Saturday, October 1, 2011

October's Birthstone: Opal

Radiant, colorful opal is the birthstone for October. There are several theories about the origin of the word “opal,” but the most probable is that it is derived from the Sanskrit word upala, which means “valuable stone.”

The aborigines of Australia have an ancient story about how opal was created. The Creator descends to earth, bringing a message of peace to humanity. The Creator’s foot touches the earth, and the rocks in that spot suddenly come to life and begin to glitter in a variety of brilliant colors. Those sparkling rocks became opal.

Most of the world’s opal, 95-97%, is mined in Australia--hence the creation story--with a small amount produced in the Americas. Opal is related to quartz; but unlike quartz, it is not a mineral. It is instead a kind of silica, and is found in various types of rocks. The most commonly found colors of opal are greens and whites, and the red/black combination is the most rare.

Opal’s most notable characteristic--its glittery, colorful radiance--is know as “play of color.” In the 1960’s, scientists discovered that within opal, tiny spheres of silica interrupted the passage of light through the gemstone, causing the light to refract. This answered a question that until then no one could answer--why opal produces the lovely play of color that makes it so popular.

If you’re looking for an alternative for an October birthstone, pink tourmaline is a beautiful choice. Because it is classified as a semi-precious stone, it is more expensive than opal. Tourmaline comes in a variety of colors, including one called “watermelon” which is green on the outside and pink on the inside.

Photographs of Opal by Opals-On-Black
Photograph of Tourmaline Ring by Liverpool Design Festival

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