October Birthstone: A Comprehensive Guide on Tourmaline and Opal
Table of Contents
- October Birthstone
- What are the Two October Birthstones?
- History of Opal
- Properties of October Birthstone - Opal
- Occurrence and Mining
- Factors Affecting Value
- Treatment and Care
- How to Spot Natural vs Synthetic
- Applications of October Birthstones Opal
- History of Tourmaline
- Properties of October Birthstone - Tourmaline
- Occurrence and Mining
- Factors Affecting Value
- Treatment and Care
- How to Spot Natural vs Synthetic
- Applications of October Birthstones Tourmaline
- Paraiba Tourmaline
- Tourmaline vs Pink Sapphire
- Why are there two birthstones for October?
The October birthstone, before diving right in to the birthstone guide, let's take a look at the concept of wearing birthstones.
The concept of wearing a gemstone corresponding to a person's birth month is a relatively modern idea. However, one can trace the origin of associating gemstones to months, mystical powers, and energies back to biblical times. The earliest resemblance to birthstones can be found with the twelve gemstones of the breastplate of Aaron. This tradition has evolved into the modern practice of wearing a birthstone assigned to a person's birth month.
To maintain uniformity, several jeweler groups have marketed certain gemstones to the twelve months of the year. While most months have one precious stone name, others boast two to sometimes even three! October-born babies are one of the few who have the luxury of choosing between two equally beautiful gemstones allotted to their birth month.
What are the October birthstones? October-born people get to commemorate their birthdays with two precious stones with unique coloring characteristics: Opal and Tourmaline. Find out more about these gemstones in this comprehensive guide on the October birthstones.
What are the Two October Birthstones?
October-borns are lucky to have two gemstones to call their birthstones- Opal and Tourmaline. While opal has always been associated with the autumn month, tourmaline is a recent addition to today's modern list of birthstones.
The tenth month of the year is the magical time of autumn when the leaves change color to an array of reds and oranges, presenting a kaleidoscopic display. The October birthstones, opal and tourmaline, match the fall scenery with their own spectacle of rainbow iridescence. The opal gemstone creates a broad spectrum of light and color, whereas tourmaline distorts the hues it traps inside its crystals. Both October birthstones are compared to colorful galaxies, vivid rainbows, and beautiful displays of fireworks against the night sky for their dramatic play-of-color.
Opal is probably not as common or well-known as other traditional stones like ruby and diamond. However, the opal gemstone has been rooted in different cultures for centuries. Opals first originated in India, which served as the source for the Western world, and it was initially known as upala in Sanskrit (a translation to precious stone). Later, upala became opalus in Ancient Rome.
In Asian countries, opals were believed to be a symbol of hope. In ancient times, the stone was viewed as the bearer of fidelity and assurance and later became associated with religious, emotional prayer. In addition, the people held faith in its mystical powers that had substantial therapeutic value to cure diseases related to the eye and were dubbed as the 'Eye Stone'. Some also wore it as a part of their amulet as immunity from bad health and to increase the power of the eyes and mind. However, a wave of unfounded superstitions in the 19th century led to opals' temporary unpopularity, which later redeemed itself in the 20th century.
Described as a 'flashing lighting bolt reflected in an ocean and bouncing back into a fiery sunset,' the opal October birthstone shines brilliantly and inspires love and hope, innocence and purity, luck and happiness. Today, opals are revered as one of the shimmering October birthstones and a 14th wedding anniversary gift.
History of Opal
Opals first originated in association with Asian cultures and Greece. The first opals introduced in the West came from India, where it was known as upala or 'a precious stone'. The Romans changed Upala to opalus, while the English term for the stone opal comes from the Greek opallos, which means 'to see a change.' The term given to the stone honors the wide array of colors opal can reflect.
