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October - Opal

The Details:

The name "opal" is derived from ancient Sanskrit "upala" -- meaning "precious stone." It alternates with pink tourmaline as the birthstone for October. Like a rainbow shining through luminous clouds, the multi-hued fires of the opal shimmer. Some people believed that opals were actually bits of rainbow that had fallen to the ground. Others thought that the opal's coloring resembled the complexion of the god of love, and called it the "Cupid stone."

Opal has been treasured throughout history around the world. Archaeologist Louis Leakey found six-thousand year old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya! Roman historian Pliny described the beauty of opal as the combination of the beauty of all other gems: "There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald - all shining together in incredible union.

Some by their splendor rival the colors of the painters, others the flame of burning sulphur or of fire quickened by oil." Opal was much loved and valued highly by the Romans, who called it opalus. A beautiful opal called the orphanus was set in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. It was described "as though pure white snow flashed and sparkled with the color of bright ruddy wine, and was overcome by this radiance." This opal was said to guard the regal honor.

Opal was also treasured in the Middle Ages and was called ophthalmios, or eye stone, due to a widespread belief that it was beneficial to eyesight. Blonde women wore opal necklaces to protect their hair from losing its color. Some thought the opal's effect on sight could render the wearer invisible. They were recommended for thieves! Mysterious opals contain the wonders of the skies - sparking rainbows, fireworks, and lightning - shifting and moving in their depths.

In the nineteenth century, opal was considered unlucky due to the plot of a popular Sir Walter Scott novel of the time. Opals are bad luck! Really? In Sir Walter Scott's novel, Anne of Geierstein, the heroine, owned an opal that mirrored her moods -- flashing red when she was angry -- turning ashen gray when she died. The heroine of the novel has her life force caught in the beautiful opal she wears in her hair and she dies when the fire in the opal is extinguished. So unfortunately a legend arose that opal was unlucky.

And legend has it further that during the Crimean War, English soldiers considered it fashionable to wear opal rings. But Czar Alexander counted the number of English soldiers killed by the number of fingers with opal returned to him in baskets -- so opals quickly became unfashionable in England.

On the flip side of the coin, Shakespeare called opal "the queen of gems"-- and it is one of the top-selling gems of all times. Shakespeare found in the opal a symbol of shifting inconstancy, likening play of color to play of mind in one of the most apt uses of gemstone symbolism in literature. In Twelfth Night, he writes: "Now the melancholy God protect thee, and the tailor make thy garments of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is opal." Opals are also set in the crown jewels of France. Napoleon gave Josephine a beautiful opal with brilliant red flashes called "The burning of Troy," making her his Helen. Queen Victoria loved opals and often gave them as wedding presents. She and her daughters created a fashion for wearing opal and was one of the first to appreciate opals from an exciting new source: Australia.

Mohs hardness: 5.0 to 6.0

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