October is one of those special months. It is in a seasonal transition where the weather is pleasant before the onset of winter. The foliage colors are changing making the world fiery with bright color. It is also a month blessed with two birthstones.
Birthstones did not begin as stones representing the months of the year. Rather they date as far back as the Tribes of Israel. Gemstones adorned the Breastplate of Aaron where each gemstone represented a tribe. Further back than this, gemstones held deep significance in many cultures.
October has two stunning gemstones; tourmaline and opal. Most people are familiar with opals. They are those creamy stones with sparks of fire trapped inside. The opal is likened to a volcano or trapped fire because it encompasses bright, bursts of color.
What may surprise you is opals are found in many different shades. Colors range from creamy white to dark black. The constant is the fiery colors of orange, green, blue, red, and yellow deep within the stone. These flashes of color are created by a non-crystalline silica gel. According to the American Gem Society, “Opals are composed of closely packed particles. When packed together in a regular pattern, a three-dimensional array is formed.”
Opals date back to 4000 B.C. based upon Louis Leakey’s discovery. Dr. Leakey, an anthropologist, discovered opals in a Kenyan cave. The opals most likely originated in Ethiopia. Today, Australia is the largest producer.
Australia is the main producer of opals in the world. Approximately ninety-five percent of the world’s opals are mined in Australia. History indicates opals were first discovered in an ancient Kenyan cave by anthropologist Louis Leakey.
Today, opals are found in Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Ethiopia, and Mali. These countries only make up five percent, though, making Australia the opal king.
Many legends and tales circle the opal. Some stories tell of Marc Anthony coveting a precious opal for his beloved Cleopatra. Other tales quote Pliny, the Roman author, as describing the opal as a culmination of nature. The gemstone has undoubtedly held the attention of cultures because of its complex colors and vibrance.
October is also blessed with a second birthstone, the tourmaline. It is a unique and fascinating stone. The tourmaline is a bi-color or tri-color stone. Some tourmaline are one vibrant color. Others incorporate more than one color in the stone. Natural colors include magenta, blue, green, yellow, and watermelon. The watermelon tourmaline is colored similarly to the fruit. The gem has bands of vibrant pink, white, and green.
History tells us the tourmaline was discovered during the 1500’s in Brazil by a Spanish explorer. He believed he had discovred emeralds. It was not until the the 1800’s that gemologists discovered tourmaline is a distinctive mineral.
It was discovered in Maine in 1822 and California in the 1900’s. During this time, the United States was the largest producer of the gem. The color of tourmaline differed by locations. For example, Maine gems were pink-red and green while California stones were bright pink and bi-color.
Today, the gemstones are mined in Brazil (almost every color of tourmaline), Africa, and Afghanistan.
The tourmaline story tells us it encompasses all the colors of the rainbow because it travelled the rainbow, gathering all its colors. Though this story is fun, the truth is tourmaline captures all colors because of the unique combination of minerals in each mine.
So beloved by Chinese Empress Tz’u Hsi, most of the famous pink tourmaline in the San Diego mines were shipped to China. There the stone was used to create jewelry, snuff boxes, and decorative items for the Empress. Much still exists in museums today.