Bedouins wrote that the opal crystal contained lightning and fell to the ground during thunderstorms. Pliny, the Roman scholar in 75 AD, compared the brilliance of shimmering opals to volcanoes and vibrant paintings, referring to the dancing "play" of rainbow colors that could represent any of the colors of other precious stones. The significance of the variations of colors presented by opals could be seen in the powers people believed the stone possessed. This included protection from diseases, enhancement of abilities, and the capacity to contain the powers of all other gemstones. In addition, opal has been seen as the symbol of purity, hope, and truth.
Properties of October Birthstone - Opal
Opals are often known as living stones, as up to 21% of their structures are composed of water. The abundance of water and air molecules embedded into the stone fissures of the crystals reflects off light which displays a diverse range of colors the stone is popular for. The hydration or absorption of water molecules into the gem's structure comes from rainwater that forces silica down deep into the layers of the rocks. When this silica is subjected to years of heating through the Earth's surface, the water evaporates, leaving behind the final stone structure of opal. These 'hydrated' opals with their kaleidoscopic display of colors are popularly known as 'precious opals', whereas those without the fancy show-of-color are called 'common opals.'
Opal is categorized as a mineraloid (and not a crystallized gemstone) because of its amorphous nature. The amorphous quality is the reason for the uniqueness of each opal stone which results in the tremendous variety and iridescent colors of the October birthstone.
Occurrence and Mining
Opal was first found in the 1850s in Australia and the country has contributed about 95% of the world's supply. The small town of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is famous for producing highly valued black opals. On the other hand, white opal deposits are found in the White Cliffs area of New South Wales, Mintabie, Andamooka, and Coober Pedy in South Australia. Boulder opal can only be found in a single location of Queensland.
While the Australian excavations are most productive, mines can be found in other places as well, including essential sources like Mexico, Brazil, and Ethiopia. In addition, mining of opals is also done in Honduras, Central Europe, Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and some parts of the United States like Nevada and Idaho.
Factors Affecting Value
The quality of opals directly affects the overall worth of the stone in the market. Several factors contribute to determining the value of opals. The brightness and brilliance are particularly important when it comes to the value of this October birthstone. A ton of colors glittering on a dull stone will not fetch as much value as an opal with a higher degree of brilliance.
Transparency is another crucial value-determining factor. If the specimen's body is transparent (also called light crystal opal), the range of colors is visible below the surface. Therefore, light opals are more valued if transparent and crystal opals with a diverse range of colors are particularly sought after.
A complex layer of value arises when evaluating colors. The dominant color of the stone affects the value. Red demands the greatest costs, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. However, a bright and brilliant blue-green opal will be more valued than a dull red one. Black or dark opals are rare and highly valued.
Treatment and Care
Opals are treated by impregnation of oil, wax, or plastic. They measure between 5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness and should be stored separately to prevent scratching from harder gems. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are some gems that can scratch the opal stones. The safest way to clean opals without damaging them is by using warm, soapy water. Rigorous cleaning methods may harm the opal gem of the filler material. However, prolonged exposure to water can reduce the adhesive power in opal doublets and triplets. In addition, natural opals can be fractured on exposure to high heat or sudden temperature changes.
How to Spot Natural vs Synthetic
Synthetic as well as man-made opals called triplets and doublets exist and are sold. How can you differentiate between a natural and a synthetic opal? Check to see if the stone body is transparent. Most transparent stones are almost always genuine solids and are usually white or crystal opals. Doublets and triplets are darker because of their artificial backing. Doublets and triplets have distinct layers that are visible from the sides. Man-made opals have perfectly flat backings, whereas true opals have an irregularity (curved or bumpy natural formation)
Synthetically designed solids are difficult to identify even for experts. Closely observe the pattern of the specimen. Opals created in labs will show colors in large patches. This pattern is often 'too perfect' and may show a snakeskin-like texture.
Applications of October Birthstones Opal
Opals have always attracted people for their maverick quality and rainbow-like display of colors. Symbolizing a certain uniqueness, these October gemstones make the perfect gift for autumn-born people. In addition, the gems have long since been fashioned into various forms of adornments, including necklaces, rings, even tiaras. As a result, the range of jewelry made from opals is wide and expanding.
