4 October 2023
Autumn brings with it a change in our color palette. We go from the pastels and greens to the glorious yellows, ochres, oranges, reds, and browns. It is, therefore, appropriate that the two birthstones for October reflect those same changing spectrums with opal glistening with every change in light and the tourmaline that relies on its chemical makeup to show its true hue.
From the Greek opalios or to see a change in color, our first gemstone has been compared to volcanoes and the dance of colors.
In 1850 deposits in Australia made it the top exporter of some of the best stones. Research in the 1960s provided the key to its structure and in 1974 synthetic opals were beginning to be produced. In Ethiopia deposits were found but they were dark in color and had the tendency to crack. Now in the Wollo Province the supply of the stones has supplemented the dwindling supply in Australia.
Graded much like diamonds, look for color, clarity, cut and carat weight (the four Cs). The critical factor is a combination of the background or body color together with the play. A black background is more valuable because it better reflects the sparkle. Warm reds and oranges are more rare and blues and greens more common. While crystal opals should be transparent, the black, as mentioned, are more valuable and a milky haze will lower the value and may indicate instability. There are a number of patterns like peacock, rolling fire, or stained glass. Generally a concentrated pattern is preferable. Expect unusual cuts in an opal to best display the play-of-color. Most will have rounded domes. Since they are composed of thin layers it is not uncommon to see them mounted on another stone like an onyx and even with a glass or plastic cap for durability.
These are delicate stones that do not like extreme temperatures, direct light, or dehydration. Only store them in low humidity and low light. It is best if they are in a padded cloth bag. Some stones are treated with additives to increase luster. Check with your jeweler for details.
It is a traditional gift for a 14th wedding anniversary.
Legends abound about the luck of an opal.
- For instance, an enchanted princes wore an opal that changed colors with her mood. A few drops of holy water quelled the magic and the young lady soon passed away.
- Spain’s King Alfonso XII received an opal ring as a wedding gift, which he then bestowed upon his wife. She died. The stone was passed to his grandmother, sister, and sister-in-law, each of whom passed away shortly thereafter. Last to wear the opal, King Alfonso also died within a short time. However, these deaths could also be attributed to the cholera epidemic at the time.
There are other tales for you to research on your own.
Tura Mali or “stone of mixed colors” is the name the Sinhalese gave this gemstone. It is often confused with other gemstones like emeralds. However, tourmaline has its own mineral species.
Found in Brazil in the 1500s it has also been recognized as discovered prior to 1400 in Saxony, Germany, with black deposits. The Dutch East India Company is reponsible for its introduction to Europe from Sri Lanka. In the 1890s it was recognized in California where the Native Americans had been using it as a funeral offering for centuries. A strong market contender, China fell out of the market when the government collapsed in 1912.
Darker varieties are priced below those with bright colors like Rubellite in pinks and reds. Green and blue are also popular and the extreme price increase reflects their value. Liquid and crystals can become trapped during its formation lowering its value. Sometimes heat treatments are used to enhance its impact but this treatment should also lower the value. You will find it cut into long, irregular shapes and will reflect color, so cut is critical to its fashion beauty. Color is more highly valued than carat weight. Keep the stone clean with simple soap and water but avoid ultrasonic cleansers.
Found in many parts of the world, good quality in bright colors is rare. No two stones are identical so it makes a nice individual gift to someone or even yourself.
It is used to celebrate an 8th wedding anniversary.
Folk lore tells us:
- From Egypt we learn that it developed its color array by traveling along the rainbow.
- Magicians in the Andes used it to craft their staffs
- Ancient Indians used it in ceremonies to create enlightenment or to find the cause of difficulties.
- Wrapping a tourmaline in silk and placing it on the cheek of a child would ease a fever and enhance sleep.
Overall it is thought to strengthen relationships, increase intuition and creativity, improve self-awareness and self-confidence, and negate fear and grief.