The Alluring Gem of the Autumn Season

Autumn is one of the best seasons to wear jewelry! Earthy, neutral fall outfits are best complemented with beautiful jeweled accessories, and few autumnal jewelry pieces can compete with the October birthstone: opal.

These luminescent stones offer a rainbow of glistening color combinations perfect for any outfit. Like sunshine glimmers through the fall leaves, opal diffracts light, displaying a gorgeous shimmer across its surface.

The name is often attributed to the Greek word opallios meaning “to see a change in color.” Other historians trace the name to the Romans and their Latin opalus, stemming from the Sanskrit upala meaning “precious stone.” So famous for their intriguing rainbow shimmer, opals have even brought about the adjective opalescent, meaning “showing varying colors as an opal does.” Think of the color of bubbles in the sunlight, for example!

This October birthstone is also a favorite gift on the 14th wedding anniversary!

Difference between Opals and Moonstones

Many people commonly mistake moonstones for opals, but the two are very different!  Both gems are soft, delicate, glossy stones that can appear quite similar at times. However, opals are often more colorful; moonstones tend to retain a more minimalistic glow. Learn more about moonstones from Joslin’s blog!

Opal Formation

Opals are part of the quartz family, composed of tiny, intricate silica spheres in a tight lattice formation. These stones may often form in the cavities and crevices of volcanic rock. For example, ground water may filter through sedimentary volcanic ash rock, dissolving silica that overtime becomes the opal.

The higher water content in opal stones make it a delicate stone. If exposed to high temperatures, the gem is prone to cracking. Fine cracks may also appear if the gem is kept in an extremely dry climate for long periods of time.

Distinctive, dominant colors in opals are the result of the opal’s formation. Common, pearl-like opals indicate small gas bubbles were present during formation, while yellows and reds show iron oxide inclusions. Some opals appear black with blue, red, or green undertones; these colors are the result of organic carbon and magnesium oxides.

Opal History and Symbolism

Rough Opal Stone

Like many other gems, opals found throughout history bore symbolic meaning and mysterious superstition.  Opals have the ability to alter color intensity, increasing or decreasing the hue strength when affected by various changing temperatures. This temperature sensitivity led many people to believe it was a stone of good fortune.

Romans and Greeks attributed powers of love and hope to the stone. Medieval Europeans considered them lucky charms. This fortunate reputation changed during the Middle Ages, however.

Some attribute this change to the Bubonic plague. As the plague burdened European countries, killing 25% of the population, some blamed the deaths on opals. Because of the opal’s sensitivity to temperatures, the colors would shine brilliantly on someone ill with a high fever but upon the person’s death, the opal would become cold and pale.

Polished Opal Stone

Others say that opals continued to be good luck charms through the Middle Ages and didn’t become suspect until the early 1800s when a fable spread about a magical princess with an enchanted opal. This stone was said to change appearance and alter its color according to her moods. However, according to the tale, the stone lost its magic when sprinkled with a few drops of holy water, and the enchanted princess died shortly thereafter.

In spite of these myths of suffering, many still held opals in high regard as mysterious, enchanted charms of fortune. To this day, October’s birthstone still represents hope, confidence, and faithfulness.

Opal Sourcing

In the mid-1800s, opals became highly prized once more when multiple opal deposits were discovered in Australia. To this day, the country remains the world’s greatest source of opals and is also known for its incredibly stunning black opals. As the natural Australian deposits are diminishing, however, the opal has gained value and increased in price.

Other opal deposits can be found in Ethiopia, Mexico, Turkey, and Brazil. Opals have also been discovered in the Czech republic, northern Nevada, Canada, Madagascar, Indonesia, Peru and in various Central American countries, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Not all opals today are natural ones, however. Gemologists and scientists found a way to synthetically create opal in the early 1970s. Synthetic opals have a higher resistance to cracking, and make excellent gifts for people worried about damage from makeup, perfume, or hairspray.

Opal Durability and Care

Soft and sensitive to temperature change, the opal is a rather fragile stone. With a Moh’s hardness rating of 5 – 6.5, opals are quite delicate compared to many other popular gems. It’s important to keep your opals separate from other stones to prevent scratches. Your diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires pieces, for example, are quite a bit harder and will damage your opals if stored together.

Never use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner on your opal pieces as the vibrations may crack this fragile gem. The best way to gently clean opals is with warm, soapy water. But caution: excessive exposure to water can weaken the opal pieces, and high heat or sudden temperature changes are almost certain to cause damage. For professional care and cleaning, just contact our jewelry experts! We value your trust in us and we take care of your gems as if they were our own.

Birthstone Alternative: Pink Tourmaline

Tourmalines, like Opals, offer several beautiful colors to choose from. When tourmaline crystals contain manganese, the stone becomes various shades of red and pink. These hues can also be created in laboratories through radiation. Tourmaline stones are so beautiful and richly colored that throughout history they have often been confused with emeralds, sapphires, rubies and other well-known gems. While Opals are generally considered the primary birthstone for October, Tourmalines, especially the pink variety, are considered a secondary birthstone. Additionally, Tourmaline is the stone for a couples’ 8th anniversary.

Joslin’s recently acquired a rare, butterfly-shaped pink tourmaline gem. Jewelry designer and Gary’s daughter, Elicia, was so inspired, she created a custom piece to highlight the shape and color of the stone. We’ll think you agree, it turned out beautifully. Stop by Joslin’s soon to check it out!

Searching for the perfect birthday present for your October-born loved one? Perhaps you’re celebrating your 8th or 14th wedding anniversary soon! Even if you’re perusing for yourself, Joslin’s has something for everyone. Contact us online or drop by today and ask about our opal selections.