After opal, tourmaline is the second October gemstone that was later included in the modern list of birthstones. It is a highly-valued precious stone known for the rainbow of vivid colors it displays, just like opal. However, the principle behind the reflection of colorful light varies in both stones. Much like the month it belongs to, the tourmaline's vibrant hue of colors inspires artistic expression.
The word tourmaline originates from the Sinhalese word touramalli or tura mali, which translates to 'stone with mixed colors'- an accurate description of the October gemstone. Ancient people believed that tourmaline could stimulate artistic genius with its colors that matched every mood and its array of hues. Unfortunately, many have mistaken the blushing pink and red tones of tourmaline, now called rubellites, for true rubies over the years. Attributing to their diverse range and close similarities, it was discovered in the 1800s that one of the 'rubies' of the Russian Crown Jewels was actually a misidentified tourmaline rubellite.
Some Egyptian mystics thought that the gemstones absorbed their range of colors when they passed through a rainbow on its way up from the Earth's core. Tourmaline was a symbol of protection against evil and was often used as a charm.
The oink and red rubellites, the emerald-colored chrome tourmalines, and the neon green to blue-violet colored paraíba tourmalines are among the world's most popular tourmalines. The colors of the gemstone have been believed to enhance certain attributes and properties in a person. For example, the pinkish watermelon shades of tourmaline are mainly associated with love and romance. In contrast, vivid greens and black tourmaline are considered to be a source of compassion and self-confidence. Greens are also used to promote courage, strength, and stamina. In some myths, black tourmaline was thought to protect the wearer and provide a boost in self-esteem.
Tourmaline comes in every shade of color imaginable- from hot magenta, bubblegum pink, peach, and orange to canary yellow, mint, grass and forest green, ocean blue, violet, and more. Tourmaline is a gift given to loved ones to celebrate the eighth wedding anniversary.
History of Tourmaline
Thanks to its diversified color range, tourmaline has often been mistaken for other gemstones throughout history.
The first notable discovery of the stone was made in the late 1600s by Dutch traders off the West Coast of Italy. They found green stones and assumed them to be emeralds. Similarly, in the 1500s, a Spanish conquistador in Brazil mistook a bright green tourmaline for a precious emerald. In the 1800s, mineralogists finally identified the green stone as tourmaline and allotted its own mineral species. For a specific time in history, pink and red tourmalines were thought to be identical to rubies.
The origin of the name tourmaline stems from the Sinhalese term turmali. The Dutch merchants used this to refer to all the multicolored, water-worn pebbles found by miners in the gem gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Thus, the word was an umbrella term for all colored crystals found on the island country at the time.
Properties of October Birthstone - Tourmaline
Tourmaline is a crystalline boron silicate mineral and not a single mineral of its own. Instead, the crystal structure is compounded with several different elements such as aluminum, iron, magnesium, sodium, lithium, and potassium. The group of minerals with their similar crystal structure and physical properties but various chemical compositions and colors come together to form the tourmaline gemstone. The boron silicate mineral stone is found inside igneous and metamorphic rocks.
The characteristic color play of tourmaline is due to the wide range of elements and color zoning with the crystalline structure. As a result, tourmaline displays the most diverse range of colors and hues and color combinations than any other mineral group. While the tourmaline colors are attributed to different reasons, most agree that traces of iron and possibly titanium causes green and blue colors to show. At the same time, manganese gives reds and pinks, and possibly even yellows. Some shades of pink and yellow may be due to the color centers caused by radiation.
Some tourmaline gemstones even show the cat's-eye effect, technically known as chatoyancy. For example, green, blue, and pink stones usually show cat's-eye with an 'eye' softer than the eye in fine cat's-eye chrysoberyl. This disparity is because of the fact that in tourmalines cat's eye is caused by multiple thin, tube-like inclusions that are naturally formed during the gemstone's growth.
