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Birthstone of the Month for October: Opal and Tourmaline

Birthstone Jewellery

The opal and the tourmaline make up the two birthstones for the month of October. Both gems are equally beautiful and elegant, with the tourmaline being available in a rainbow of gorgeous colours, and the opal possessing unique colour combinations.

Their stunning appearance makes them popular and widely used in jewellery. They’re also rich in symbolism and have been attributed to divinity and royalty over the years. With these and more wonderful properties, October’s birthstones can suit a wide range of personal tastes.

History of the Opal

The name ‘opal’ in its modern usage comes from the 16th-century word ‘opale’ (or oplaus in Latin) and is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit ‘upala’, meaning ‘precious stone’.

This gem was already popular in Ancient Greece and Rome, with Onomacritus, a 5th century BC oracle, purportedly claiming that “the delicate colour and tenderness of the opal reminds me of a loving and beautiful child.” However, before that, in the 1st century AD, Gaius Plinius Secundus popularised the opal through his works. He was an author, naturalist, natural philosopher and naval commander in the early Roman Empire who said of opals: “For in them you shall see the living fire of the ruby, the glorious purple of the amethyst, the sea-green of the emerald, all glittering together in an incredible mixture of light.”

The opal used to be known as the Queen of Gems in ancient times, as it possessed the colours of all other gems. The first recorded opal mining lease occurred in Slovakia, during the late 15th century, but it’s Australia that’s considered the opal’s classic country of origin. Since 1850, Australia has produced 95% of the world’s supply of these gems, and the country’s Lightning Ridge is well known for its rare and beautiful black opals.

In 2008, NASA announced the discovery of opal deposits on Mars.

Image: 18ct Rose Gold 3.62ct Opal and Diamond Pendant

Properties of the Opal

This gorgeous October birthstone is sought-after for its fantastic properties, such as:

Colour – Opals diffract light to show a beautiful array of colours; the ‘ideal opal’ displays wide patterns on the surface with all colours of the rainbow, including red. Because of this diffraction, opals can take on a unique range of colours. Some hues are more common, such as the white and green, while black is the rarest.

Hardness – Opals range between 5.5 to 6 on the Mohs scale of hardness, making it a delicate stone that can crack under extreme temperature or light.

Shape – This gemstone comes in many different shapes, with the rarest type being the ‘pipe’ opal, which forms in sandstone and possesses some iron-ore content.

Image: 18ct Yellow Gold 3.42ct Opal and Diamond Cluster Ring

Famous Opals Around the World

Like other gemstones, opals vary in regard to quality and value. Some have achieved enough popularity to be part of the list of the most precious jewels around the globe:

  • Olympic Australis – This is the world’s largest and most valuable opal; it was uncovered in Coober Pedy in Australia, during the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. This gem measures 11 inches in length, weighs 17,000 carats (7.6 pounds) and was valued at around £1.9 million in 2005.
  • Haley’s Comet Opal – According to Guinness World Records, this gem is the world’s biggest uncut black opal and was named after the Haley’s Comet, which could be seen from Earth in the same year the opal was found, 1986. It was unearthed in New South Wales, in the Lightning Ridge and is nearly flawless at 1,982.5 carats (396.50g).
  • Andamooka Opal – Discovered in Andamooka, an opal mining town in South Australia, this gem was cut, polished and set into a palladium necklet which was given as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II upon her first visit to South Australia in 1954.

History of the Tourmaline

The name ‘tourmaline’ is believed to have been derived from the Sinhalese words ‘tura mali’, which means ‘stone of mixed colours’. This gemstone stands apart from others because it’s not one mineral, but a complex group of minerals with different chemical compositions and properties. The gemstone also has to be cut in such a way that allows for all colours to be noticed in a mere glance; therefore, working with tourmaline requires a lot of precision.

Ancient Egyptians believed that this stone passed through a rainbow and the earth until it reached the surface of the planet, which was the cause of its beautiful colours. However, even though this gem has left traces throughout history, the earliest records regarding the discovery of tourmaline point to the 16th century in Brazil.

A Spanish conquistador uncovered a green tourmaline gem that he initially mistook for an emerald. This misunderstanding continued until the 1800s when the stone was finally recognised as tourmaline. The Dutch brought Sri Lankan tourmaline to Europe for many centuries as well, until it was discovered that the stone was the same as schorl.

Tourmaline was incredibly important in China, as the country was also the biggest market for the stone. The Chinese Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi was fond of pink tourmalines and often purchased them from deposits in California. When the government collapsed in 1912, trade of this gemstone was affected worldwide.

Today, deposits of tourmaline can be found all over the world, from Australia and Nepal to Russia, Sri Lanka and the United States. Nevertheless, fine bright-coloured gem-quality tourmaline is rare to find, and the price of these stones is usually tied to their hues.

Image: Andrew Geoghegan “Cannelé Cabochon” Tourmaline Ring

Properties of the Tourmaline

The properties of the tourmaline make it an incredible stone beloved by many:

Colour – Tourmaline is another colourful alternative to the October birthstone. Available in a spectrum of colours due to its complex composition of minerals, tourmaline’s hues depend on the amount of certain trace elements in its chemical makeup. Examples include: schorl or black tourmaline, which is rich in iron; dravite or brown tourmaline, which is rich in magnesium; and rubellite or red tourmaline, a hue caused by manganese. Stones with more than one colour are more valuable.

Hardness – This October gemstone possesses a good hardness level, ranging from 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. This makes them ideal for wearable jewellery.

‘Magneticity’ – While tourmaline itself is not magnetic, it can become electrically charged through heat and pressure and act like a magnet by oscillating or attracting dust particles.

Image: Al Coro Amici Red Tourmaline Earrings

Famous Tourmalines Around the World

Tourmaline is popular for its stunning, colourful shades that create beautiful jewellery. They can easily complement any wardrobe as well, making them one of the most versatile gems. Some of the most famous tourmalines include:

  • Ethereal Carolina Divine Paraíba – This flawless oval-shaped Paraíba tourmaline necklace weighs 191.87 carats and was included in the Guinness World Records as the largest cut tourmaline. Its colour derives from its copper content, and its value is estimated to be between £19 million and £95 million.
  • Jolly Green Giant – This stone is displayed in the Smithsonian and was found in 1972 in Newry, Maine. Measuring over 10 inches tall, this tourmaline is one of the largest terminated elbaite crystals ever discovered in North America. It possesses a pink inner core covered by a thin green layer, which indicates a change in chemical composition.
  • Elbaite Gem – Also found in Newry, Maine, this tourmaline is a round brilliant stone that weighs 48.77 carats and possesses a vivid bluish-green colour. This gem is also on display in the Smithsonian.

Opal and Tourmaline at Banks Lyon

October appears to be the most vibrant month with such colourful gemstones as the opal and the tourmaline.

At Banks Lyon, we offer a lovely range of October birthstones, ideal for the contemporary woman who loves to finish a wardrobe with a touch of luxury, sophistication and colour. These gems also make fantastic anniversary gifts; opal is often given to celebrate a 14th wedding anniversary, whereas tourmaline commemorates a 38th anniversary.

With their rainbow of colours, opal and tourmaline are unique, individual gems that perfectly match the wearer’s personality.

Visit us in Lancaster and Kendal to view our beautiful birthstone jewellery, and we will be more than happy to help you find a piece that you will cherish for years to come.