October Birthstones: Tourmaline and Opal

October is another month with two birthstone choices, Tourmaline and Opal

Tourmaline

Tourmaline has become a favorite gemstone among jewelry designer, and gem collectors the world over. Since it is available in a wide variety of colors, it is ideally suited to almost anyone’s taste. Tourmaline also is known for displaying several colors in the same gemstone.  These bi-color or tri-color gems are formed in many combinations; gemstones with clear color distinctions are highly prized.

bulgari-costa-smeralda-necklace-set-with-rubellites-peridots-garnets-diamonds

Bvlgari Costa Smeralda necklace, set with rubellites, peridots, garnets, diamonds.

One multi-color variety is known as watermelon tourmaline, and features green, pink, and white colors bands; to resemble its namesake, the gemstone is cut into thin slices having a pink center, white ring, and green edge.

2014-11-12-leviev-high-jewelry-slideshow-opener4

2014-11-12-leviev-high-jewelry-slideshow-opener3Leviev carved , watermelon tourmaline and diamond ring.

In this one-of-a-kind statement piece the breathtaking skill and artistic instincts of Leviev’s master jewelers are on full display. Handcrafted in 18-karat white gold, watermelon tourmaline is transformed into a stunning botanical form, seamlessly carved to create startlingly lifelike texture and a gorgeous sheen. At the center, a single rose-cut diamond and an array of smaller round-cut diamonds fan out with astonishing brilliance, while the underside is embellished with pavé for an unexpected dose of shine. Boasting 55.5 carats of diamonds and countless hours of craftsmanship, this museum-worthy piece is a priceless addition to any jewelry collection.

Tourmaline is found in many localities including Brazil, Afghanistan, East Africa, and the USA.

Opal

The name opal derives from the Greek Opallos, meaning ‘to see a change (of color)’.  Opals range in color from milky white to black with flashes of yellow, orange, green, red, and blue. An opal’s beauty is the product of contrast between its color play and its background.

cartier-platinum-ete-indien-ringCartier platinum Été Indien ring from the Étourdissant high jewellery collection featuring a 4.18ct oval-shaped, cabochon-cut opal, carved mandarin garnets, carved garnets, mandarin garnet beads, round-cut tsavorite garnets, and brilliant-cut diamonds.

Opal is a formation of non-crystalline silica gel that seeped into crevices in the sedimentary strata. Through time and nature’s heating and molding processes, the gel hardened into the form of opals.

erica-courtney-cupcake-ring-features-a-7-41-carat-brazilian-crystal-opal-with-a-diamond-surround-set-in-18k-gold

Erica Courtney Cupcake Ring features a 7.41-carat Brazilian crystal opal with a diamond surround set in 18k gold

Of all the precious gemstones, opal is perhaps the most alluring.  A unique mixture of silica and varying amounts of water, opal’s brilliant play of color is the result of tiny silicon spheres measuring several hundred nanometers in diameter, the same width as the wavelength of visible light. What makes an opal precious and another nonprecious is how those spheres are organized:

The opal is composed of particles closely packed in spherical arrangements. When packed together in a regular pattern, a three-dimensional array of spaces are created that give opal its radiance.

goshwara-opal-bead-12-strand-tassel-earrings-in-18k-with-diamonds-and-onyx

Goshwara opal bead 12 strand tassel ‘Art Deco style’ earrings in 18k with diamonds and onyx 

Once considered the most prized precious stones by European royals, opals were traditionally given as favors in the 1800s.  Even Napoleon adored the stone, giving his wife, Josephine, a vivid red opal weighing roughly 140 grams.  The first opal to be named, ‘The Burning of Troy’ was aptly labeled since Napoleon had said that he gave her this stone because she was his Helen.  In spite of such royal favor, the opal is the only one thought to bring bad luck. This notion swept the opinions of nineteenth-century Europe after the great success of the ghost novel ‘Anne of Geierstein’ by Sir Walter Scott, in which a drop of holy water turns a supernatural opal talisman into a common pebble and soon after which the heroine dies.  So convinced of this superstition was Princess Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, that when Queen Victoria died, the new queen removed the ‘unlucky opals’ from the diamond and opal tiara her mother-in-law had commissioned and replaced them with rubies from Ceylon, which remain there today.

le-vian-18k-honey-gold-ring-with-a-42-19-spumoni-opalLe Vian 18k ‘Honey Gold’ ring with a 42.19 ‘Spumoni’ opal

Quite possibly the most famous opal in history was owned by a Roman senator named Nonius in 35 BC. Originating from the mines of Czernowitza, the only source for opals at the time, the fabled stone was only the size of a hazelnut yet was valued at two million sesterces, or enough to buy a villa in a nice part of Rome. So obsessed with the stone was Mark Antony that the amount of pressure he applied to Nonius, who had no intentions to part with the stone, to sell it to him caused Nonius to self-imposed exile, leaving behind all his property and taking only his precious opal. Even Pliny, the famous Roman author, called opal a gemstone which combines the best possible characteristics of the most beautiful of gemstones: the fine sparkle of Almandine, the shining purple of Amethyst, the golden yellow of Topaz, and the deep blue of Sapphire, so that all colours shine and sparkle together in a beautiful combination.

lisa-nik-asymmetric-opal-and-diamond-earrings-in-18k-rose-gold-with-diamondsLisa Nik asymmetric opal and diamond earrings in 18k rose gold with diamonds

Today, roughly 97% of opals come from Australia, and of all the opal produced in the world 60% is white opal, 30% is crystal opal, 8% black opal and 2% boulder opal. The town of Coober Pedy, which means ‘white man in a hole’ in Aborigine, produces a major amount of opal, however, the mines in Mintabie and Lightning Ridge produce the rarer, more valuable black opal. The ‘white’ or ‘black’ of an opal refers to the stone’s body color on which the ‘flashes of light and color’ play, with the black offering the most brilliant play of color. Much detail has gone into valuing black opals, even so far as differentiating the seemingly endless types of patterns. The more vivacious and bright the play of color, the more valuable the opal.

In honor of October’s birthstone, I have put together some of the most beautiful opals ever seen and the most famous ones ever recorded.  Consider this my birthday gift to all those born in the month of October.

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