In Ancient Egypt, sapphires were associated with the wisdom of the all-seeing Eye of Horus, which makes this gemstone the perfect birthstone for the month of September. Then, as now, September was a month for celebrating learning and knowledge.During September’s autumnal equinox, when day and night are in balance, the ancient Egyptians celebrated the wisdom of Isis, who used her knowledge to resurrect her dead husband, Osiris. And since ancient sapphires were prized by the Egyptians for their eye-opening qualities, they have come down to us as the birthstone for September--the month that starts our academic year, and our own quest for wisdom.


But when the ancients talked about sapphires (derived from saphirus, the Latin term for ‘blue stones), they were almost certainly referring to lapis lazuli. Modern sapphires are velvety blue gemstones made of corundum and they are second only to diamonds in hardness. By contrast, lapis lazuli, the ancient sapphire, is a semi-precious gemstone with white and gold inclusions. Modern sapphires come in a variety of colors, though they are most famously blue, but lapis lazuli is made of a mixture of minerals that render them almost exclusively azure.

No matter which kind of sapphire the ancient writers saw, the oracular Eye of Horus was omnipresent in their minds. So strong was the connection between eyes and the blue gemstones, that Egyptian physicians turned ancient sapphires into powder to be used as an eye wash to help patients see more clearly. Cleopatra herself used ancient sapphires in her eye shadow and the Egyptian Book of the Dead even describes a powerful magical amulet in the form of a carved eye made of sapphire.

The Greeks, who came to rule ancient Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the Great, would adopt the sapphire as the gemstone of Apollo—their own god of oracular wisdom and knowledge. They said that sapphires would “open the third eye.” Hebrews, after having been enslaved by the Egyptians, developed the notion that the Ten Commandments, wisdom from God, were written on sapphire tablets.

The ancient Egyptian veneration of the sapphire and its connection to knowledge and wisdom passed through the ages to medieval monarchs who wore sapphires to help them rule wisely. Evidence the Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom, which is set with two famous sapphires, one of which was worn by Edward the Confessor at his coronation in 1042.

Even today, though we have given up magic amulets and oracles, we still take sapphires with us on our quest for knowledge; sapphires help us construct lasers and NASA uses sapphires as components of advanced particle collectors. So while the ancient Egyptians saw sapphires in the heavens, we now send them there to unlock the secrets of the universe.

We may no longer celebrate the autumnal equinox as the ancient Egyptians did, but we have inherited the idea of September as a time of balance and wisdom. Modern astrologers believe that those born in September are intellectually curious, so sapphires were chosen as this month’s birthstone. Given their ancient heritage, what better way to honor September’s challenges and promise than by giving the gift of sapphires?

September Birthstone: Sapphire