October’s Birthstones: Opal and Tourmalines

October has two birthstones: Opal and tourmaline. Opal is the more traditional of the two, but in 1952 the Jewelry Industry Council urged adding pink tourmaline as an alternative October birthstone.

Opals are fun to shop for because they vary so widely. Pick one up, turn it this way and that so it catches the light, and appreciate its unique color and fire. Some are milky white, others are dark, all with flashes of green, blue, red, yellow and orange.

October babies claim the opal as their birthstone. So if you’re shopping for somebody with an October birthday consider the gift of a rare black opal or a radiant fire opal.


Opal-Birthstone-For-OctoberThe Making of an Opal

Opals form in cracks and cavities of volcanic rocks. They’re made of tiny silica spheres which are held together by water and more silica. Heat and pressure easily change its appearance. Impurities in the stone dictate its color and fire. Gas bubbles account for opals’ sometimes pearly or milky look. Iron oxide is responsible for flashes of yellow and red. In black opals, magnesium oxide and organic carbon make them flash red, blue and green. Opal and quartz have the same chemical formula, except opals contain 5 to 10 percent more water.

Australia and Mexico are most famous for opals. Nevada, Brazil, Nicaragua, Japan, Honduras, Guatemala and Ireland also produce opals commercially.


Opal Lore

Many cultures prize opals. Ancient Romans considered opals a symbol of hope and love. Arabs believed opals plummeted from the sky in flashes of lightning, which makes sense when you consider their fire. Some Arabs thought opals could make a person invisible. Hence it became a favorite stone amongst spies and thieves.

Medieval gem enthusiasts used opals like a modern mood ring. They thought a change in an opal’s color reflected the wearer’s health. They also believed opals strengthened the heart and could protect against infection, fainting and foul air.

Opals got some bad PR during the 14th century, when some Europeans held the stone responsible for the Black Death. Supposedly opals shone extra brightly while fevered wearers died of the plague, then went dull as the soul parted from body.

Fortunately, the opal made a comeback by Elizabethan times. Shakespeare memorialized opals in Twelfth Night, calling them the “queen of gems.” Queen Victoria gifted her children with beautiful opal jewelry.


A Delicate Beauty

Since opals are easily altered by heat and pressure, day-to-day activities can be hard on this fragile stone. Depending on the opal, it ranks only 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. This means that earrings and pendants are safer places for opals than being set in rings and bracelets. If you choose to wear an opal ring, remember to take it off before washing dishes or other manual labor. Some jewelers suggest occasionally soaking opals in plain water so they don’t dry out. But don’t use oil or ultrasonic cleaners on your opals.

When shopping for opals, beware of doublets and triplets. These are composite stones made by attaching a thin opal layer on top of a less expensive stone or a piece of glass. These are extra-likely to chip and crack.



Tourmalines are versatile because they come in so many colors. In fact, they’re especially known for combining multiple colors in one gemstone. Tourmalines that display more than one color are called bi- or tri-color. The watermelon tourmaline is a gorgeous example, combining bands of pink, green and white like its namesake fruit. While originally pink tourmaline was the October color, now all manners of tourmaline are accepted as October birthstones.

Tourmalines are found in Afghanistan, Brazil, East Africa and the USA, most notably in the states of North Carolina, South Dakota, California and Maine. At 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale, tourmalines are substantially tougher than opals.


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Updating Grandma’s Engagement Ring

Maybe you want to repurpose Grandma’s engagement ring because you have a strong sense of family heritage. Or maybe you’re trying to save a few dollars. Some people are so eco-conscious that they prefer to reuse rather than to buy something new. There are lots of reasons to reuse a family heirloom ring, and several ways to do it. If you have a pretty ring in your family – or at least a ring with some attractive stones – this may be a route to consider.


History Cuts Both Ways

If you’re planning to surprise a woman with a marriage proposal and a family heirloom ring, you should know your audience. Is family history important to your lady? And does she feel a strong connection to your family? Wearing an heirloom ring ties her to your family, not just to you. This can be a wonderful thing for many women. Others may have a more individual yearning to create a new history with you, rather than to wear someone else’s stones.

Also assess whether possessing a family heirloom will be a stressor. If your intended is a bit on the absent-minded side – prone to losing her keys or leaving the stove on—she might worry about being responsible for family gems.

People can be superstitious about jewelry. Wearing the ring of your grandmother who had a happy marriage might feel different than wearing jewelry from a less rewarding partnership.



So assuming that your prospective fiancée is a good candidate for an heirloom jewel, what next? If the ring is beautiful and your girl loves vintage style jewelry, you might only need to have the ring cleaned and polished. Then again, the condition of the ring, or her fashion preferences, might call for a redesign.

