If you were born in December you have a lot to celebrate, including three December birthstones: turquoise, tanzanite and zircon. With a spectrum of colors to choose from, learning about where the sources of these gems will only add to their appeal.

December Birthstones: Turquoise from Iran and Arizona

An oval cabochon cut turquoise cabochon ring surrounded by peridot and pink tourmaline.

An oval cabochon cut turquoise is the fitting gem for this ring called Sky City, for like its name it evokes a rich blue expanse. The turquoise cabochon is surrounded by peridot and pink tourmaline. Photo: Eric Welch/GIA. Courtesy: Apache Gems

To find turquoise, we have to head to dry and barren regions where acidic copper-rich groundwater seeps downward through deeply altered or broken rocks and reacts with minerals that contain phosphorus and aluminum. Iran’s Nishapur district is a legendary locale; its many mines have been worked for more than 1,000 years. Mexico’s ancient Aztec civilization sought turquoise from the American Southwest for hundreds of years, with Montezuma II presenting gifts of the blue gem to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. More recently, the Sleeping Beauty Mine near Globe, Arizona was a world leader in production and quality for more than four decades before turquoise production was ended there in 2012. Scrub brush–covered hillsides, cacti reaching toward a blazing sun and a big sky form the dramatic landscape. Stunning pieces of jewelry composed of turquoise from the American Southwest continue to appear on runways and the red carpet.

Superstition Mountains

You’re likely to pass the Superstition Mountains on your way to the Sleeping Beauty Mine. Photo: Robert C. Kammerling/GIA

Found in some of the world’s oldest jewelry, with mines known before 5500 BCE, turquoise was cherished by ancient Egyptians. In fact, they referred to what is today the Sinai Peninsula as the Country of Turquoise, or Mafkat – their word for the gem – because of the two major deposits worked there. The gem continues to spellbind, and Native American peoples like the Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni and Navajo have fashioned it into jewelry. It is considered a national treasure in Tibet, and is thought to give health, good fortune, and protection from evil. Today, while there is little active mining of turquoise in Tibet, China is one of the world’s largest producers of fine turquoise.

The most-prized turquoise color is an even, intense, medium blue. It is sometimes described as “robin’s egg blue,” “sky blue” or “Persian blue,” the last in honor of gems mined in Nishapur. Greenish blue, avocado and lime green are also popular colors. Our Turquoise Buying Guide can help you pick a piece that stirs your heart. Turquoise is also the traditional gift for the 11th wedding anniversary.

Turquoise necklace with artfully placed diamonds.

Artfully placed diamonds add to the calming beauty of this exquisite turquoise necklace. Courtesy: 1stdibs.com

December Birthstones: Tanzanite from Tanzania

Deep blue tanzanite crystal.

Some tanzanite emerges from the mine as beautiful deep blue crystals. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA. Courtesy: William F. Larson

Tanzanite is relatively new to the colored stone world, and significant quantities are found in only one place on earth: the Merelani Hills of northern Tanzania. The blue stones were first identified as the mineral zoisite in 1962 by Polish expatriate George Kruchiuk. But prospector Manuel D’Souza is credited with finally locating the Merelani deposits in 1967 with the help of a Masai tribesman. He quickly registered four mining claims. D’Souza hoped that he’d found a new sapphire deposit. Instead, the deposit contained one of the world’s newest and most exciting gems.

Within a short time, 90 more claims appeared in the area. There was originally some confusion as to what the beautiful crystals were, but everyone wanted the profits they were certain to produce.

Tiffany & Co. quickly recognized the gem’s potential and decided to promote it with a big publicity campaign in 1968. Tiffany named this gem variety of zoisite after the country it came from, and almost overnight tanzanite became popular with leading jewelry designers and other gem professionals, as well as with consumers who had an eye for beautiful and unusual gems.

The vast majority of tanzanite emerges from the ground as brown. It is treated by heat to produce its captivating blue to violet to purple colors. The most-prized color is a pure blue similar to sapphire, or an intense violet-blue. Tanzanite with a bluish purple body color is also popular, but less valuable. Pale colors are less prized than saturated ones. Our Tanzanite Buying Guide can help you find a superb stone. It’s also the gem for the 24th wedding anniversary.

