October is among the months that has more than one birthstone, offering you extra choice if you would like to celebrate an occasion with birthstone jewelry. The current set of birthstones was established in 1912 when the American National Association of jewelers met to formalize the list. Both of October’s birthstones come in a variety of colors, which means endless, gorgeous options for October birthday girls, and for the people who buy gifts for them.
October Birthstone: Opal
Opal is a beautiful gemstone that is available in a range of colors, often with multiple colors in the same stone. The word opal has several derivations, one of which is the Greek word “opallus,” which means “to be a change.” This likely signifies opal’s changing hues and many variations. The Romans called it “opali” and 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 painters. Others…simulate the flaming fire of burning sulphur and even the bright blaze of burning oil.”
Opal Color and Composition
Opals are a relatively soft gemstone, formed in volcanic rock not far below the earth’s surface. They are formed when rainwater carries the mineral silica deep underground. When the water evaporates the silica deposits form opal in cracks and layers of rock. Opals get their array of colors from stacks of silica, which bend light in different ways to create dazzling color. The size and formation of the silica particles determines which rainbow of hues a specific opal flashes in response to movement and light.
Opals can range in color from creamy white to black and often contain blazes of yellow, orange, green, red, and blue. There is tremendous beauty in these contrasting and intermingling colors. Particularly prized are black opals, part of the “schorl” species found primarily in Australia, and “fire opals,” a burnt orange color perfect for autumn, primarily found in Mexico. Less well known are boulder opals, which include fragments of the surrounding rock, and crystal or water opals, which are transparent or semi-transparent.
Opal History and Meaning
Opals are said to be associated with hope, innocence, purity, and faith. In ancient Greece opals were thought to give their owners powers of prophecy and protection from illness. Because they exhibit so many hues, ancient Romans considered opal to be the most precious gem, and Bedouins believed that opals contained lightning that fell to earth during storms. At one time opal was thought to be able to preserve the color of blond hair!
Opals have been worn as jewelry since ancient times. You’ll often see opals in jewelry from the Art Nouveau era, when artistic jewelry designers were drawn to these gems’ mysterious and romantic beauty.
Caring for Opal Jewelry
Opal is relatively soft, with a high water content, so you should be careful when wearing it. Protect your opal from extreme light or heat, and clean it with nothing but gentle soap and room temperature water.
October Birthstone: Tourmaline
Tourmaline is a radiant October birthstone with a rich history. Originally mined in Sri Lanka, tourmaline became a popular gemstone in Europe for its variety in shape, color presentation, and depth.
Tourmaline Color and Composition
The word tourmaline comes from Singhalese (the language of Sri Lanka) and means “something of the earth.” Tourmaline actually describes a group of related mineral species that share a crystal structure but have distinct chemical properties. Tourmalines come in a dazzling selection of colors, including deep green, bright pinkish red, vivid violet-blue, yellow, orange, and more. Tourmaline has one of the widest color ranges of any type of gem. The color of a tourmaline is determined by the trace minerals that it contains.
Some colors of tourmaline have their own names, such as Rubellite (pink, red, orange, or brownish red tourmaline), Indicolite (dark shades of blue), Paraíba (an intense blue tourmaline from the state of Paraíba in Brazil), Watermelon tourmaline (pink in the center and green on the outside), and Cat’s Eye tourmalines, which are usually green, blue, or pink and exhibit a cat’s eye effect called chatoyancy when they are cut as cabochons.
Tourmaline History and Meaning
The history of tourmaline reflects its ability to masquerade as other gems. In the 1554 a Spanish conquistador in Brazil discovered a green tourmaline crystal and mistook it for an emerald. It wasn’t until the 1800s that gemologists recognized tourmaline as a mineral species. Until then tourmaline was often mistaken for other gemstones, including emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, depending upon the color. Since then tourmaline has also been mined in America, in both California and Maine, as well as in Madagascar and Afghanistan. Tourmaline is believed to bring peace to its wearer.
Caring for Tourmaline Jewelry
Rating at 7 or 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, tourmaline has fair durability. It isn’t damaged by light exposure or by everyday chemicals, but heat can change its color and in extreme cases even lead it to fracture. You should clean tourmaline jewelry with warm water and gentle soap, and don’t use ultrasonic or steam cleaners.
Selecting and Wearing October Birthstones
Selecting or designing jewelry based on birthstone is loving and meaningful. Thinking of celebrating a birth, engagement, wedding, or other occasion or milestone with an October birthstone? Consider setting a loose opal or tourmaline into a ring or a pendant for a special gift. Or, if you like the idea of jewelry with a romantic past, opt for an antique ring featuring one of these gorgeous gemstones.