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Known for its fiery combination of colors, opal is called the “Cupid stone” because it was said to reflect the complexion of the Greek god of love. The ancient Romans believed the gem was the symbol of hope, good luck and purity. Today, it remains a symbol of hope and inspiration. With a name stemming from the Latin word for “precious stone,” opal is considered October’s birthstone and is traditionally given as a 14th anniversary gift.
Opals are luminous and iridescent stones with inclusions of many colors called "fire." It is sometimes called the "queen of gems" because it can flash patterns of color representing every hue of the rainbow. In fact, most stones are usually cut into domed cabochons to enhance the color play. The brilliance and pattern of an opal’s fire determines its value. Opals with strong flashes of red fire are generally the most prized, while stones with blue or green flashes are more common and subsequently less valuable. Stone size also helps determine price, since the gem is very rare in larger sizes.
In order to produce a stone that is less expensive than a solid opal, an opal doublet can be manufactured. It is composed of a thin layer of opal glued on top of another mineral (usually a black onyx or ironstone, which enhances the opal's color). An opal triplet can be made with a thin layer of opal sandwiched between a layer of clear quartz on top and a layer of obsidian or ironstone on the bottom. The clear quartz top layer makes the gem harder and less susceptible to scratches. Since top-quality natural opals are extremely rare and expensive, many are treated with colorless oil, wax or resin to enhance their appearance. Ranking a hardness of 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs Scale, these treatments also fill cracks in the stone to improve durability.
A species of quartz, opal is one of the few gemstones that are sedimentary in origin. Millions of years ago, after ancient seas receded, silica-laden sediment was deposited around shorelines. Erosion made much of this silica into a solution that filled cracks in rocks, clay and fossils. Layers upon layers of silica jell were added to each other over millions of years and became precious opals. The stones still contain 6 to 10 percent water, a remnant of ancient seas. Because they have high water content, opals should be protected from heat and strong light in order to prevent them from drying out and cracking.
Opal is found in a range of hues, including white opal (the most common), black opal (the most valuable), boulder opal (black opal with iron oxide), crystal or water opal (which is transparent), and fire opal (which features a bright solid color). Prices can vary from a few dollars per carat for white opal to more than $1,000 per carat for fine black opal.
White opals tend to have more diffused fire due to their light background color. Rare black opals have a black to dark gray body color that allows for the fire to be the most noticeable, making them the most valuable type of opal. Boulder opals are cut with the natural host rock left on the back. They are found with interesting hills and valleys on the surface and inclusions in the foreground, forming odd shapes that make them a designer’s delight. Crystal opal is transparent with flashes of rainbow colors, while fire opal only occasionally has this play of color.
Fire opal’s backdrop color is the main attraction. It has recently become very popular as jewelry designers are growing to appreciate its bold presence and bright color. With hot yellows, fiery oranges and juicy reds, the fire opal is a bright gemstone that is usually faceted to add sparkle and enhance the fabulous color.
The relatively rare Peruvian blue opal comes from the Andes Mountains in Peru and was cherished by the Incas. It features the translucent turquoise-blue color of tropical oceans and has soft, relaxing energies said to be good for quieting the mind during meditation. It is thought to relieve stress and bring about a tranquil, healing nature. Peruvian blue opal is also believed to increase clear thinking, spark creativity and aid in sleep.
The vast majority of the world's opal supply comes from Australia, first discovered there by gold panners in 1863. In addition to the small quantity of opal produced in Kenya and Canada, white opal is mined in Brazil, black opal is found only at Lightning Ridge in Australia, and crystal and fire opal can be found in the United States and Mexico.
Opals have been treasured for thousands of years throughout the world. A beautiful opal called the “orphanus” was featured in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor and was said to guard the regal honor. The Aztecs mined opal in South and Central America and Archaeologist Louis Leakey found 6,000-year-old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya. Napoleon gave Josephine a beautiful opal with brilliant red flashes called “The Burning of Troy,” making her his Helen. To this day, opals are still set in the crown jewels of France.
Shakespeare regarded opal as a symbol of shifting inconstancy, comparing its play of color to play of mind. In “Twelfth Night” he wrote, “Now the melancholy God protect thee, and the tailor make thy garments of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is opal.” In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott caused a reputation that opals were unlucky. The heroine of his popular novel had her life force caught in the opal she wore in her hair and died when its fire was extinguished.
