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Born in October? Here’s Why Opal and Tourmaline are Your Birthstones

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If you’re an October baby, you have two beautiful gems assigned as your birthstone: opal and tourmaline. Pick the one that suits you best — or wear them both. Each stone offers endless vibrant color combinations from which to choose.

History of the Opal

Opal is the more traditional of the two October birthstones. Its name is believed to have originated in India, the source of the first opals brought to the Western world. Specifically, the name comes from the Sanskrit word upala, which fittingly means “precious stone.”

Opal October Birthstone

Opals are valued for their shifting colors in many hues, a phenomenon known as “play-of-color.” That phenomenon has inspired writers to compare it to other great wonders of nature, such as galaxies, volcanoes, and even the man-made wonder of fireworks. And, in addition to being considered the most popular birthstone for the month of October, opal is the traditional gem given to celebrate a 14th wedding anniversary.

Opal is found in many places across the globe, the most popular being Australia. Other common sources are Ethiopia, Mexico and Brazil. You can find the rarest of all opals — the black opal — in Lightning Ridge, a small town in a dry, rocky region of New South Wales, Australia.

Recently, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered opal deposits on  Mars. Yes, Mars! Located in beds of rock along the red planet’s Valles Marineris Canyon System, the 2008 discovery suggests water — possibly small ponds and rivers — interacted with the surface of the planet one billion years later than scientists had originally projected.

Opal Legends and Symbolism

Many cultures regard opal as a carrier of supernatural powers. The Bedouins (nomadics who inhabited the desert regions in North Africa) believed opal held lightning and fell from the sky during thunderstorms, while the ancient Greeks maintained that opals bestowed the gift of prophecy and protection from disease. Europeans have long believed opal symbolizes hope, purity, and truth, and due to its changing color, the embodiment of all virtues and powers associated with colored stones.

There’s even a superstition that it is unlucky for anyone but those born in October to wear opals. It didn’t come from a spiritual place but from a novel published in 1892 by Sir Walter Scott called Anne of Geierstein (aka The Maiden of the Mist). Before then, opals were seen as historically lucky.

Caring for Opals

When considering your approach to caring for opal, it’s important to know what type of opal you’re caring for. For example, Ethiopian opals are incredibly porous and are prone to ‘taking on’ moisture. As a result, the care of this particular opal should be handled by a professional jeweler. Other opals are composites — a composition of several materials. In the case of cleaning those opals, often referred to as doublets and triplets, you need to be very careful, as well.

Opal is in the range of 5-6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. To prevent jewelry with harder gems from scratching opal, we recommend storing opal it by itself. Prolonged water exposure can weaken certain opal settings, such as doublets or triplets, which are fine slices of opal glued to a base material and encased in a thin layer of clear quartz. Natural opal can fracture when exposed to sudden temperature changes — especially high heat.

While this October birthstone may be treated with oil, wax or plastic impregnation, we do not recommend doing so yourself! Here at Shmukler Design, a Southern California-based custom jeweler, we believe the safest way to clean your opal jewelry yourself is with warm, soapy water.

Next up: Tourmaline — the chameleon gem.

History of Tourmaline

Tourmaline is a newer addition to the October birthstone duo. Its name came from the Sinhalese word toramalli, which means “stone with mixed colors,” because tourmalines often have multiple colors in one crystal. As a result, some think of it is a ‘chameleon’ gem, often mistaken for other stones. Until the 1800s when tourmaline was recognized as a distinct species of mineral, there were quite a few mix-ups. In the 1500s, a Spanish conquistador found green tourmaline crystals in Brazil and thought they were emeralds.

Tourmaline October Birthstone

Brazil is still the most common place to find tourmaline, but it also mined in Afghanistan, Kenya, Pakistan, Madagascar, and even here in the United States — in California and Maine to be more precise. Main’s tourmaline deposits were first discovered in 1822 in southern Main at Mount Mica (in the town of Paris), while California’s were identified in the early 1900s in San Diego County.

Deposits of copper are a cause of the intense, vivid hues in tourmaline. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that tourmalines featuring electric green, blue and violet were first discovered.

The Powers of Tourmaline

Many ancient cultures believed tourmaline could inspire artistic expression, due to the multitude of color variations. The different colors of tourmaline are believed to have different properties:

  • Black is thought to give the wearer self-confidence and protection
  • Green is said to promote strength, courage and stamina
  • Pink is believed to embody gentleness and love

Tourmaline is the traditional eighth wedding anniversary gift. And based on the romantic properties of the pink stone, it ends up being one of the more popular hues of tourmaline to gift to a loved one.

Caring for Tourmaline

Tourmaline is a bit harder than opal, at a range of 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. It is durable for everyday wear and can withstand light and most chemicals but can be damaged by heat. We believe the best way is to clean tourmaline is with warm, soapy water and a soft brush. We don’t recommend using ultrasonic and steam cleaners on tourmaline.

For more information about opal and tourmaline — or to discuss how to create a setting that makes them stand out and sparkle — call us at (949) 870-9915. Or fill out the online contact form on the Shmukler Design website.

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