their color fireworks, opals are unrivaled. Wear an opal and
you capture lightning and rainbows, all in the same stone. Black
opals are most prized. Their dark backgrounds make reds look
like burning embers. Roll the stone back and forth to show off
its other brilliant colors. Next in value are crystal opals,
loved for their many layers and flashes of color. Most affordable
are white and milky opals, whose light backgrounds produce softer
hues. Queen Victoria often gave opals as wedding gifts.
Blonde women believed opals would keep their hair eternally
opals contain the wonders of the skies - sparking rainbows,
fireworks, and lightning - shifting and moving in their depths.
Opal has been treasured throughout history around the world.
Archaeologist Louis Leakey found six-thousand year old opal
artifacts in a cave in Kenya!
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.
the same time, opal was also sought in what would become the
Americas. The Aztecs mined opal in South and Central America.
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
beautiful opal called the orphanus was set in the crown of the
Holy Roman Emperor. It was described as follows: "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.
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.
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."
the nineteenth century, opal was considered unlucky due to the
plot of a popular Sir Walter Scott novel of the time. 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
Victoria loved opals and often gave them as wedding presents.
She and her daughters created a fashion for wearing opal. Queen
Victoria was one of the first to appreciate opals from an exciting
new source: Australia.
opal came from the mines near Cervenica, Hungary, in what is
now Eastern Slovakia, where hundreds of men mined the stone.
Ancient opal fanciers never had the chance to see the opal of
Australia, where the opal of today was born, which far surpasses
the beauty of Hungarian opal in fire and brilliance.
story of opal in Australia begins more than 100 million years
ago when the deserts of central Australia were a great inland
sea, with silica-laden sediment deposited around its shoreline.
After the sea receded and disappeared to become the great Artesian
basin, weathering 30 million years ago released a lot of the
silica into a solution which filled cracks in the rocks, layers
in clay, and even some fossils. Some of this silica became precious
opal. Opal is one of the few gemstones that is sedimentary in
origin. Opal still contains 6 to 10 percent water, a remnant
of that ancient sea.
panners in Australia found the first few pieces of precious
opal in 1863. Mines at White Cliffs began producing in 1890.
opal with a perfectly aligned grid of silica spheres will show
play of color, which is created through diffraction. The size
of the spheres determine the wavelengths and therefore the colors
seen. The brilliance of the colors are determined by the regularity
of the grid.
strength of the colors seen in opal also depend on the background
body color and the transparency of the stone. The body color
determines the variety of opal and has a large impact on the
opal, opal with a black to dark gray body color, has the most
brilliant colors and is the most valuable. Crystal opal, the
next most costly type of opal, is transparent with flashes and
is highly valued due to the brilliance of its colors and the
fact that many layers of color within the stone can also be
seen. White and milky opals tend to have more diffused colors
due to the light background color. This is the most affordable
type of opal.
more unusual type of opal is boulder opal, which has opal with
an ironstone host rock matrix which creates a natural dark background
to view its fire. These sometimes occur in "splits"
a matched pair of opals created when a piece of boulder opal
is split along the opal vein. These are particularly favored
for earrings, since they are mirror images of each other.
each opal variety, the brillance of the play of color is the
most important value factor. After this consideration, the colors
seen and the pattern of the colors will also influence value.
Generally, opal with red fire is the most valued because opal
that shows red will also show other colors when rolled back
and forth: it contains the whole spectrum. The pattern of the
play of color also influences value. Generally large flashes
and broad patterns are more rare and valuable than small pinfire
opal is found only in Australia in Lightning Ridge, the most
famous opal deposit in the world since it was discovered in
1903, and in Mintabie, which also produces large quantities
of light opal.
large opal producing area in Australia is Coober Pedy, which
produces light opal. The name Coober Pedy is an Aboriginal name
meaning "white man in a hole." If you visit Coober
Pedy, you will understand how it got its name: many houses -
and even a church! - are burrows dug into the ground called
dugouts. This type of dwelling is quite practical and cool as
temperatures soar in the daytime.
is known for producing crystal opal and light opal. Boulder
opal is produced in several areas in western Queensland.
addition to Australia, a small quantity of precious opal is
produced in Brazil. Mexico and the state of Oregon in the United
States produce a volcanic opal called fire opal. Fire opal is
transparent opal ranging in color from colorless to yellow,
orange, and red. Sometimes it also shows play of color in addition
to its bright orange body color. Low quality opal was recently
discovered in Ethiopia.
is cut in Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Germany, and other places.
Calibrated sizes are widely available in light opal, which is
very popular with jewelry manufacturers around the world due
to the beauty even of inexpensive pieces. Black opal is cut
in free sizes due to its rarity and high value. Boulder opal
is often available in the natural shape of the rough. Fire opal
can be found in both faceted and cabochon cuts, including many
interesting fancy shapes.
green translucent opal that resembles chrysoprase or jade, which
is called prase opal, is found in Tanzania. A beautiful blue-green
opal is found in Peru in the Andes Mountains. These types of
opal do not display play of color.
hardness of opal ranges from 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. It
should be protected from heat and strong light, which can dry
it out, causing cracks. Ultrasonic cleaners, metal polish, acids,
and any strong solvents should be avoided. Exposed corners or
points on pear or marquise shape opals may chip if hit while
they are being worn. Opal is best set in a protected mounting.
opal breaks all the rules for opal. Opal is a gem valued for
its play of color, the shifting light showing through from its
depths. Body color is only a backdrop for the main attraction.
But the color of fire opal is hard to ignore: hot yellows, oranges,
and reds so bright they look as though they might glow in the
dark. Fire opal sometimes does have play of color but it does
not need this to take a starring role in jewelry.
opal varieties are usually cut in smooth-domed cabochon shapes
so nothing distracts from the play of color. Fire opal is usually
faceted, to add sparkle to the juicy color.
opal is mined in Australia, from an area which was under the
sea a very long time ago. Most fire opal, however, is mined
in Mexico, the result of ancient volcanoes! Fire opal can also
be found in Oregon and British Columbia in Canada.
opal has become much more popular in the last few years as more
jewelry designers have grown to appreciate its bold presence
and bright color. Because it is light as well as bright, fire
opal is especially good for earrings, where even small sizes
have a big punch of color.
opal, like all opal, has a high water content. As a result,
it should be protected from heat and prolonged exposure to strong
light, which could dry it out. All opal is relatively soft and
should be in a protective mounting if set in a ring. Be especially
careful with the points of marquise and pear shapes.