried pearls between their teeth, and the dragon must be slain to claim the pearls—which symbolized wisdom.
Other cultures associated pearls with the moon, calling them “teardrops of the moon.” Hindu folklore explained that dewdrops fell from the moon into the sea, and Krishna picked one for his daughter on her wedding day.
Because natural pearls were so rare throughout history, only the richest echelon could afford them. During the Byzantine Empire, rules dictated that only the emperor was allowed to wear these treasured gemstones. Ancient Egyptians were often buried with their prized pearls.
Tudor England was known as the Pearl Age because of the stone’s popularity with the upper class during the sixteenth century. Portraits showed royals wearing pearl jewelry and clothing adorned with pearls.
Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900s when the first commercial culturing of saltwater pearls began in Asia. Since the 1920s, cultured pearls have almost completely replaced natural pearls in the market—making this classic gemstone affordable for nearly any budget.
Pearls make the perfect gift for babies born in June or under the signs of Gemini or Cancer. As ancient symbols of purity and innocence, pearls are traditionally worn by a bride on her wedding day—making pearl jewelry a great gift to celebrate a bride-to-be or a 1st, 3rd, 12th or 30th anniversary.
If you’re shopping for perfectly round natural pearls, you’ll need patience and a large pocketbook. Most pearls on the market today are produced through culturing, giving pearl buyers a wealth of options.
Most freshwater cultured pearls are made in China, while common saltwater cultured pearls include Akoya, white or golden South Sea, and black Tahitian. Colors can range from creamy white to pink, yellow, brown, purple, blue, green, silver or an iridescent rainbow of hues like a peacock.
Pearls are one of few gemstones not measured by carats. Luster is the most important aspect of choosing a pearl. The finest pearls are metallic and reflective like mirrors.
Pearls can range in size from 3mm to 13mm. Because pearls do not require polishing or faceting like most gemstones, finding a pair of pearls that match perfectly in size, color and luster can be more difficult—and more expensive. A matched strand of natural pearls may sell for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars.
Beware of imitation pearls or shell pearls, which are made from conch shells or glass coated with a solution containing fish scales. Rubbing two pearls together will reveal if they are smooth imitation stones, or if they feel gritty from the nacre that comprises natural and cultured pearls.
Expert gemologists can distinguish natural pearls from cultured pearls by using gemological X-ray equipment. Natural pearls consist entirely of concentric growth rings, while cultured pearls have a solid nucleus of the bead or shell that was implanted to stimulate pearl production.
A relatively modern gemstone, alexandrite was discovered in Russian emerald mines located in the Ural Mountains. Legends claim that it was discovered in 1834 on the same day that future Russian Czar Alexander II came of age, hence the name honoring him. Because this unique gemstone changed colors from green to red—the national colors of Russia—alexandrite became Imperial Russia’s official gemstone.
Often described as “emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is a rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that changes color from bluish green in daylight to purplish red under incandescent light.
This chameleon-like behavior is the result of its uncommon chemical composition—which includes traces of chromium, the same coloring agent found in emerald. The unlikelihood of these elements combining under the right conditions makes alexandrite one of the rarest, costliest gemstones.
The alexandrite mined from Russia’s famed deposits set the quality standard for this stone. Today, most alexandrite comes from Sri Lanka, Brazil, and East Africa—generally paling in comparison to the vivid colors of Russian gemstones.
With a hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs scale, alexandrite is softer than sapphire and harder than garnet—the other gemstones that can change color. However, due to its scarcity, alexandrite is more valuable than most gemstones, even rubies and diamonds.
Associated with concentration and learning, alexandrite is believed to strengthen intuition, aid creativity and inspire imagination—bringing good omens to anyone who wears it.
The controversial history of alexandrite dates back to Imperial Russia, where it was first discovered in emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Its Finnish discoverer initially mistook it for emerald before realizing it changed colors under different light sources.
According to legend, this gemstone was named for Alexander II because it was discovered on the future czar’s birthday in 1834. Because alexandrite’s red and green hues matched Russia’s military colors, it became the official gemstone of Imperial Russia’s Tsardom.
Russian jewelers were fascinated by this rare color-change gemstone. George Frederick Kunz, the master gemologist at Tiffany & Co., was also fond of it, and produced a series of alexandrite rings between the late 19th and early 20th century. Alexandrite was occasionally used for jewelry in Victorian England, as well.
After Russia’s mine deposits were exhausted, the popularity of alexandrite waned until new supplies were discovered in Brazil in 1987. Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa are now the main sources for alexandrite, though these are not as vividly colored as the original Russian gemstones.
Because it’s so scarcely available, fine-quality alexandrite is practically unaffordable to the general public. Even lower quality stones are expensive and limited in supply.