Stephen Webster’s ring dazzles with a 29.22 ct tanzanite and 3.07 carats of diamonds.

Winner of the Tanzanite Foundation’s Tanzanite Celebration of Life Jewelry Design Awards, Stephen Webster’s ring dazzles with a 29.22 ct tanzanite and 3.07 carats of diamonds. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA. Courtesy: Tanzanite Foundation

A Masai tribesman crosses one of the green plains near the tanzanite mines

A Masai tribesman crosses one of the plains near the tanzanite mines, which are surrounded by rugged hills. Bushes, grasses and small trees paint the landscape in shades of green. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA

December Birthstones: Zircon from Sri Lanka, Australia, Cambodia and More

A favorite in the Victorian era, zircon is a gemstone that’s not commonly known among jewelry buyers, which is a shame considering the number of beautiful colors it comes in. These include earth tones such as cinnamon, sherry, yellow, orange, and red. Among those who are familiar with this gem, zircon is especially admired for its attractive blue colors.

A colorful array of zircon from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Tanzania, and other locations.

A colorful array of zircon from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Tanzania, and other locations. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA, Dr. Eduard J. Gübelin Collection.

Colorless, pink, orange, golden brown and blue zircons are almost always the result of heat treatment. Blue zircons can range from very slightly greenish blue to greenish blue and strongly greenish blue. Because they’re in greater demand, blue zircons usually command higher prices than any other color.

Stunning blue zircon brooch.

The stunning Liberty and Zircon Brooch shows why blue zircon is so coveted. Copyright: GIA & Tino Hammid. Courtesy: David Humphrey

Zircon is found in a number of places, including Sri Lanka, which is home to a wealth of gems. It is arguably the world’s treasure chest. Sapphire, ruby, cat’s-eye chrysoberyl, spinel, beryl, tourmaline, topaz, quartz, garnet – and zircon – are all found here. Elahera, in central Sri Lanka, is one of the country’s most productive areas. Choice gems mined there are so spectacular that they are in collections of major museums and owned by some the world’s wealthiest individuals.

Beautiful red zircon.

Any jewelry aficionado would love to have this beautiful red zircon. This color can also be created by heat treatment. Photo: C. D. Mengason/GIA

Miners near Elahera

Miners near Elahera collect gem gravels from the end of the sluice where they were washed. Typically, the gravels are taken to a more secure location for sorting. Note the jungle just steps away from the worksite. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA.

The Harts Range in central Australia is another source for gem-quality zircon. The zircon found here comes in a variety of attractive colors: pink, brownish purple, orange-brown, yellow brown and near colorless. Purple zircons are the most sought after from this locality.

35 ct Brownish purple zircon stone from the Harts Range

Brownish purple zircon from the Harts Range represents some of the best material from this area. The 35 ct stone was faceted by Jennifer Try. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA.

Zircon Hill, the primary site for zircon in the Harts Range, is near Alice Springs, a city noted for its Aboriginal art, quirky sporting events and varied geography – deserts, mountain ranges, striking rock formations and canyons. Zircon Hill is carpeted by brush and marked by lonesome trees. There is no organized mining at Zircon Hill; only “fossickers” (independent prospectors) are allowed to search for zircon by hand digging and sieving.

Cambodia is a primary source for zircon, especially the variety that can be heated to a vivid blue. The Ratanakiri region, bordering Laos and Vietnam, is a wild area not often visited by tourists. It is home to jungles, waterfalls and rubber plantations that, ironically, serve the miners who hunt for zircon there. Between rows of evenly spaced rubber trees, miners dig holes in the red earth to excavate dark orange zircon crystals that, with heat treatment, become the popular blue color.

You’ll also find zircon mined in China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania and Madagascar.

[capti

A miner digs for zircon in a forest in Cambodia.

A miner digs for zircon in a forest in Cambodia. Courtesy: Gregory Chatham, Frank Hines and Bryan Lichteustein.

Turquoise, tanzanite and zircon – you can choose from so many shades of blue when you’re born in December. You’ll also be able to pick gems that are bright red, yellow, green, purple and brown. Have fun looking for the December birthstones that reflect your personality.

Want to learn more about December birthstones? Dig a little deeper into tanzanite, turquoise and zircon.