Bloodstone and Aquamarine

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Birthstones for the Children of March

Nature Magazine, March 1932

To the children born amid the blustery winds of March belong the healing bloodstone and the gracious, heaven-reflecting stone called aquamarine.

Bloodstone is green chalcedony so spotted with red that it appears to be flecked with bright blood. Its name is derived from its sanguinary appearance, which likewise has given rise to a beautiful legend concerning its origin. When Christ was crucified upon Calvary's heights, bright drops of His precious blood fell upon a green stone at the foot of the Cross and left their stain wherever they fell; and to this day, tradition tells, all manner of bloodstones bear the drops of the Master's blood.

In ancient times this birthstone was called heliotrope (sun-loving) because, as Pliny wrote: "if placed in a vessel of water and exposed to the full light of the sun, it changes to a reflected color like that of blood. Out of water, too, it reflects the figure of the sun like a mirror, and discovers eclipses of that luminary by showing the moon passing over its disk." An interesting legend, at least.


Like other gems, bloodstone possessed a host of magical properties, in the view of the ancients. If rubbed with the juice of the plant heliotrope, while certain incantations were being repeated, it rendered the wearer invisible. An early English medico calls it "The special stone to staunch blooding & good against poison." Toa lesser extent it was believed to bring safety and a long life to its possessor.

Bloodstone is silicon dioxide (quartz) stained green by peroxide of iron and permeated with spots of red jasper. It is a form of chalcedony, a waxy-looking, translucent or opaque variety of quartz, but it has the hardness of flint or jasper. The only acid solvent known is hydrofluoric acid, which is commonly used in the etching of glass, and the stone is infusible. It weighs a little more than two and a half times as much as water. When polished, it has a hard, waxy appearance.

The finest stones come from India, although fine gems are found in Australia, China, and Brazil.

One of the most famous bloodstones is "The Descent from the Cross", done by Matteo del Nassaro of Verona about 1525. It is in relief, with the natural red spots depicting the wounds of Christ and His dropped blood. This gem is supposed to have become the property of Isabella d'Este, Duchess of Mantua.

The alternative birthstone, aquamarine, is, at its best, a bit of sky taken from the heavens at dawn. No other gem can so perfectly reflect "the vault of blue" as this, and it is easy to understand why through the centuries it has symbolized happiness, everlasting youth and victory. It has all the freshness and inspiration of the perfect day that so thrilled the shop-girl Pippa in Browning's poem.


This stone is the pale blue and the greenish blue beryl, a silicate of aluminum and beryllium. It is of the same family as the emerald, morganite and the helidore, and takes its name–literally "the water of the sea"–from its color, which is probably due to the replacement of minute quantities of beryllium by the alkali metals, sodium, potassium, calcium, and lithium, and of aluminum by iron and chromium oxides. It occurs in six-sided prisms of greater length than thickness which are generally furrowed along the longitudinal axis, and may be as clear as crystal or as opaque as stone. It is slightly harder than the emerald, and about as brilliant.

Historians have recorded that light-colored aquamarines and other light greenish beryls were used over two thousand years ago for spectacle lenses. Nero used to view the games through such glasses, for, like the rest of the world, he believed that beryls of this color were beneficial to the eyes. We still prefer green for eye-shades.

Some of the finest aquamarine crystals have been found in the Urals and Siberia. Madagascar, France, Bavaria, Brazil and the states of Maine, North Carolina and Colorado add to the world's supply. Most of the stones are not very large, and the enormous ones are usually of gross texture and of little value, although a Brazilian crystal, weighing two hundred and forty-three pounds, sold uncut for $25,000. New Hampshire supplies many hexagonal crystals weighing several hundred pounds each, but their value is small.

Lucky is the person born under the sign of Aries, lucky at least in the choice of birthstones! Whether he select the green beauty flecked with bright red that is the bloodstone, or prefers the sky-blue perfection of the aquamarine, he is wearing a stone famous through the ages, with tradition, legend, and history woven around it.