October babies: you buncha’ lucky ducks. Did you know that you get to choose between two gemstones for your birthstone? Oh, and each of these gemstones come in multiple colors. Talk about options for October!
Opals are the original birthstone for the month so if you’re looking for a more traditional pick, this is your best bet. The characteristic most valued in an opal is its play-of-color – the variation of hue within the gemstone that reflects differently according to the light and angle.
There are five main categories of opal, each with its own alluring characteristics. White or light opals are the most popular, showing a translucent or semitranslucent sheen with play-of-color against a white or light gray body color. Black opals are translucent to opaque and, as expected, have a play-of-color against a black or dark background. Fire opals (or, “Mexican opal” in some circles) show a brown, yellow, orange, or red body color and often don’t show play-of-color at all. Boulder opals are fascinating cuts that show fragments of the surrounding rock, called the “matrix”, which become part of the finished gem. Finally, water opals are highly valued for their rarity and show a transparent to semitransparent, with a clear background, and shows an exceptional play-of-color.
Opals have long been regarded as containing supernatural powers. Ancient Arabic tribes believed that it falls from the sky in flashes of lightning, and ancient Greeks believed that the gemstone afforded wearers prophetic talents and guarded them from disease. For centuries Europeans believed that opals were symbolic of hope, purity, and truth, though in the last two hundred years the gem gained a reputation for being unlucky to wear if you are born outside the month of October. So, if you’re a particularly superstitious October baby, know this: you’re in the clear to wear as many opals as you well please.
If opals aren’t your thing, you’re in luck: tourmaline is an alternative that may suit your style. Tourmaline is a semi-precious gem that comes in a wide variety of shades. This gemstone can be cut into virtually any shape and it’s a relatively durable option if the fragility of opals scares you. You may have heard of its pink-red variety, “rubellite”, the finest of which displays a beautifully saturated hue that virtually glows. The highest valued variety, Paraiba tourmaline, owes its amazing chromatic display to the presence of copper in the mineral. While Paraiba tourmaline historically has been mined exclusively out of the state of Pariaba, Brazil, more recently deposits have been found in other countries such as Mozambique and Nigeria.
Tourmaline has been set in jewelry for centuries but until the 1800s it was more commonly mistaken as other colorful gemstones such as emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. Today you can find lovely varieties mined from Maine and California as well as Afghanistan and Madagascar. If you’re lucky to travel to one of its many sources, consider picking up a loose gemstone if you can. Look for even saturation, allow for some inclusions, and use an expert local resource if at all possible: this gemstone is often mimicked with synthetic impersonators, so don’t fall prey to unscrupulous gemstone dealers! If you don’t have any trips planned, visit us instead. We can source, design, and set your choice of tourmaline in a custom piece of your own. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.
121-B South Royal Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Design Studio Walk-In Hours (all jewelry services): Wednesday – Saturday 12-6pm
Silver Workshop Walk-In Hours (all silver repair and restoration services): Wednesday or Friday 12-6pm, or by appointment
Appointments encouraged for custom design.