Opal and tourmalineopal2.jpg

"October's child is born for woe,
And life's vicissitudes must know,
But lay an opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest."


The name opal is derived from the Sanskrit word “upala,” as well as the Latin “opalus,” meaning “precious stone.” 

The opal is a fragile hydrated silica material. It is a soft stone, easily altered in appearance by changes in heat and pressure.  The varying amounts of water within it  determine the appearance of the gemstone: when water evaporates out of an opal, the stone appears slightly smaller and the stress of the evaporation creates cracks on it.

The changing colours within an opal when the stone is moved is due to the play of light on small cracks within it.  Colours vary depending on impurities present within the stone:  a pearly appearance is due to inclusions of tiny gas bubbles.  Yellows and reds indicate the presence of iron oxides. The spectacular black opals that sometimes flash green, blue and red get their colour from magnesium oxides and organic carbon within the stone.

harlequin_opal.jpgThe most valuable opal pattern is possibly the “harlequin" which has large angular patches of red, yellow and green, resembling the checks on a clown’s costume.

According to Indian legend, the origin of the opal lies in a feud between the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva who once vied in jealous love for a beautiful woman. This angered the Eternal, who changed the fair mortal into a creature made of mist. Each of the three gods then endowed her with his own colour so as to be able to recognise her. Brahma gave her the glorious blue of the heavens, Vishnu enriched her with the splendor of gold, and Shiva lent her his flaming red. Alas, all this was in vain, since the lovely phantom was whisked away by the winds. Finally, the Eternal took pity on her and transformed her into a stone, the opal, that sparkles in all the colours of the rainbow.

To ancient Romans, the opal was a symbol of love and hope. Orientals called it the “anchor of hope.” Arabs say it fell from the heavens in flashes of lightning. It was believed to make its wearer invisible, hence the opal was the talisman of thieves and spies.

During the Medieval period, a change in color intensity of an opal was believed to indicated if its wearer was ill or in good health. The opal was supposed to maintain a strong heart, prevent fainting, protect against infection, and cleanse foul-smelling air. The stone, as in ancient times, was still regarded as a symbol of hope.

The opal’s reputation changed in the mid-14th century when The Black Death swept across Europe, killing huge numbers. The gem was believed to be the cause of death: When worn by someone struck with the deadly plague, it would appear brilliant only until the person died.  Then it would change in appearance, losing its lustre.  In fact, it was the sensitivity of this stone to temperature that altered its appearance as the heat from a burning fever gave way to the chill of death.


tourmaline_gem1.jpgThe alternate birthstone for October is the tourmaline. The name of this gemstone is believed to derive from the Singhalese (Sri Lankan) word “toramalli,” a term applied to yellow, green or brown stones, that means “something little out of the earth.”

Tourmaline exhibits the broadest spectrum of gemstone colours: yellow, green, red, blue, pink, brown, black. Some even have bi-colored properties:  a particularly valued bi-coloured variant is called the “watermelon.”  The outer edges of the gem are green, passing through a transparent white zone that gives way to a pink or light red interior. tourmaline_raw1.jpg

Tourmaline is a complex aluminous borosilicate mineral built of crystals with complicated aggregations of sodium, aluminum, boron, oxygen, hydrogen and silicon atoms. Other metals are also present within the crystal structure, and are responsible for the characteristic colours of the gemstones. Pink, for example, is due to the presence of manganese, while ferrous iron, chromium or vanadium betray their presence as green gemstones.

Gem-quality forms of this mineral have in the past been mistaken for rubies, emeralds and sapphires - a famous tourmaline - the size of a pigeon’s - egg-belonging to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great was long thought to be a ruby.
Tourmaline has an unusual property: When warmed or rubbed it attracts small bits of lint, ash and paper because the gem becomes charged with static electricity. 

Compared with other gemstones, tourmalines are a relatively recent discovery. Hence, it lacks the rich lore that accompanies many other precious gems. However, among some people, the stone is known as the “peace stone,” believed to dispel fear and make its wearer calm.

October Birthstone Gifts