Occurrence and Mining
The main mines of the October tourmaline birthstone are found in Brazil, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Kenya. In the United States, California and Maine are historically significant producers of the tourmaline gemstone. However, the most common and productive sites are in Brazil. Over the centuries, most of the stones mined here came from pegmatites of the state of Minas Gerais.
Old tunnel entrance at the Tourmaline King mine. Photo: Brendan Laurs
Factors Affecting Value
Tourmaline is a prized gemstone not just for October babies but for lovers of the finer things in life. The wide array of hues and the play of colors these gemstones present are the reason behind people's adoration. However, as with other precious stones, the colors of the tourmaline do not hold the same value. Several factors determine the value of a tourmaline stone, but the most dominant ones are the 4Cs- color, carat, cut, and clarity.
When it comes to colored gems, color becomes the primary factor for value. Tourmalines come in a wide diversity of colors, but only a small range comes under the preferred colors. Paraíba, red, pink, and chrome tourmalines are the most prized October gemstones. But even their individual hues play an essential role in deciding their worth. Among the greenish-blue, blue, bluish-green, green, and even violetish hues of Paraíbas, the blues and violets fetch higher prices.
Tourmaline generally occurs as long crystals, and the elongated shape of the rough is the most popular cut for these gemstones. While some stones are eye-clean, with no visible signs of inclusions, others show the cat's-eye effect. In general, the larger the stone, the higher the per-carat price. Green, blue, red, and pink tourmalines are usually found as large crystals. Still, other aspects like desirability, demand, and rarity are also essential to determine the actual value of a tourmaline gemstone.
Treatment and Care
Tourmalines are generally treated to enhance quality. The most routine treatment includes careful heating, done when the stone is too dark in tone. Other common methods of treatment or enhancement are irradiation and oiling to hide fractures.
Tourmaline is rather sturdy compared to other precious stones and can withstand most chemicals and bright lights. The stone is rated 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. However, it should be kept away from high temperatures. Therefore, the ultrasonic cleaning method is not recommended in the case of this October birthstone. Alternatively, cleaning should be done gently, using sudsy warm water and a soft brush.
How to Spot Natural vs Synthetic
Tourmalines are abundantly found in nature and are relatively affordable. This is why they are not being produced in laboratories just yet. However, fake gemstones are another story. For years, fake tourmalines have been sold to unsuspecting people in the name of the naturally formed October birthstone.
To spot the difference between natural and synthetic tourmalines, do a scratch test on the stone using a steel blade. These stones are rated at 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, making them relatively harder than steel. If a scratch is produced, you are dealing with a fake stone.
Observe the gemstone under bright artificial light. Natural stones will change color, showing a brownish undertone. However, rubellites are the exceptions to this test. Next, observe the gemstone for inclusions. Most naturally produced specimens will have small scratches and fractures within the stones, most commonly seen in pink tourmalines.
Applications of October Birthstones Tourmaline
Tourmaline has had several uses in various cultures throughout history, depending on the beliefs of the people.
18th-century literature depicts that this October gemstone was often used to help creative minds like artists, authors, or actors.
Other evidence shows that Dutch doctors may have wrapped the stone in a silk cloth and held it against a feverish child to help them sleep better. The Chinese carved figures and engravings into the tourmaline stones, now displayed in ancient artifact museums as a testament to their durability. Intricately designed Chinese snuff bottles also employed tourmaline. In Africa, the stone was used to wake one from the dreams of ‘illusions’ while in ancient Indian ceremonies, the gem was a tool to invoke insight.
Alchemists highly valued tourmaline for its pyroelectric properties and some even believed that the gem must have been related to the philosopher’s stone. Tourmalines were widely used as magnets as they attracted and repelled hot ashes. They were dubbed as the 'Ceylonese Sri Lankan Magnet' for this reason. The Dutch figured that when heated or cooled, tourmaline would develop an electric charge. This led them to use the multicolored gemstone to remove ash from meerschaum tobacco pipes. In the 19th century, chemists used the October stone to polarize light by shining light rays into the gem's cut and polished surface.
