October Birthstones: Pink Tourmaline and Opal
17 Minute Read
Those born in October are lucky to have two beautiful birthstones to choose from. Pink tourmaline is the modern birthstone and opal is the traditional birthstone.
Pink tourmaline is the modern October birthstone, loved for its breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring variations of the color pink.
In the late 1800s, Chinese Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi loved pink tourmaline so much that she bought almost the entire production from a California mine. When she died, she was laid to rest on a pink tourmaline pillow. The rest of her treasure trove of pink tourmaline was used to make carvings.
What is Pink Tourmaline?
Pink tourmaline is naturally occurring and contains a wide variety of elements. Most tourmalines in jewelry consist of a mineral called elbaite. Pink tourmaline forms in prism-like crystals with long hexagonal crystals that are beautiful to behold when subjected to light.
What Color is Pink Tourmaline?
Pink tourmaline boasts a striking pink hue, with many variations of the color pink. However, tourmaline is a unique and highly prized gemstone that occurs in many different colors - some tourmaline crystals form with two or more colors, known as "watermelon tourmaline." In fact, the word "tourmaline" comes from the Sinhalese word turamali, meaning "stone of mixed color." The most common color combination is green and pink, known as watermelon tourmaline. This makes them a unique gemstone for an engagement ring.
Tourmaline with more raspberry or purple colors are called rubellite.
Is Pink Tourmaline Durable?
Pink tourmaline measures 7-7.5 on the Mohs scale, which makes it fairly durable. It is suitable for everyday wear, but excessive heat can be damaging. A little soap and water are all you need to give this gem a good clean and shine. Avoid cleaning pink tourmaline with harsh chemicals.
Where Do Pink Tourmalines Come From?
Fine pink tourmaline is found in Brazil, Nigeria, Mozambique, and parts of West Africa, among other countries.
How To Buy Pink Tourmaline Jewelry
Pink tourmaline can be bought from some retail brick-and-mortar stores, and online at Angara and Blue Nile. Between the two, Angara has the best selection of pink tourmaline jewelry online. These stones will generally be heated unless the description says otherwise. If you are looking for an unheated or larger stone, try CustomMade, which can source a stone just for you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pink Tourmaline
What Is the October Birthstone?
The traditional birthstone representing October is the opal. There are many types of opal that have different colored base hues including white, red, purple, and black. Opals are considered "phenomenal" gems that often display a "play-of-color" effect - a pattern of colored flashes distributed throughout the stone. These flashes can be blue, green, orange, or red and individual stones may show none, some, or all of these colors at once.
Opals with play-of-color patterns are sometimes advertised as "precious" opal, while those without it are called "common" or "potch" opal. Opals with lots of play-of-color distributed evenly across their surface are usually valued higher than stones that have less play-of-color which is restricted to certain regions within the stone or stones which lack the effect entirely.
There are several theories about the origins of the current name "opal." Some believe that the word comes from the Sanskrit word upala, which simply means "precious stone." However, there are other equally possible options such as the Greek word opallios which translates as "to see a change in color." Finally, the Latin term opalus is often interpreted as "precious jewel." Regardless of how we arrived at the word opal, no one contests the unique beauty of the October birthstone.
In addition to being the birthstone for October, opal is also traditionally given to commemorate a 14th wedding anniversary.
What is the October birthstone color?
Opal has a versatile appearance that has a combination of different base (or background) colors, various play-of-color effects, and transparencies. The base color of opals can be almost anything including red, yellow, white, and black. Play-of-color flashes can also be many different colors like red (which is often considered the most desirable), blue, green, and orange. Transparency is not a color but, rather, it describes how well light can pass through a stone. The transparency of opal ranges from transparent (you can see through the stone), to translucent (some light can show through the stone), to fully opaque (light cannot travel through the stone).
Today, many varieties of opal are recognized and there are several major categories that encompass these distinct types. The individual categories are defined based on how the three factors mentioned above are exhibited in combination with each other. The October birthstone is unlike other colored gemstones like sapphire which display multiple colors in that the individual categories have a unique combination of factors that make them desirable. This means that what makes opals in one category special may count against opals in a different category. Below are the most popular categories of opal that you will encounter on the market.