For thousands of years, opals have been revered for their supposed mystical powers. Romans thought the stone kept the wearer safe from disease and wore it near the heart to ward off evil and protect travelers. Ancient Arabs believed that opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning, which explained their fiery colors. During the Middle Ages, opal was called “ophthalmios,” meaning “eye stone,” due to a widespread belief that it was beneficial to eyesight. Some thought its effect on sight could render the wearer invisible, and the stone was even recommended for thieves. In medieval Scandinavia, blonde women wore opals in their hair to prevent it from going gray.
Today, opals are still believed to hold magical powers. White opals, when used in rituals on a full moon night, are said to bring the moon goddess’ powers into full effect within the practitioner. A fire opal surrounded with 10 or 12 diamonds and worn on a gold necklace is said to have excellent money-drawing power.
Opals have been said to bring good luck, grant vigor and ideally protect travelers. The stones have long been believed to develop and increase mental capacities and open the unused powers of the mind. The colorful fire in opals is said to develop a more creative imagination and help recall past lives. It is believed that the most magically powerful opals come from Lightning Ridge in Australia and that the gem loses its power once its owner dies.
An ancient Persian legend states the Earth rests on a gigantic sapphire that gives its blue reflection to the sky. The most popular colors for sapphires range from light blue to a blue that appears black. Hence, the name was derived from the Latin form of the Greek word for blue, “sapphirus.” Bright daylight makes most sapphires shine more vividly than the somewhat muted artificial light. So the most highly cherished color for blue sapphires is not the darkest blue, but a deep and satiated blue, which even in dim, artificial light remains to appear blue.
While sapphires are best known for being velvety blue, it was decided long ago to consider all gemstones of the mineral family corundum to be sapphires. Non-blue sapphires are termed “fancy” and can be nearly any color, including yellow, green, white/colorless, pink, orange, brown, purple, golden and even black. Red corundum is the exception, however, and was given the special name of “ruby.” Since pink is really just a light red, the International Colored Gemstone Association has resolved to consider light shades of the red hue to be included in the category ruby, as it is too difficult to legislate where red ends and pink begins. In practice, however, pink shades of corundum are known as either pink ruby or pink sapphire. All sapphires rank a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale, second only to diamonds in hardness.
There are a great number of varieties of sapphire, many of which are quite rare and highly sought-after in the gemstone market. A rare orange-pink variety, known as padparadscha, can be even more valuable than blue sapphire. Pronounced PAD-PA-RAD-SHAH, the name comes from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom. Endowed with both pink and orange color components, its hues range from pastels to fiery shades. Padparadscha sapphires are usually heat treated to improve and intensify their color, while the color of untreated stones will fade over time. An untreated padparadscha sapphire that has faded will return to its original pinkish-orange color, however, if exposed to sunlight for about an hour.
Another rare variety of sapphire is known as the color-changing sapphire. This stone exhibits different colors in different light. In natural light, color-changing sapphire is blue, but in artificial light, it is violet.
For experts and connoisseurs, the Kashmir-color is considered the most beautiful and valuable shade. It features a pure and intensive blue, which is enhanced by a fine, silky gloss. Its color does not change in artificial light, but remains intense with a deep, velvety sheen. Setting the standard for the color of top-quality sapphires, Kashmir sapphires were found in 1880 after an avalanche. They were intensely mined for only eight years until the source was depleted. The Burma-color is also considered especially valuable, ranging from rich royal blue to deep cornflower blue. Ceylon sapphires are prized as well for the luminosity and brilliance of their light to medium blue color.
There is a translucent variety of sapphire, called star sapphire, which displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. The mineral rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the stone, causing light to reflect in a phenomenon called “asterism.” Six- or twelve-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star sapphires and rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. Value is influenced by the intensity of the body color and the strength and sharpness of the star. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the sapphire’s spirit.
The stone is mined in many parts of the world. The oldest sapphire mines are situated in Ceylon, today called Sri Lanka, where gemstones were mined in ancient times. Most blue sapphires today come from Thailand or Australia, but sapphires from Kashmir and Myanmar (formerly Burma) are considered the most rare and highly prized. Sapphires are readily available in sizes of up to 2.00ct, but gems weighing 5.00-10.00ct are not unusual. The cushion-cut Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka weighs an astounding 423.00ct and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. There is also a 258.00ct stone set in the Russian crown, which is kept in the Diamond Fund in Moscow.
Because the gem has long symbolized sincere love and enduring faithfulness, blue sapphires are often given in engagement rings to express commitment and loyalty. Many women throughout the world decide on the blue stone for their engagement rings, as the gem also represents truth, friendship, harmony and consistency. Sapphire blue has become a color related to anything permanent and reliable, making it an ideal stone to symbolize the promise of marriage.
