“The Earth writes its memoir in each opal.” – Anonymous
Opals are arguably the most captivating and enticing gemstone. Filled with colorful mysteries, opal is an exemplary birthstone for October. Opal refracts light, displaying many unique colors at the same time, different from other gemstones. The refraction creates several rainbows much like a kaleidoscope, which is truly eye-catching. Here’s some interesting facts about opal to celebrate this month’s birthstone.
The first opal artifacts are dated back to 4000 B.C. There are many arguments about where the name opal originated. The Ancient Greek name for the gemstone is opallios, which means to see a change in color. The Romans defined it as precious stone by using the work opalus. The Sanskrit word upala is where many sources credit the modern adaptation to have originated. Today the name opal looks like it is a combination of all three of these origins, however there is no 100% correct origination.
The most common belief is that opals are the result of rain, but there is some pushback to this statement. This idea though is called the weathering model. It refers to silica rich sediment in desert regions that receive heavy rainfall. When the water evaporates in the dry season, the minerals that are left dry out and harden into precious opal. This process is believed to happen over millions of years.
The main difference between the two opals is the display of color. Precious opals are the more popular choice and display “opalescence.” Many of these precious opals display a variety of rich colors. Common opals don’t display opalescence and are usually one solid color.
Many regions of the world have easily accessible common opal. However, precious opal is much less plentiful. It’s primarily mined in Australia where it seems to be extra abundant. Coober Pedy, Lightning Ridge, and Mintabie are all Australian mines and produce about 90% of the world’s precious opal. Brazil, Mexico, and Ethiopia are home to precious opal as well.
Opals are one of the two birthstones of October (the other is tourmaline), and are also given to celebrate 14th wedding anniversaries. The unique gem can be a symbol of hope, innocence, purity, happiness, faithfulness, loyalty and confidence.
Their reputation did falter in 1829 when Sir Walter Scott published his novel, Anne of Geierstein, which stressed that opal had a relationship to bad luck and death. Within a year of the publication, opal sales were cut in half. Despite this, opals made a comeback and are widely held as symbol of good luck. It’s said that opals also carry the virtues of each gemstone whose colors are displayed in their fiery depths.
On the Mohs Scale of Hardness, opals rank a 5.5 to 6.5. This means that they are somewhat fragile. They can be used for jewelry, but thorough care is mandatory to make sure they last a lifetime. Avoid harsh environments and chemical cleaners. If you must clean your opal, using warm, soapy water is best. Watch out for high heat and sudden temperature changes as both of these things can fracture opal.
While most jewelry should be kept in a dry place, opal must have sufficient moisture to avoid damage. Every day wear works well for opals, but some recommend that the gemstone is placed into a glass of room temperature water for 15 minutes once a year to rehydrate. When storing for long periods of time, placing the opal jewelry into a sealed plastic bag alongside some dampened cotton balls will retain the moisture the opal needs.
Opals are named the “Queen of Gemstones” due to their natural beauty and brilliance. Opals have been cherished by royalty for hundreds of years, they were a favorite of Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth II was gifted a 203-carat opal (the Andamooka Opal) by the Australian Government.
Opals became one of the few rare gemstones that have been found outside of Earth when NASA found opal on Mars. While this adds to opals’ mysteriousness, what’s more important is that they may hold proof of other life in space, since opals may trap microbes when formed.
If you’d like to add October’s birthstone to your jewelry collection, visit Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers on San Diego Avenue to shop our new and vintage opal jewelry. And if you have loose opals or opal jewelry that you’d like to get appraised, contact us now to set up an appointment with our independent jewelry appraiser.