One is a kaleidoscope of color, and the other is a rainbow of choices. October babies are one of the lucky groups to have two birthstones, Opal and Tourmaline. Tourmaline comes in a multitude of colors along with bi and tri color verities.
Opals are fascinating in the way they formed. In places where the ground is parched, such as the Australian outback. Water carries silica deposits down into the ground. As the water evaporates, it leaves the deposits behind creating opal.
Most of us know Opal a whitish background with flashes of colors. This flash is called "play-of-color." Not all opals have this characteristic. The play-of-color depends on how the silica molecules stack. If in a grid pattern if formed with the silica in spheres shapes, these spheres will bend the light to create the color flashes you see. The size of the sphere determines the color it throws, 0.1 micron produces violet to 0.2 micron which produces red with ranging sizes between for different colors.
The background colors can be different as well. Five different groups classify the body color of opals: White or Light, Black, Fire, Boulder, and Crystal or Water Opal. Each has different transparency and play of color or lack of flash.
Opals have been mesmerizing viewers for ages. “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.” said Pliny, 75AD. The word opal comes from the Latin word opalus or the Greek word opalios, which derived from the Sanskrit upala which means precious stone. Orpheus wrote, "On Olympus the opalios, the delight of Immortals, so fair to view that it charmed the strong eye and strengthened the weak. (It) fills the hearts of the gods with delight." Ancient Romans called it "child beautiful as love" as it symbolized hope and purity.
Native Americans along with Australian Aboriginal shaman used opals to travel in dream quests and to invoke visions. One Middle East story tells of rocks capturing lightning strikes. One old legend states that the god of storms was jealous of the rainbow god. The god of storms became enraged and shattered the rainbow. As the rainbow scattered across the Earth, it fell and hardened, thus creating opals.
Some believe that opals are bad luck to anyone whom it is not their birthstone. This belief can be traced back to 1800s novel, 'Anne of Geierstein" written by Sir Walter Scott. For most of this gem's past life, it has carried the lore of good luck and magic.
For ages, tourmalines have been misidentified. Only until the uses modern gemology were they able to identify that it is a species all of its own. Tourmalines are found in a spectrum of colors, including bi-color and tri-color specimens. One of the most famous tri-color is the Watermelon Tourmaline. Much as the name suggests, this beauty is red to pink at the center with a green outer shell. When cut by a skilled lapidary, this gemstone will have an alluring color fade with green on one end with a white fade to red. Tourmalines can also have a cat's eye effect. These gems will be cut into a cabochon to display this feature.
Tourmaline is often called the American Gem. Found from Maine to California, from 1892, the gemologist George F. Kunz had a strong push to make this commonplace, yet China was the largest purchaser of the gemstone. The San Diego County mines were so dependent of the Chinese marketplace that in 1912 when the Chines government fell the mines collapsed. There are still sporadic supplies mined today. Most of the mined goods today come from places like Brazil, Madagascar, and Afghanistan.
There isn't much lore behind this jewel because of the lacking past. One story tells of Dutch school children discovering the electrical properties of tourmalines. While visiting an Amsterdam display, the kids noticed small pieces of straw stuck on the gems. Dutch lapidaries confirmed that the stone does create a static electric charge when rubbed or heated.
In the story My Tourmaline: An American Tale, a young girl from Maine, was out walking one day when she noticed a spark of color from the roots of an old tree. As she was trying to dig up the stone, her leg became entangled in the roots, and she suffered an awful sprain. Her injury sent her to bed for six weeks. While on bedrest, the only thing that brought her comfort was her new found pretty. Convinced that the stone had a life of its own, her cheek would tingle when she held the jewel next to it. You see, she had stored the gem in a silk pouch. Her story had traveled beyond her home and later she was asked to donate the treasure to a distant museum. She agreed but then received news of the tourmaline's loss in transit. She was heartbroken. She would never see her "Stonie" again. After many years, she married and honeymooned in Europe. Her new husband and herself were invited to visit the collection of a notable mineral collector. When she arrived, she had a strange feeling. Once she was allowed to view the collection, she immediately recognized her long lost "Stonie" and renewed their connection.
No matter which of these two beauties you love most, they are a wonderful gift to anyone who loves colored stones. Even better, combine the two for a truly unique creation. Don't think that you can only enjoy these gems if they are your birthstone. Everyone can be dazzled and dazed by these two alluring colored gemstones.
3rd Generation Jeweler and Sales Manager for Wirt’s Jewelers