Often referred to as “Gem of the Heavens,” sapphire also symbolizes a noble soul. It is September’s birthstone and is traditionally given as 5th and 45th wedding anniversary gifts. Star sapphires are given for the 65th anniversary. The color sapphire-blue is known for representing clarity and competence. In fact, the first computer to ever declare victory over a chess grandmaster and world champion was named “Deep Blue.”
Sapphires have been associated with magical powers throughout the ages. The Greeks identified white sapphires with Apollo and the oracles at Delphi used them to tap into the subconscious and super conscious. During the Middle Ages, sapphires symbolized the tranquility of the heavens and wearing them was thought to bring peace, happiness and purity of the soul. The color blue became the symbol of the union between a priest and the heavens, so sapphires came to be adorned on the rings of bishops. Soldiers wore them to prevent capture by enemies and kings wore the gemstone to defend against harm and put themselves in divine favor. This supposed “divine favor” is why sapphires were often the gemstone of choice for high priests and royalty throughout history. In fact, the British Crown Jewels contain a number of notable sapphires.
Today, sapphires are still believed to hold special powers. The stone is said to provide healing properties for mental illness and depression. It can be considered an aid to psycho kinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance, while providing spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. White sapphires, like diamonds, are considered the guardians of love, enhancing it and ensuring fidelity in marriage. The most powerful type of the gem is said to be the star sapphire. They are believed to protect against negative energy and have a calming effect that allows the mind to experience tranquility, joy and clear thinking.
Tourmaline occurs in virtually every color of the spectrum, with an unlimited range of solid and mixed colors in all imaginable shades. According to an ancient Egyptian legend, this is the result of the gemstone traveling along a rainbow from the Earth’s heart, up to the sun. On its journey, the legend says that tourmaline collected all the colors of the rainbow, which is why nowadays it is called the “Rainbow Gemstone.”
Tourmalines displaying just one color are quite rare since one crystal usually shows two or more shades or colors. In fact, the name “tourmaline” has been derived from the Singhalese expression “tura mali,” which translates to “stone of mixed colors.” Even two stones cut from the same rough mother crystal will often show different colors, a characteristic that makes tourmalines so attractive and sought-after.
Tourmaline crystals come from a mineral group that usually forms in various combinations of elements. The slightest changes in composition will result in completely different colors. Thus, it is possible that in one naturally grown crystal, there will appear completely different colors. Some will show only slightly shaded color fields, while others will display contrasting colors and defined color zoning. Tourmalines rank a hardness of 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and may be as small as a knitting needle or as thick as a thigh. They are easily available in sizes of up to 5.00ct.
Different shades of colored tourmalines have been assigned specific names. Bi-colored and multi-colored tourmalines have several names for the common combinations of colors. Crystals with red or pink cores and green borders are called watermelon-tourmalines. Stones with colorless crystals and black tips are called Maur’s Head or Moor’s Head, while colorless crystals with red tips are called Turk’s Head. If the color zones are arranged one on top of the other, the stone is considered a rainbow tourmaline.
The red variety of tourmaline changes its name based on the coloring in different types of lighting. Deep red tourmaline named rubellite shows the same fine ruby-red shade in daylight and in artificial light. Should the color change when the source of light changes, the stone is simply called a pink tourmaline. With its exquisitely intense coloring, rubellite was once the victim of misidentification for rubies in the Russian crown jewels.
A recognizable variety of the gem is simply called, green tourmaline. It comes in a variety of green shades, including leek-green, intense yellow-green, olive-green and brownish-green. Chromium-tourmaline is the trade name for the emerald-green variety. The most rare and highly coveted green hues are the blue-green stones often called African tourmalines and the bottle-green gems referred to as Brazilian tourmalines.
Perhaps the most beautiful variety is the Paraiba tourmaline. It ranges in color from electric blue to neon blue-green to sizzling turquoise. Discovered in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, its spectacular color is due to the presence of a small amount of copper. A study by the German Foundation for Gemstone Research recently also discovered a surprisingly high content of gold in the stones. While the average gold content of the Earth’s crust is 0.007 parts per million, Paraiba tourmalines contain a remarkable 8.6 parts per million. So if they were not so breathtaking, the gems might be in danger of being crushed to acquire their gold.
