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October’s Birthstones: Opal and Tourmaline

October’s birthstones are tourmaline and opal. Tourmaline, the primary birthstone, is rare as it is one of few birthstones that can be found in any colour. Some pink tourmalines have clarity as transparent as diamonds. Opals on the other hand are in a class of their own.

Opal, one of the birthstones for October, is a beautifully iridescent gemstone which has been highly prized for thousands of years – even from before the Ancient Greek and Roman times. There are two main varieties of opal: precious and common. Precious opals can take on many colours, with internal refraction of light causing the phenomenon called ‘play of colour,’ meaning that no two are the same. Common opals don’t display play of colour but instead come in a variety of hues such as pink, green, blue and yellow.

Opals were particularly popular in the 1950s and 60s, so plenty of vintage opal jewellery from the mid-century period exists.

What colour is opal?

Unlike most other gemstones, opal does not have a crystalline structure. The stones contain 5-20% water which may cause them to become brittle over the years so they are not usually considered suitable for everyday wear, which is why it’s unusual to see them in engagement rings. Opals often found in fossilised shell, wood and bone. More than 90% of the world’s supply come from Australia, although Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, the Czech Republic and Ethiopia also produce stones.

The many different colours in opals come from tightly packed spheres of silica, and the way that they
are arranged inside the stone. The more vibrant the colours within the opal, the more valuable it tends to be. All opals vary in the colour of their fire, with one of the rarest opals being the prized Harlequin Opal – displaying a chequerboard pattern.

Opals through history

Opals were believed by the Ancient Greeks to have the power of prophecy and foresight. In fact, the word ‘opal’ comes from the Greek opallios which means ‘to see a change in colour’. For the Romans, opals represented purity and hope. They were held in high esteem throughout history right up until the 19th century.

In 1829, Sir Walter Scott’s book, Anne of Geierstein, transformed the perception of opals. The story is about an enchanted princess who wore an opal that changed colour depending on her mood. After holy water extinguished the stone’s natural fire, the princess died. After this, people began to associate opals with bad luck and within a year of the book’s publication, opal sales in Europe plummeted.

Despite this, opals were still seen on the jewels of the British monarchy. They were one of Prince Albert’s favourite gems, presenting Queen Victoria the Oriental Circlet Tiara, featuring 11 precious opals (although these were later swapped for rubies).

What do opals signify?

Opals are thought to stimulate creativity and are representative of justice and harmony. They are known to be associated with love and passion, as well as desire and eroticism. Wearing an opal is said to bring about loyalty and faithfulness.

What colour is tourmaline?

Tourmaline is an interesting and complex mineral that comes in a range of colours, from the classic black variety to vibrant pinks and greens. Its colourings are created by the presence of different trace elements such as iron, titanium, chromium and copper. The variety in tourmaline’s colour palette makes it one of the most sought-after gems for jewellery-making – pink tourmaline is even considered a symbol of love.

However, many people wonder what exactly determines the various shades within tourmaline? Different trace elements make up the distinctive hues – for example, iron will often give a green hue, while manganese creates yellow or brown colouring. Chromium will often cause pinkish tones and copper can result in blues or greens. Furthermore, its hue can be affected by environmental factors such as extreme heat or pressure during formation.

History of tourmaline

The history of tourmaline jewellery stretches back centuries, to when the stones were first discovered. Tourmalines have been mined in North America since 1822 and are a rare type of mineral found in many different colours. The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese word “toramalli” which means mixed coloured stones, due to its range of hues.

In ancient times, people believed that tourmalines held magical powers and had healing properties. They were used as talismans or given as gifts between lovers as symbols of protection and love. Tourmalines have been popular jewellery materials since the 19th century, with some of the most famous pieces coming from India, Sri Lanka and Brazil. In modern times, these vibrant gems are highly sought after for their beauty and durability, making them perfect for everyday wear.

What does tourmaline signify?

Tourmaline has historically been associated with feelings of protection, grounding, and stability. As its popularity continues to increase, so does curiosity about the deeper meanings behind tourmaline’s symbolism.

In many ancient cultures, tourmaline was believed to help protect against negative energy and promote good luck. It was also used as a talisman to ward off bad luck or curses that were put on someone without their knowledge. In addition to this spiritual protection, tourmaline was thought to provide physical security by helping to combat illness or injury caused by evil spirits or dark forces.

How to choose October birthstone jewellery

When buying opal jewellery, you should look for colour and pattern. Warm colours like red and orange are rarer than blue and green. Gemmologists tend to prefer large, concentrated patches of colour over small specks. Look out for stained glass opals, peacock opals, rolling fire opals, Chinese writing opals and harlequin opals.

Crystal opals should be transparent, whilst in black opals, opacity is more valuable. Fine opals should be cut into irregular shapes to emphasise colour but most are cut into a cabochon with a rounded dome. Some come in thin layers, mounted on a dark stone and finished with a thin layer of glass as protection. 1970s rings often featured opals.

Opal rings, such as this stunning 8.67-carat black opal solitaire ring, make for great gifts for special occasions, especially if you’re buying for someone born in October.

How to clean opal and tourmaline jewellery

You can clean both opal and tourmaline jewellery in the same way. Start by wiping down the jewellery with a soft cloth or cotton pad to remove dust and dirt particles. If there’s still grime present, mix a solution of warm water and mild laundry detergent in a bowl, then dip a fresh cotton pad into the mixture to create suds. Gently rub the sudsy cloth over the opal or tourmaline until it becomes clean. Rinse off the soap from both sides of the gemstone using cool running water, then pat dry with another soft cloth or cotton pad.