“I want to know one thing,” the artist Pablo Picasso asked, “What is color?” I dare say the gemstones of October, which include opals and tourmalines, might very well hold the answer to Picasso’s burning question. Both are famous for their command of the language of color. So much so, it seems appropriate to give them the well-deserved moniker “Picasso’s Gems.”
While tourmalines have a wider range of colors than any other gemstone, opals have more colors than any one gemstone. Opal translates to “change of color” while tourmaline means “the stone of mixed colors.” The latter is in reference to their ability to have more than one deeply defined color in any one stone – sort of like a layered parfait, but better. Much, much, better.
Besides October birthday boy Picasso, lots of lucky gals have these colorful gems to call their own. October birthday girls include Kim Kardashian, Katie Perry, Kate Winslet, Caitlyn Jenner, Gwen Stefani, Julia Roberts, Brie Larson, Alicia Silverstone, Judge Judy, both of Donald Trump’s daughters, and Hillary Clinton.
While opals and tourmalines both have a myriad of colors in common, the similarities end there as each are a world-of-their-own magnificent creation. One has never been confused with any other gemstone, while the other has been confused more times than anyone can count with their high-brow sapphire, ruby, and emerald cousins.
Some of the most iconic men and women throughout history have had a love affair with opals. Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Elvis Presley, Cleopatra, and the current Queen of England all fell hard for the fairest gem of all.
Ancient Roman’s thought so many different colors sparkled out from an opal because all other gemstones were housed within it. For this reason, opals were considered the most powerful gem of all with the virtues of all other gems in tow.
Opals still evoke a lot of mystery today. There’s a little rumor that says only those born in October can wear opals. This rumor was based on a work of fiction published in the 1800s. While hardly anyone remembers the novel, the rumor about opals being unlucky persists. Which is odd when you consider that for most of human history, opals have been seen as the bringer of good luck for anyone that wears them.
Another rumor that doesn’t hold water is that opals are very porous and can be ruined by water or sweat. With a hardness of 6.5 on the Mohs scale, it’s unlikely that something as benign as water or sweat could change an opals structure. To do this would take extreme temperature change.
Opals have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. They were formed when silica from decomposing rocks mixed with ground water to form a gel that then filled the crevices of rocks and formed tiny spheres. Through time and heat, the gel hardened and molded into opals.
Opal’s kaleidoscopic play of colors is unlike any other gemstone. The body colors range from milky white to black with flashes of yellow, green, red, orange, and blue. Body colors in between include fire opals (transparent or translucent brown, yellow or orange), boulder opals (translucent to opaque with fragments of surrounding rock), and water opals (transparent to semitransparent with a clear background).
When it comes to grading opals, intensity of color play is the key consideration. Because of this, fine opals are often cut into irregular shapes allowing for more play. And when it comes to carat weight, opals are ideal for larger size cuts because of their low density (lighter weight).
Some out-of-this world opals include a black opal dubbed the Aurora Australis for its likeness to the southern lights. This opal goes for a cool $1M. Though this is a bargain compared to one of the most valuable opals called The Olympic Australis. Thus named because it was found while the 1956 Olympic games were happening in Australia. This gem weighs in at 17,000 carats for a value of $2.5M. A more modest sized opal, yet equally magnificent is The Butterfly Stone named because it resembles a red butterfly. Found during WWI, this opal with a red body color weighs in at 51 carats and has the added magical attribute of changing from a butterfly into a Spanish dancer when viewed from another angle.
Those that strut the red carpet like choices and no other gem gives them as many choices as does tourmaline. The “rainbow gem” literally comes in more colors and combinations than any other precious stone. All heads turned at the Academy Awards when actress Gwyneth Paltrow wore pear-shaped cabochon red tourmaline earrings. Pop star Selena Gomez rocked it with a pink tourmaline ring at a music awards show. Country music star Carrie Underwood also rocked it in black tourmaline and diamond earrings at the Billboard Music Awards. Television star Emmy Rossum also couldn’t stay away from black tourmalines with a stunning half-moon dangling design she wore at a recent event.
Tourmalines first hit the scene in the 16th century when a Spanish conquistador thought he had found an emerald that really turned out to be a green tourmaline. He died thinking he had found an emerald. Which is understandable because tourmaline’s deep rich color can rival that of most rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. They have even found their way on to royal crowns misidentified as their colorful cousins. Catherine the Great’s 398.72 carat “ruby” mounted on top of the Great Imperial Crown of Russia for her 1762 coronation turns out to actually be a red tourmaline.
Tourmalines colors have long inspired muses and have been used for centuries as talismans by both writers and artists.
Tourmalines hit a 7.5 on the hardness scale with all tourmalines sharing the elements silicon, aluminum, and boron. When other elements get thrown into the mix, that’s when the color-magic happens. Elements such as iron and titanium inspire blue and green shades while manganese leads to reds, pinks, and yellows.
The variety of colors that a tourmaline can exhibit have inspired unique trade names. Rubellite is any tourmaline with a red hue, indicolite is a dark blue hue, chrome tourmaline is an intense green, parti-colored displays more than one color, and watermelon tourmalines are pink in the center and green around the outside. There are also some tourmalines that have a cats-eye effect called chatoyancy.
Another jaw dropping type of tourmaline are Brazil’s Paraíba tourmalines. Their neon blue shades with a violet-hue can go toe-to-toe with any sapphire for the title of most fabulously colored blue gemstone. Rarer than a sapphire, its price per carat is much more than that of a fine sapphire.
When it comes to clarity, inclusions are less visible in stones with intense color. And even when they do show up, color always trumps inclusions as far importance. The only exception would be green tourmalines which are expected to be free of naked-eye inclusions.
When it comes to cut, again color reigns supreme. Multi-colored tourmalines are shaped to enhance their color. This means a treasure trove of unusual shaped tourmalines are out there in the world. However, custom settings are likely going to be in order.
BEWITCHING AND MYSTERIOUS GEMS
Whether it’s a beautiful opal and diamond pendant, a pair of pink or violet-blue tourmaline dangling earrings, or an avant-garde black opal and black tourmaline cocktail ring, you will just hear wow over and over again whenever you wear these beauties.