Paraiba tourmalines are mined near a village called Sao Jose de Batalha. In 1989, the miners discovered a new vein of gem-quality stones with extraordinarily bright shades of blue and green. Hand-excavated shafts and tunnels are up to 60 meters deep and the tourmaline is found only in pencil-thin veins. Because of the difficulty in mining, supply will always be limited and Pariaba tourmalines will always be rare and expensive. Dealers all over the world are competing for the Paraiba tourmaline, which means that it can command retail prices more than $20,000 per carat.
In the year 2000, electric yellow tourmalines were found in Malawi in East Africa. With a clear and pure color, they were deemed “canary tourmalines”. Only 10 percent of all the mined yellow stones are gem-quality and when cut, more than 95 percent of the harvest will weigh less than 1.00ct. Yellow tourmalines are considered to be the only gemstones that have a fine scent. This is because their crystals are often embedded into black material that must be removed before the stones are cut. An owner of a Malawi gemstone mine discovered the black matter was easily removed when the rough crystals were boiled in water and lemon juice. Ever since then, yellow tourmalines from Malawi not only resemble fresh lemons in color, but also in their scent before they are cut.
Other tourmalines are called “indigolith” if they are blue and “dravite” if they are golden to dark brown. Black tourmalines are known as “schorls” and are mainly used for engraving. Although they were used as mourning jewelry, ancients believed black tourmalines to be stones that protected against negativity and strengthened the heart.
Tourmalines are piezoelectric, meaning they can generate electrical charges when heated, compressed or vibrated. They then become polarized crystalline magnets and can attract light objects. The Dutch, who originally brought the stone to Europe, knew about this effect and used heated tourmalines to extract ashes from their pipes. The stones were even favorite toys of Dutch children before their gem quality was established. Because the gem’s electrical charges attract dust and small materials, some believe that wearing pink tourmalines will attract love and green ones will attract success.
Tourmaline has often been called the “muses’ stone” because it is believed that its imaginative colors contain inspirational powers that grant enlightenment, enable creativity and express an artist’s mood. Due to the stones’ energetic conductivity and vast array of elements, they are thought to have powerful healing abilities and protect against many dangers. Tourmaline is supposed to be an especially powerful influence on love and friendship, fostering compassion and cool headedness. It is considered the traditional gift to give couples celebrating their 8th wedding anniversary.
Ever since the ancient days, the gem has been attributed with magical powers. Today, specific colors of tourmaline are thought to hold individualized powers. Black is believed to strengthen the immune system and bring luck and happiness when rubbed. Green tourmaline is said to encourage communication and bring success, while blue is a balancer that stimulates other tourmalines’ effectiveness. Watermelon tourmaline is believed to increase perception and creativity, while balancing passivity and aggressiveness. Pink is thought to promote peace, increase spiritual understanding and bring forth love and friendship.
Zircon often suffers for its name’s similarity to “cubic zirconia,” the simulated diamond. The stone zircon, however, is actually a beautiful natural gemstone. It is named from the Persian word “zargun,” meaning “gold-colored.” This is despite the fact that it comes in a wide range of rainbow colors. The majority of zircons are brown or yellow-brown, while pure red and green are the most valuable colors. The yellow-red to reddish-brown variety is called “hyacinth.”
For many years, the most popular type of zircon was the colorless variety. More than any other natural stone, colorless zircons produce a brilliant sparkle similar to diamonds. The most popular color today tends to be the bright pastel blue variety. Sometimes called “starlite,” blue zircon has recently become considered an alternative birthstone for December.
Zircon is one of the heaviest gemstones, meaning that it will look smaller than other varieties of the same weight. It ranks a hardness between 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia.
Travelers during the 11th century wore zircon amulets for protection and to encourage welcome greetings on their journeys. In the Middle Ages, the stone was said to bring wisdom and prosperity to its owner. Hindu mythology even mentions the gem when referencing the Kalpa Tree, which was a glowing tree covered with gemstone fruit and leaves of zircon.
Chrome diopside, also called Russian diopside, offers an intense forest green color. Because it is the most affordable gemstone with a pure, rich green color, many jewelry designers predict chrome diopside will be the world’s leading emerald substitute by the end of the decade. It is mostly available in smaller sizes, with the rare larger sizes becoming much more expensive and too dark. A 26.17ct oval cut chrome diopside may be the largest known example of the faceted stone, but there is also a 25.33ct stone that is brighter and more intense in color.
Chrome diopside is relatively soft, with a hardness of 5.5 on the Mohs Scale. Mostly mined in Yakutia and Siberia, the liberalization of the economy of the former Soviet Union has made chrome diopside more available, and more popular, than ever before.