In the spiritual field, the stone is highly coveted among shamans or medicine men for its healing powers. They are also called ‘receptive stones,’ which soothe, calm, and promote meditation. It is also believed to allow open communication between the conscious and unconscious minds, enhancing psychic powers.
Some modern uses include its application in manufacturing hair products like dryers and hair straighteners. They are charged with negative ions and far-infrared rays (FIR), which help to give a smooth appearance to hair. Tourmalines are employed in different technologies for their piezoelectricity effect. Black tourmaline is an effective natural insecticide.
Today, tourmalines are widely used as a gifting option for October-borns and a gift for the 14th wedding anniversary as a symbol of love. Tourmalines are fashioned into different types of jewelry, including crowns, tiaras, bracelets, earrings, rings, and many others.
Paraiba Tourmaline is an elite and unique gemstone with its neon blue to blue-green color even among the different tourmalines. The extraordinary and intense hue it emits caused by the inclusion of the copper element into the crystalline structure makes the stone one-of-a-kind. Paraiba Tourmaline was first founded in the 1980s in the Paraiba Hills (State of Paraiba) of Brazil. It instantly became widely known for its unbeatable beauty and rarity. The discovery was made when Hector Dimas Barbosa kept digging hole after hole in the hills of Paraiba knowing he would find something different. After eight years, his friends finally found tourmaline stones in shaded nebver seen before. For a while, paraiba tourmaline was only found in Paraiba. However, sources were unearthed in mines of Rio Grande do Norte, Mozambique, and Nigeria.
In ancient gem healing practices and traditions, paraiba tourmaline was regarded as a special spiritual gemstone that brings positivity, peace, and a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Many people believe the blue-colored stone holds strong healing powers and protects the wearer from diseases. Even today, paraiba tourmaline holds the fascination of many jewelers and birthstone enthusiasts worldwide.
Tourmaline vs Pink Sapphire
Pink gemstones are widely sought after in the jewelry-making industry for their obvious beauty and gleam in color. Of these colored stones, the pink sapphire and the pink tourmaline are top contenders for most people. Although similar in some respects, the two stones have distinct properties unique to them.
Pink Sapphire is the birthstone for September. They are often used to represent feminine elegance and romance and symbolize good fortune, power, and love. These gems shine with variants of an attractive pink hue, ranging from pale pink to a vivid magenta. The trace elements found in its crystalline structure like iron, titanium, copper, magnesium, and chromium determine the intensity of the pink. As a member of the corundum family of minerals, the September birthstones are extremely tough, measuring 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. They are also among the rarest stones of the sapphire family and, as such, are quite expensive.
Pink tourmalines are one of the most valued colors of the October birthstone. They are available in a wide array of colors and hues ranging from light pink to reddish pink. These stones symbolize friendship, compassion, self-love, and transformation. They are harder than most gemstones and have a rating of 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale, making them durable, although not as tough as the pink sapphire. Pink tourmalines are not that hard to find and are much more affordable than sapphires.
Why are there two birthstones for October?
While other months have mostly one? October is among the few months bestowed with multiple birthstones. The others are March with Aquamarine and Bloodstone, August with Peridot and Spinel, November with Topaz and Citrine, June with Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite, and finally December with Turquoise, Zircon, and Tanzanite.
The birthstone structure has always been adapted to keep up with the evolving traditions and customs surrounding gemstones and the changes made in the industry. In many cultures, birthstones are an important belief making the precious stones widely sought after. After several years of their wide use primarily in jewelry-making, the naturally occurring crystal resources have been depleted. Some, like diamonds and pearls, have become extremely rare and expensive. For practical purposes of accessibility and flexibility and to match the supply with demand, some months have been assigned more than one gemstone. October is one of those months granted with two precious stones.