October, the month of Halloween celebrations and the birthstones, opal and tourmaline. This week, we explore the history of these exceptional gems to find out what makes them such special stones.
An opal is like a network of twinkling stars, the way you see them depends on their background. Encompassing the colours of all precious stones, the opal is said to hold the red of ruby, the yellow of topaz, the blue of sapphire and the purple of amethyst.
Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel in 1829 called Anne of Geierstein which starred an opal. In the tale, holy water is sprinkled onto an opal worn by Lady Hermione, an enchanted princess. The following morning, the only thing left of Lady Hermione was that glistening gemstone amongst a pile of ash. This story stormed the jewellery market, with superstitions opals would bring terrible misfortune to all who wore them. Soon opal sales plummeted, it was a dire time to be in the opal trade.
Ironically, it was the discovery of a black opal in 1877 which turned the market around. The Black Opal from Lightening Ridge, to be precise.
This was the game changer. The news of the discovery made itself all the way to White Cliffs, it gained a reputation for itself as being very special. A man called Charlie Nettleton followed the rumours and walked 700 kilometres to the Ridge to see the wonder for himself. Just to put that distance into perspective, Scotland is 614 kilometres from London. A year later Charlie voyaged the 700 kilometres again to push the opal market, the efforts in his journey has since made him a famous mining legend as he developed the industry.
The superstition was soon cast aside as a carelessly read, make-believe story and the opal returned to the market. It’s quite a fitting history of the gem as the opal is said to hold the virtues of all gems. It’s been through a lot because it has contracted good and bad, to become the master of transformation.
A true chameleon, this gem is totally unique in how it shifts colour, taking you through the sky and sea. There are many theatrical stories laced in the stone, the Gemological Institute of America described it as looking like:
“Fireworks. Jellyfish. Galaxies. Lightning”
Now it carries itself as a magical symbol of hope and truth, so all you October babies can be proud of your Opal roots, wear it with glee! And if that isn’t enough, we’ve got a story to share. Guess who loved the gem? Elvis Presley! Both on and off stage, Elvis wore a whopping 14ct opal ring as it had a special meaning. So the King of Rock’N’Roll himself was a fan.
90-95% of the world’s opals come from Australia, the small share left can be found in Brazil, Mexico and Western America. Opals are softer than most gems, they score 5.5/6 on the Mohs scale. The Mohs scale is a rating system that tests gemstones on their durability. Most people recommend wearing opals in earrings and brooches because they will encounter less wear. However, the gem is astoundingly beautiful in a ring, so don’t let the others put you off! As long as you find an opal in a bezel, you’ll be dandy. We took a picture of some of our favourite opal pieces from our stores, see it below.
A stone with many species, Tourmaline is the stone of colour variety. We won’t list them all, but basically you can find this gem in all colours of the rainbow. One wonderful variety of this gem is the Watermelon tourmaline. It coined this name for resembling the flesh of the fruit’s colours. The GIA is a resource we refer to often, they have a detailed article all about tourmaline quality factors.
Tourmaline is mined all over the world. Australia is the world’s primary source for the gem, but it can be found across America, Brazil, Mexico. The October birthstone scores 7 – 7.5 on the handy Mohs scale making it favourable, wearable and durable jewellery.
We’ve seen some astounding opals and tourmalines in our time, 121 years of trading, you can bet your bottom dollar we’ve seen something that looks like it’s dropped from the sky. You can browse our tourmaline collections to see our new arrivals, there’s something different every day.
What makes these stones different is colour. Opals have a unique combination of colour (think of it like that network of stars) and tourmalines come in many varieties of colours. Opals, one of a kind. Tourmalines, options for everyone.
At EST1897 we have our own network of stars. If you have your heart set on a piece, you can let one of our stores know. Then the stores/stars branch out to each other spreading the word you are looking for something special. Before you know it, we’ve lit the sky up searching and you’re not alone walking 700 kilometres like ol’ Charlie trying to find his gem.