October's Birthstones – Opal and Tourmaline
October has two birthstones. The traditional birthstone is the well-known Opal, and the modern October birthstone, added in 1912, is the Tourmaline. Find out the mystical properties and superstitions surrounding your October birthstones.
What is Opal?
Opal is a stunning natural gemstone displaying a myriad of internal colours on a range of base stone colours. Depending on the environment in which it is found, it can be black opal, milky opal, or boulder opal (generally found in Australia), or fire opal found in South America. It has a history steeped in superstition and lore, going in turn from being considered lucky, to unlucky, depending on who is telling the tale.
There are two types of opal: common opal (potch) can be found worldwide but it is generally dull and doesn't display a huge range of colours. Precious opal is far rarer and extremely valuable. Precious opal displays a 'play of colour', with all the colours of the rainbow refracted in its depths. Most natural 'precious' opal on the market today has been mined in Australia, and opal is Australia's national gemstone.
Interestingly, opal is made up of two elements – silica (from sand) and water. Over millions of years, water dripping through sandstone picks up tiny pieces of silica before becoming trapped in a cavity in the rock where it solidifies and forms opal. Convincing synthetic opals are also available to buy.
Tiffany & Co.'s Gregorian Birthstone Poem, published in 1870, has this to say about October's opal birthstone ...
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.
What is Tourmaline?
Tourmaline gemstones are from a variety of different minerals available in many different colours, with pink tourmaline being the one most considered to be October's birthstone. The different colours in tourmaline are due to the presence of differing trace minerals.
The name 'tourmaline' comes from the Sri Lankan 'turmali', which was the term used for all coloured gems found on the island of Sri Lanka. Tourmaline gemstones can be found all over the world.
Each colour of tourmaline was known by a different name at one time, but nowadays jewellers simply use the name tourmaline prefixed with its colour, i.e. pink tourmaline, black tourmaline etc. Pink is the rarest colour - rarer even than rubies!
Tourmaline is a relatively durable gem. Tourmaline jewellery will last for centuries!
What does Opal symbolise?
Opal symbolises hope and faithfulness.
What does Tourmaline symbolise?
Humanity, empathy and confidence.
Opal healing powers*
Opals are associated with the eyes, and were said to restore poor eyesight. They are also said to assist in kidney health and in regulating insulin, and improving overall immunity.
Burying an opal under a fruit tree was once thought to aid conception.
Tourmaline healing powers*
Wrapping tourmaline in silk and placing it against the cheek of a feverish child could induce sleep.
Wearing tourmaline keeps bones and teeth strong and healthy, and improves digestion.
Tourmaline can help those suffering from anxiety. It relieves stress and promotes feelings of love and wellbeing. It's a great stone for meditation because of its electro-magnetic properties.
*NOTE: Any medical 'advice' contained in these articles is not to be taken as proven. It is merely based on historic superstition and belief. If you are suffering any worrying symptoms, please seek the help of your doctor or trained medical professional before seeking the help of a gemstone!
Opal superstitions and beliefs
Ancient Arabians (and many other cultures) believed that opals were formed by lightning striking the earth.
Black opals were thought to be the talisman of witches and wizards used to increase the power of their dark magic – coincidence that opal is the birthstone for Hallowe'en-born people?
Opals were even thought to render the wearer invisible, leading opals to become thought of as the patron stone for thieves and spies!
In Medieval Europe – across different cultures – opals were thought to be a power for good. Opals protected children from predatory animals, restored bad eyesight, and could even keep the wearer warm in the freezing Northern winters.
In was also in Medieval Europe opals were thought to represent the 'evil eye' because of their similarity to the eyes of cats, snakes and other predatory animals.
Ancient Romans believed opals represented good luck and good fortune, and both Romans and Greeks at that time believed opals bestowed the wearer with the gift of foresight.
Tourmaline superstitions and beliefs
Black tourmaline was used as a defensive charm against black magic in ancient times.
In Ancient Egypt it was believed that tourmalines got their array of colours when they passed through a rainbow on their way to the earth's surface.
Alchemists in the Middle Ages believed tourmaline was related to the Philosopher's Stone because of its ability to become slightly magnetic to dust and other particles when warmed.
Opal in history
In the days of Ancient Rome, Senator Nonius refused to sell his precious opal to March Antony, who wanted it as a gift for Cleopatra. For refusing to sell the gem he was exiled for the rest of his life.
Opals are quite brittle stones, like glass in their fragility, so many lapidaries (gem cutters) were reluctant to work with them. One unfortunate lapidary in late fifteenth century France had the misfortune to accidentally break an opal belonging to King Louis XI. Louis immediately ordered that BOTH the lapidary's hands be cut off!
Napoleon gifted a opal to his wife Josephine. The famous opal with a brilliant red fire was known as "The Burning of Troy"
Queen Victoria loved opals and had a huge collection, helping to restore the popularity of this often-maligned gemstone. She gave each of her daughters a gift of opal on their wedding day.
Tourmaline in history
For centuries, Native Americans gave different coloured tourmalines as funeral gifts.
In the nineteenth century, the Chinese Empress Cixi purchased large quantities of pink tourmaline from America for her personal collection, and the tourmaline trade was so dependent on the Chinese market that the tourmaline industry all but collapsed with the fall of the Chinese Empire in 1912.
Pink tourmaline has often been confused with ruby, and the rubies in the Russian Crown Jewels are now thought to be pink tourmaline.
Were you born in October?
People born in October are peace-loving and harmonious. They have a natural charm that draws others to them (like tourmaline!), but often procrastinate over decision making for fear of causing upset. October born people are well suited to careers in the arts or counselling, but need to work on taking criticism too personally. October people love their creature comforts – don't become stagnated or you'll miss the magic yet to be discovered!
Does that sound like you?
You might enjoy these articles too!
Next week: "Precious Metals Used in Jewellery"