Since the 1960s, labs have grown synthetic alexandrite—not to be confused with simulated alexandrite, which is actually corundum or colored crystals infused with chromium or vanadium for color. Creating synthetic alexandrite is an expensive process, so even lab-grown gemstones can be costly.
One of the rarest and most valuable gemstones, alexandrite is a luxurious birthstone for lucky babies born in June. It’s also the traditional gift to celebrate a 55th wedding anniversary.
Color change is the most important factor when determining alexandrite’s quality and value. The brighter the colors and the more dramatic the change from bluish green in daylight to purplish red under incandescent light, the more valuable the gemstone.
Like most gemstones (except its fellow June birthstone, the pearl), alexandrite is weighed in carats. Higher clarity may weaken the gemstone’s color change, so color is much more important than clarity in this case.
Alexandrite is more expensive than most gemstones, including sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. Top-quality Russian alexandrite has sold for as much as $10,000 for one carat.
Most of the original Russian gemstones belong to museums or private collectors. The few gemstones that are produced today only fit the budgets of the most discerning gemstone experts.
Alexandrite is a solid investment because of its rarity, durability, and historical significance. If you’re on the hunt for a rare, color-changing alexandrite, visit an American Gem Society jeweler who can help you find the best gemstone for you.
June’s third birthstone, moonstone, was named by the Roman natural historian Pliny, who wrote that moonstone’s shimmery appearance shifted with the phases of the moon.
The most common moonstone comes from the mineral adularia, named for an early mining site near Mt. Adular in Switzerland that supplied this gemstone. This site also birthed the term adularescence, which refers to the stone’s milky glow, like moonlight floating on water.
Moonstone is composed of microscopic layers of feldspar that scatter light to cause this billowy effect of adularescence. Thinner layers produce a bluish sheen and thicker layers look white. Moonstone comes in a range of colors spanning yellow, gray, green, blue, peach, and pink—sometimes displaying a star or cat’s eye.
The finest classical moonstones—colorlessly transparent with a blue shimmer—come from Sri Lanka. Since these sources of high-quality blue moonstones have essentially been mined out, prices have risen sharply.
Moonstones are also found in India, Australia, Myanmar, Madagascar, and the United States. Indian gemstones—which are brown, green, or orange in color—are more abundant and affordably priced than their classical blue counterparts.
This beautiful gemstone’s weakness is its relatively low hardness of 6 on the Mohs scale, making it prone to stress cracking and cleaving. Care is required with moonstone jewelry like rings or bracelets; brooches and pendants are preferred.
Moonstone has been used as a beautiful adornment and a powerful talisman since ancient civilizations. The Romans admired it, believing it was formed from moonbeams. Both the Romans and the Greeks associated moonstone with their lunar deities.
The Roman natural historian, Pliny, coined the name of this gemstone when he wrote that moonstone’s shimmery appearance shifted with the phases of the moon—a belief that held until well after the sixteenth century.
Hindu mythology also told that moonstone was made from the moon’s ethereal light. Legend portrayed it as a sacred and magical “dream stone” that could bring beautiful dreams at night.
Florida adopted moonstone as its official state gemstone in 1970 to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing and other spaceflights that launched from Florida—even though moonstone is not naturally found in Florida or on the moon.
Valued for centuries, moonstone is still popular and accessible today. It’s the preferred June birthstone, over pearl and alexandrite, in parts of the world like Germany and Scandinavia.
Whether you’re celebrating a June birthday, honoring Florida’s state gemstone or tapping into this stone’s magical lunar powers, moonstone makes a luminous gift.
Like diamonds and other gemstones, moonstones are assessed by the 4Cs: color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. An American Gem Society jeweler can help you find the moonstone you want.
Generally, the more transparent the stone and the bluer its adularescence (or sheen), the higher its value. Historically, the highest-quality material came from Sri Lanka, but since those sources have essentially dried up, prices of classical blue moonstone have risen sharply.
Indian moonstones, in colors ranging from brown to orange and green, are more readily available and affordably priced. This means everyone can find a moonstone to fit their style and budget.
Classical moonstones are cut as cabochons with a high dome to accentuate the adularescence. Large blue moonstones (over 15 carats) are rare, but stones with silvery white adularescence are available in sizes up to hundreds of carats.
This beautiful gemstone’s weakness is its relatively low hardness of 6 on the Mohs scale, making it prone to stress cracking. Care is required with moonstone jewelry like rings or bracelets, so brooches and pendants are often preferred instead.
There is no synthetic moonstone on the market. Although it has been simulated by chalcedony and man-made spinels, these imitations are easy to spot.
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