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History and Lore of gems: opal and tourmaline.

October Birthstones: Opal and tourmaline


Hello Fall and welcome to a month of two birthstones. While many months do have alternate selections - there are some similarities here: such colorful stones, found in a wide range of colors, and such varied histories...

(The American National Association of Jewelers met in 1912 to create a standardized list of gemstones birthstones. In 1952 the list was tweaked - specifying pink tourmaline as October's representative. I have chosen to not be so specific...)


Watermelon tourmaline crystal
Collage of tourmaline variations. 


My tourmaline palette: ceramic beads from myself  & Mary Hubbard at White Clover Kiln . Silks from Marsha Neal Studio. 

 Tourmaline - 

from the Sinhalese word "Thuramali" translates as "many colored". It became very popular in the early 17th century as Dutch traders imported the stones from Sri Lanka. Found there in abundance, it is also mined in the US, Brazil, Nigeria, Mozambique... Folklore claims that tourmaline can aid meditation, foster compassion and cool headedness, as well as maintain love and friendships.

In the late 1800's Tzu Hsi, Dowager Empress of China imported loads of tourmaline from a new mine in California. She was the last Empress of the Ch'ing Dynasty, ( ruled from 1860 - 1908) and a huge tourmaline fan - she is resting for eternity on a tourmaline pillow!

One physical attribute of tourmaline - it becomes electrically charged with pressure or rubbing. This trait earned it the name "aschentrekker" or ash-puller - as the Dutch used the stone to pull ash from their Meerschaum pipes!
Clay pipes from the Dawn Mist collection 


Opal: 

Raw opal
Collage of opals from Bernardine.com
When I think opal I think Australia; it is their national gem, and approximately 95% of the world's supply is mined there. The largest opal weighing in at 17,000 carats ( 11"long) was mined at Coober Pedy in Southern Australia. Coober Pedy translates from the Aboriginal as "white man in a hole" - a reference to miners living in caves and mine shafts to escape the harsh sun and cold nights of that environment.

One Aboriginal myth tells of opal's creation: One of the Creators travelled to Earth on a rainbow to bring messages of peace to all humans. Where his feet touched the Earth, the rocks came alive and sparked rainbows themselves... Another myth tells of a Creator Muda, who traveled as a pelican. Stopping to rest he pecked on some colorful stones in curiosity. These opals sparked fire - and Muda is credited with bringing fire to humans.

The name stems from a Roman term "Opalus" meaning "stone from several elements". Even until the Middle Ages it was believed that opals provided great luck, and possessed the attributes of each stone whose color flashed within. Lore tells that if you wrap an opal in a bay leaf, and hold in your hand - it will grant invisibility! (Apparently opals were very rare - as this theory wasn't debunked...)

The opal was originally reported to have healing properties to cure eye ailments. In the incredibly superstitious Middle Ages - these powers quickly transformed from healing to powers of the evil eye - perhaps the foundation of the opal's reputation as an unlucky stone to all but October births?

The opal is an amorphous form of silica and contains from 3 - 21% water! Porous and soft, ( Moh's 5.5/6/6) it is often set in a doublet or triplet setting. Backed with obsidian or onyx (doublet) and at times capped with quartz as well (triplet) these settings augment a sliver of opal and can protect it. I have an opal triplet I set in college - sadly it became cloudy after 10 years or so... the result when water infiltrates the layers of the triplet itself...

Sadly I did not have quantities of either stone to photograph - but I hope you enjoyed my "inspired by" palette selections and a little lore from these two colorful characters... Happy October!

5 comments:

  1. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing a bit of history and the lovely work inspired by tourmaline.

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  2. Thanks for the history - Opal is my birth stone and I love it. Didn't know about the tourlamine.

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  3. I had no idea!! So beautiful! Those colors are amazing!!!

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  4. Thank you all for reading! I thoroughly enjoy the research and exploration, and am glad to have someone to share it with. Each month I discover new tidbits....

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  5. Great information! I always wondered where the "bad luck" story about Opal came from. I was always told as a child to never wear it, but I did not know why.

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