- Black Opal - it makes sense to begin this list with the type of opal which can command the highest price-per-carat values, the black opal. Unsurprisingly, black opal must appear to have a base color of black when viewed face-up, however, the actual color of the stone is allowed to be a very dark shade of grey, brown, blue, or green. Opaque stones may show off play-of-color best, but translucent stones are permitted. It is necessary that black opal shows play-of-color to some degree. Due to the dark background of black opal, the play-of-color effect can be bright and spectacular, and the best examples of this category are truly showstopping.
- White Opal - the antithesis of black opal, white opal has a light background color which can range from truly white to a medium tone of grey. These opals are translucent, and also must have at least some play-of-color. White opals are relatively common and represent a large proportion of the opals on the market.
- Fire Opal - the vast majority of fire opals are native to Mexico, and they are relative newcomers to the global market. The most significant sources of fire opal were only recently identified in the middle of the nineteenth century, and availability remains limited. These bright stones have red, orange, or yellow backgrounds and gems that are transparent are the most sought-after. The value of fire opal is in the evenness and vibrancy of its base color, and some do not have any play-of-color at all. Because play-of-color is not considered a major value factor, fire opal is the only category of opal which is exempt from the traditional precious vs. potch classification system.
- Crystal Opal - crystal opals are renowned for their transparency and superior play-of-color effects. They may show a light background hue, but it is their bright and varied flashes of color that sets them apart. The best crystal opals can be very valuable and are used in fine jewelry.
- Water Opal - similar to crystal opals, water opals may be colorless or have a light base color which can be white, blue, green, purple, or brownish. They can be transparent, but some are translucent. Unlike crystal opals, water opals may or may not have play-of-color. If they do have colored flashes, these will be significantly more subtle than other opal varieties and often are not expressed over the whole surface of the gem. Due to their subdued appearance, water opals, sometimes sold as "jelly opals", are an affordable opal variety.
- Boulder Opal - boulder opals are unique in that they are actually a combination of precious opal mixed with some of the host rock that the opal naturally formed in. These fragments of the host rock are called "matrix" and stones that have balanced "matrixing" patterns coupled with good play-of-color are considered most desirable. While matrixing can be beautiful in itself, it can also significantly add to the durability of the stone. As will be discussed, opal is a softer gem variety, and stones which are cut to retain some of their host rock may be more resilient.
- Assembled Opal - assembled opals are sort of a manmade opal sandwich. Opal doublets incorporate a layer of genuine opal attached to a backing which is often some kind of dark glass, plastic, or other black material. Opal triplets have an additional domed top layer of some colorless material like quartz or glass. Like the host rock in boulder opals, the non-opal components add stability to relatively thin and fragile pieces of opal which might not otherwise be suitable for use in jewelry. You can usually expect assembled opal to be more affordable than the other categories which have not been altered, but they can still be a beautiful option.
Humans have been mesmerized by the hypnotic colors of opal for many centuries. Back in the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder wrote in his famous book Natural History about the dazzling colors featured in the October birthstone. Despite this long-term fascination, scientists only recently came to understand the internal structure of opals and what causes their unique play-of-color effect.
Opals are different than most gemstones in that they are not made up of a regularly ordered crystal lattice. Rather, they are comprised of millions of tiny orbs of silicon that are stacked upon each other. This was discovered in the 1960s when Australian scientists examined opals under magnification of over 30,000X.
From a technical perspective, play-of-color is caused by light moving through the alignment of silica spheres which is unique to each stone, making the appearance of each opal entirely one-of-a-kind. In addition to the alignment of the silica spheres, the presence of specific chemicals inside opal contributes to both the background color and hues exhibited by the play-of-color flashes.
The structure of opal also contains a great deal of water, ranging from about three to twenty percent depending on the type. This high water content is due to the fact that opal forms when silicon-rich sand is periodically wetted and then dried, such as occurs in deserts that experience monsoon conditions.
What is the Opal meaning?
The dynamic appearance of opal has led to a number of different associations in various cultures throughout the centuries. The most distinguishing characteristic of opal is its sparkling play of color, and it is this factor that much of the lore surrounds. This kaleidoscopic display naturally led to a historical association with the eyes and sight in general.
