October has two birthstones to choose from, Opal and Tourmaline. Both gemstones are popular around the world, not least because they exhibit a beautiful array of colors. Tourmaline is a relatively recent discovery but Opal has been around since ancient times and has an interesting history.
Opal and Tourmaline Composition and Sources
Opal is a very soft gemstone, made up of a non-crystalline silica gel. The gel hardens over time to form the Opal gemstone within the cracks and cavities of volcanic rock. An Opal’s appearance can be affected by changes to heat and pressure and they are known for their “rainbow” effect – many stones exhibit the colors of the rainbow when moved.
Opals can appear in a wide range of colors including milky white, black and even shades of red, pink, yellow, orange or blue. Red Opals are known for being the rarest, while white stones are more readily available.
The Opal is mainly found in Australia but there are some other sources around the world, including Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Japan and Ireland.
Tourmaline on the other hand is a complex aluminous borosilicate mineral formed of crystals and a number of chemical elements including sodium and aluminium. Tourmalines appear in a range of single or bi-colors such as yellow, red, green, blue, pink, black and brown. Interestingly, Tourmaline can become charged with static electricity, attracting small pieces of paper, ash or lint when rubbed.
Tourmaline is found in Brazil, Africa, the United States, the Middle East, Australia, Mexico and Czechoslovakia.
Legend of the October Birthstone
Out of the two gemstones, the Opal has the most history and it’s a fascinating one at that. The name Opal is derived from the Latin word “opalus” which means “precious stone”. Since the Opal’s first existence, it has indeed been believed to be a precious stone, although according to legend, some people believed it was a stone of evil too.
The ancient Romans believed that the Opal was a symbol of love and hope. It was called the “Anchor of Hope” by Orientals. But because it was believed to make its wearer invisible, the Opal was often worn by thieves and spies who hoped to make themselves disappear.
In Medieval times, the Opal was still seen as a stone of hope, as it was thought to protect against infection, prevent fainting and promote the health of its wearer’s heart. It was said to change in color intensity when its wearer was in good health or fighting illness.
When the Bubonic Plague hit Europe in the Middle Ages, it was believed by many that the Opal had a part to play in the deaths of those that lost their lives. This was because the gemstone lost its brilliant luster when its wearer died. We now know that the Opal’s change in appearance was simply a reaction to the change in temperature within the person’s body as they passed away.
Afterwards, the Opal became more popular again in Elizabethan England when Queen Victoria used the gemstone in jewelry for her children. But the Opal’s reputation is still mixed to this day, with Australian aborigines believing the stone to portray a version of the devil.
Tourmaline doesn’t have such a detailed history when it comes to legend and lore; however it is known for being the “Peace Stone”, said to keep its wearer calm and tranquil.
Value of the October Birthstone
There are a number of factors to consider when valuing an Opal, including the color, pattern, thickness, play of color, brilliance, inclusions, size and cut. Rare red opals are usually worth more than others.
The value of Tourmaline is dependent on its color. The most common colors of the stone are pink and green and because they are readily available, they are worth less than others. The most valuable types of Tourmaline gemstone are those that exhibit a neon-blue color. These are known as “Paraiba”, they are quite rare and therefore expensive.
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