“Up-cycling” means reusing what you have in a new way, rather than buying something entirely new. A good jeweler can take apart your old jewelry and make it look a little or a lot different.

If you go this route, it’s essential to find a talented jeweler that understands your partner’s style. So shop around, and be prepared to work closely with the jeweler to create a ring that looks just right.



Lots of guys want to surprise the woman they love with the perfect ring. But when you’re going through this much work, it might be time to collaborate with her rather than risk getting the update wrong. This isn’t a ring that you’ll be able to take back and exchange for another one.  Consider proposing with the old ring, stating that you want to use it to create something new together.

If you are dead set on surprising her with the redesign, collect as much data as possible on her style. Your jeweler will want to see pictures of her favorite jewelry and clothes, understand her size and coloring, and maybe even check out her iPod playlist.


Designing with Older Diamonds

Older diamonds look considerably different than new ones. Vintage diamonds have a more subtle sparkle than modern cuts. This means that you probably don’t want to combine them with new diamonds that will out-sparkle and diminish your heirloom jewels.

Your old diamonds might also be slightly discolored or chipped. Rose gold or yellow gold might be more flattering than white gold for off-color diamonds. And some setting styles can hide chips. Your old diamonds will look more at home in pieces that incorporate vintage details, such as filigree and hand engraving.

Family gemstones are precious in a whole different way than new stones. If you and your intended value connection to family, updating Grandma’s ring may be the perfect way to go.

Before and after remount SY539

Before and after remount SY539

Before and after remount SY739

Before and after remount SY739

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Classic vs. Trendy

Trendy clothes and jewelry are often associated with the young. After all, who’s more fashion conscious than a teenage girl? Meanwhile, classic styles can be elegant, but are often associated with matrons and unadventurous people who are unwilling to take any fashion risks. So what’s the modern woman to do? For a look that’s both fun and tasteful, combine trendy and classic in your jewelry wardrobe.


Some fashionistas recommend a mix of 70 percent classic pieces and 30 percent trendy for your clothes. Consider taking a similar approach with your jewelry, or at least your jewelry budget. If you spend 80 to 90 percent of your jewelry dollars on timeless pieces, you’ll still have plenty left for that bracelet that’s fun now but will be horribly dated in a year. Inexpensive jewelry has its place: the beach, traveling in developing countries, a night out with the girls when you feel like wearing the biggest earrings possible.

Taking Care

Sometimes you can tell classic from trendy jewelry by how much care you’re willing to put into it. Restring your pearls? Of course. Replace the twisted wire on those long feather earrings? Maybe not. Classic jewelry deserves cleaning, maintenance and repair.

The Affair

Formal events call for a more classic look. Especially if people are taking a lot of photos. You don’t want a strange outfit with giant, dated jewelry to haunt you for decades, do you? Opt for a diamond tennis bracelet rather than an armload of plastic bangles. But if you’re going out to a dance club, trendy jewelry makes more sense than understated elegance.

A Few Timeless Classics

Did you ever hear this advice about how to tell whether or not you’re over-accessorizing? Once you’re dressed to go out, stand with your back to the mirror. Then whip around and face yourself. Does one accessory catch your eye? Take it off. This would be the classic approach, where your jewelry plays second fiddle to the beauty of your face, skin and hair.

Here are a few examples of timeless classics that enhance your beauty without ever overpowering it.

Diamond studs: This is an easy way to make your outfit look finished. Buy a pair with good cut and color and their sparkle will liven up the whole room.

Pearl necklace: Pearls look lovely and classic on everyone. These organic beauties absorb your body heat so that after wearing them for an hour they feel like part of you.

Hoop earrings: If you want something bigger than a stud, but still simple, choose hoops. These can be very simple gold, or you can add sparkle with clear or colored diamonds.

Cocktail ring: Pick something glitzy, with color. Maybe a vintage style sapphire or emerald with a few little diamonds on the side. Let it be the centerpiece of your outfit, paired with a simple dress and pumps.

When in doubt, stick to the classics. You can’t go wrong with diamond studs.

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Sapphire – the September Birthstone

S1228C-angled-side AUGUST 2014Deep blue sapphires have long been associated with royalty. Queen Victoria sported a famous sapphire in her crown, the same that Edward the Confessor wore in a ring during his 1042 coronation. More recently, Princess Diana flashed a gorgeous sapphire engagement ring. That ring has since been passed to Kate Middleton. So if sapphire is your birthstone, you’re in royal company.

Where in the World?

Where do these amazingly blue jewels come from? Australians dig up many of the world’s best sapphires, especially in Queensland and New South Wales. Sapphires rest in alluvial deposits of basalt, waiting to be dug up and turned into jewelry for September babies. They’re also found in Kashmir and Montana, though these American sapphires are smaller and more often used for industrial purposes.