The current belief that opals promote ocular health stems from the ancient Greek's believed opal was one of the gems which could help the wearer to see into the future. Still, people wear opals to open their minds and boost their intuition. There is an old European belief that looks at the connection between the gem and sight from a different perspective. They claimed that opals had the power to bend light and render their wearer invisible. While this is certainly a neat trick, it led to concern that thieves could use opals to enhance their stealth abilities.
The bright and dynamic nature of play-of-color lends an intuitive connection to the sky, stars, and lightning. Thus, many cultures ascribe a powerful connection between opals and the natural world. Individuals from some Arab nations thought that opals literally fell from the sky. Currently, some feel that the unique gem grants its wearer the confidence necessary to express their true personality.
Today, many wear opals as protective talismans which ward off evil. Others think that keeping an opal close, or dreaming of the gemstone, brings tremendous luck. Perhaps thanks to the shimmering transparency that the opals of some categories can achieve, they can be worn to encourage creativity. Finally, perhaps stemming from the ancient Roman tradition of calling opals the "Cupid Stone", modern wearers hope that opals will promote romance and passion in their lives.
Perhaps most importantly, there is a belief dating back several centuries which imbues the opal with all of the positive benefits thought to be associated with each and every species of colored gemstone. The theory is that if the opal can show all potential gemstone colors, it must embody the powers associated with those gems. Thus, wearing an opal literally covers all possible bases, granting a wide range of perks which includes protection from ill-wishers, physical health boons, a boost to mental acuity, the attraction of positivity and love, and heightened spiritual awareness.
Where Does Opal Come From?
The word upala,which is one of the options thought to be the root of our modern word opal, is from India, the first source of opals to Western nations. Currently, there are multiple sources of opal worldwide, however, the conditions that lead to opal formation are both highly specific and rare. Not only does opal require silica-rich rock or soil, but also a combination of both very wet, and very dry, conditions are necessary.
There are active opal mines in many South American countries such as Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, and Guatemala. Mexico is the world's primary source of fire opal. Madagascar, a prolific source of many gemstone species, also has opal deposits. An ancient source of opal, Ethiopia is an important wellspring of many different opal colors. However, the vast majority of the gem-quality opal, an estimated 95%, comes from Australia. For instance, much of the black opal comes from Lightning Ridge in the Eastern part of the country and all boulder opal is from the Winton area of Queensland.
Is Opal Durable?
Due to the fact that opal is comprised of silica spheres stacked on top of one another, rather than being a traditional mineral that is bound together on the atomic level, it is relatively soft. Different types of opal have different levels of resilience, but they all rank between 5 and 6.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. This means that they may be scratched or can break if dropped or hit. Opals are very sensitive to excessive heat and sudden changes in temperature which can abruptly cause dullness, cracking, or internal fracturing called "crazing".
Additionally, opal which has been treated to improve its appearance with oils, waxes, or plastics can be adversely affected by improper cleaning techniques. The best way to safely clean your opal jewelry is with mild soapy water and a soft cloth. Once you have finished cleaning, gently pat dry your opals so that the stone does not stay wet longer than necessary. Finally, be sure to store your opal in a safe environment that is shielded from direct sunlight.
How to buy October birthstone jewelry
Although opal is a soft gem, you can expect to get many years of enjoyment from your opal jewelry if you treat it with care. As earrings and pendants are not at high risk of damage, you can wear them with confidence whenever you like! If you want to sport rings or bracelets, it is wise to remove these if you know in advance that you are going to be particularly active or in a dirty environment.
When selecting an opal for purchase, there are a few important factors to consider. The value of individual stones is primarily based on three factors as are appropriate for each category: the background color, the pattern of any play-of-color effect, and the clarity of the stone. We have addressed the background color and clarity already. When it comes to play-of-color, there are three types of patterns that you may see referenced in a description: pinfire (tiny dots of color), harlequin (medium-sized, geometrically-shaped patches of color), and flash (large regions of the same color). While opals with harlequin patterns usually cost the most, and opals with pinfire patterns the least, you should pick whichever pattern most appeals to you!
Frequently Asked Questions About Opal
Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.
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