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October - A Tale of Two Birthstones


Traditional Birthstones: Opal and Pink Tourmaline
Modern Birthstones: Lapis Lazuli, Opal or Peridot
Opal’s Characterisitics
Opal’s shifting play of kaleidoscopic colors is unlike any other gem. Fine opal’s beauty is elusive and challenging to capture in words. It has been compared to fireworks, jellyfish, galaxies, lightning and volcanoes. In ancient Rome, this gem symbolized love and hope. They gave it a name – opalus- that was synonymous with “precious stone.” In 75 AD, the Roman scholar Pliny observed, “Some opali carry such a play within them that they equal the deepest and richest colors of painter. Others…simulate the flaming fire of burning sulphur…and even the bright blaze of burning oil.”

It is interesting that the same gem that’s capable of inspiring such awe is also a mainstream offering of modest value. Its wide availability makes the calibrated white opal cabochon perhaps the most familiar phenomenal gem. At the same time, a rare top-quality black opal’s remarkable beauty makes it truly phenomenal, a treasure that rivals the Big 3—ruby, emerald and sapphire—in allure. You have multiple choices in opal: white opal, black opal, fire opal-red to orangey red, sometimes yellow (might or might not show play-of-color) and common opal without play-of-color (pink or blue). If you are lucky enough to have this as your birthstone, you have many choices in color!

Opals, like June's birthstone the pearl, should not be stored in air tight containers, e.g. lock boxes, safety deposit boxes. If they lose moisture, they will craze a fine network of cracks that resembles a spider’s web.

There is much lore surrounding opal. Much of this tradition dates back to the beginnings of civilization, when jewelry was worn not only as adornment but, also as protection against occult forces and human foolishness. Blonde women were known to wear necklaces of opal in order to protect their hair from losing its color. Some cultures thought the effect of the opal on sight, could render the wearer invisible. Early races credited opal with magical qualities and traditionally, opal was said to aid its wearer in seeing limitless possibilities. It was believed to clarify by amplifying and mirroring feelings, buried emotions and desires. Medieval Europeans shunned opal because of its likeness to the eyes of several "evil" animals, such as cats. Fear of the Evil Eye, common to cultures the world over, was and remains especially acute in the Mediterranean. Simply defined, the term signifies a covetous or malicious glance meant to bring harm. Queen Victoria, however, did much to reverse the unfounded bad press. Queen Victoria became a lover of opal, kept a fine personal collection, and wore opals throughout her reign. To this day, you will hear that it is bad luck to purchase an opal for yourself or it must be surrounded in diamonds. (but then, everything looks good surrounded in diamonds right?!)

Characteristics of Tourmaline as a Birthstone
This gem comes in a rainbow of hues, pink (the accepted color to represent October's birthstone), blue, high-end reds, and greens adorn the showrooms of designer jewelers. The breadth of this gem’s color range is unrivalled. Some history on tourmaline points to a Spanish conquistador who washed dirt from a green tourmaline crystal and confused the vibrant green gem with emerald. His confusion lived on until scientists recognized tourmaline as a distinct mineral species in the 1800s. Some rare species demonstrate stunning neon colors, such as a copper bearing tourmaline-Paraiba (trade name) pictured above.

The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) word turomalli which translates as, the stone of mixed colors. It’s a term Dutch merchants applied to the multicolored, water-worn pebbles that miners found in the gem gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Ancient legend says that tourmaline is found in all colors because it traveled along a rainbow and gathered all the rainbow’s colors. Tourmaline is believed to strengthen the body and spirit, especially the nervous system, blood, and lymphs. It is also though to inspire creativity and was used extensively as a talisman by artists and writers. Some reference books state that tourmaline’s energy is believed by some healers to be best suited to males. Green tourmaline is believed to stimulate use in financial affairs.

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