Sapphire Lore

Sapphires have long served mystical, protecting and healing purposes. Apollo worshippers wore sapphires when they visited the god’s shrine at Delphi in ancient Greece. In the Middle Ages, people believed sapphires protected loved ones from harm and envy. Medieval clergy used the stone to symbolize heaven and the soul’s purity. They also hoped sapphires would help them avoid fleshly temptations and impure thoughts.

People in many cultures used sapphires to protect themselves from sorcery and venomous creatures. Some believed that if they could confine a snake in a jar containing a sapphire, the reptile would die.

Choosing Your Sapphire

While sapphires come in many colors – including purple, green, pink, yellow and orange — the most highly prized are blue. They range from light to dark blue and blue-violet. The deeper the blue and the mores saturated the color, the more precious the sapphire. You’ll pay more for an evenly-colored sapphire than a lighter, less saturated stone.

Sapphires make good choices for any type of jewelry, including rings. They rate 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, second only to diamonds for their durability.

Unlike diamonds, sapphires don’t have standardized cuts. A well-cut sapphire should be symmetrical and reflect light in a pleasing manner. Common sapphire shapes include cushion, emerald, round and oval. Rare star sapphires are cut in oval domes, to show off the star.

Sapphires make a beautiful gift for your loved ones born in September. Or any other month! And for the woman who is a little different – and perhaps has royal inclinations – they are gorgeous as engagement rings. You can always include one with a few diamond accents, like the 14 round diamonds surrounding Princess Di’s center sapphire.

How To Choose An Engagement Ring She’ll Love

So, you’ve decided to surprise her with a ring. How do you figure out which ring she will admire and treasure, day after day, for the rest of her life? It takes a brave man to proceed. But it can be done.

Understand her style

Your first task is to figure out her style. Does she like estate sales and vintage stores, or is she glittery as Vegas?  Would you describe her as understated or larger-than-life? Does she like everybody to turn in her direction when she enters a room? Glam girls will want a big, flashy ring. Minimalists prefer simplicity.

Remember, it’s about her. Be sure you’re assessing what she likes, not what you think she should like. Part of marriage is accepting the other person. If you try to change her or her style, she will definitely notice.

What if you are clueless when it comes to style? Enlist the help of one of her friends or relatives who seems to share or at least understand her tastes. Be sure to pick one who can be discreet. If you want the ring to be a surprise, don’t ask the friend who posts every sandwich eaten on Facebook.


Once you understand your prospective fiancée’s general style, it’s time to zero in on diamond shape. Most women have favorite shapes of stones. Common shapes include round, oval, square and emerald-cut. Diamonds come in about ten common shapes, plus some more obscure ones.

Observe her jewelry choices. Does the same shape appear in different pieces? Then this is probably a favorite. You can also peek in her jewelry box. But remember that women sometimes keep jewelry for sentimental reasons, even if they seldom wear it. You need to determine the shape she will want to wear daily.

It may feel a bit too obvious, but if you happen to be in the mall and pass a jewelry store, ask her to point out her favorite pieces. You can phrase this as though you’re interested in giving her a future gift of jewelry, not necessarily an engagement ring. If she’s hoping to marry you, she will almost certainly play along.

Your budget

There’s an old idea that an engagement ring should cost two months of your salary. Don’t buy into this outdated notion. Your ring budget depends not only on available money, but on your values and your financial situation.  If you have the means and you’re marrying a glamour queen, up your budget. But if you and your woman dream of world travel, home ownership, having kids and putting them through college or other expensive ambitions, she might prefer a simpler ring and more money left in the savings account.

Set a budget before you go shopping. This will make life easier for you and the jeweler. And, like many things in life, jewelry prices are often negotiable.

Go for quality

As you embark upon your ring buying adventure, you’re sure to hear about the 4 Cs: clarity, cut, color and carat.

• Cut – Not to be confused with shape, cut is how the diamond cutter maximizes a diamond’s sparkle and reflective qualities

• Clarity – Most diamonds have imperfections, but some are more obvious than others. If you can only see flaws with magnification, you probably don’t need to worry about them.

• Color – Ideal diamonds are colorless. The closer to colorless you get, the better, unless you’re choosing an exotic colored diamond, such as pink or yellow.

• Carat – How big is that stone? All other factors being equal, the bigger, the spendier.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, you’ll need to prioritize one aspect over the others. Cut is the best place to put your extra dollars. If you have two similar diamonds, the one that’s cut better will look brighter and bigger.

A Trusted Jeweler

An engagement ring is a big purchase, both financially and emotionally. Find a trustworthy, experienced jeweler. Choosing one that’s accredited by Jewelers of America or a member of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is a good place to start. And inquire about their return policy, just in case you need to exchange the ring.