Gemstone with multiple Elements
With its fascinating opulence of colors, resembling those of a magnificent rainbow following a summer rain, opal is the modern birthstone for October along with the alternate birthstone tourmaline, and the traditional birthstone for the Zodiac sign of Libra.
The October birthstone derives its name from the Latin word “opalus,” meaning’ ‘stone from several elements’. This means that the gemstone’s striking play of light and its unique ability to refract and reflect wavelengths of light were known to ancient Romans in the days of Roman antiquity.
Opal in History and Legend
For centuries, writers compared opals to volcanoes, galaxies and fireworks, and gave extraordinary opals poetic names such as ‘Pandora’ and ‘Light of the World’.
The Roman Scholar Pliny the Elder (first century A.D) observed:
“Some opals carry such a palette of colors within them that they equal the deepest and richest colors of painters. The this Kaleidoscopic gem encompassed “the red of ruby, the green of emerald, the yellow of topaz, the blue of sapphire and the purple of amethyst all glittering together”…
Ancient monarchs treasured Opals, both for their beauty and for their presumed protective powers. They were set into crowns and worn in necklaces to ward off evil and to protect the eyesight.
Geological Evolution versus Legendary Theories
The gemstone opal is a non-crystallized silica, a mineral found near the earth’s surface in areas where ancient hot springs once existed. As the hot springs dried up, layers of the silica, combined with water, were deposited into the cracks and cavities of the bedrock, forming Opal.
Alongside this geological analysis, numerous legends surround the early formation of this intriguing gemstone, dating back to the ancient time of Australian aborigines.
One tale recounts that the creator came down to earth on a rainbow to bestow peace upon all human beings and, as his feet touched the ground, all stones beneath them began sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow. That, according to the legend, was the birth of the opals.
Origins & Provenance
Relatively unknown and rarely used until mid-nineteenth century, the first discovery of opal was made by the German geologist Johannes Menge in 1849, but the production of precious opal was first commenced in 1890 and continued until 1905 in the various sources in Australia. The rough opal was sent to gemstone cutters of Idar Oberstein in Germany and gradually became one of the most popular gemstones in Europe. Opals reached their highest popularity during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras as artists found it optimal for decorative pieces of jewelry in combination with enameling accents.
Most of the world’s Opal deposits are found in Southern Australia. Other sources of this gemstone are Brazil, Mexico, Czechoslovakia and Nevada. Quality Opal is very expensive, due to the costly caution and expertise required in cutting, polishing and setting the stone in jewelry items.
Color Varieties of Opal & Price Criteria
Opal hues range across the spectrum; they may display a single color, two or three colors or the collective colors of the rainbow. As a rule, they are divided into types on the basis of their background color, some of which tend to be more prized than others. Many buyers prefer the black background color, due to the fact that play of color tends to manifest itself more attractively against a dark background.
Evaluating Opals & Purchasing Guide
Opal is evaluated in a manner distinct from other gemstones and have grades of ‘below commercial’, ‘commercial’, good, fine and extras fine (International Gem Society). The opal’s body tones from N1 (black) to N9 (white) is a determining factor in evaluating opals. Stones N1 to 4 are considered black opals; N5 and N6 are considered as dark opals ; N7 and N8 are light opals and N8 and N9 are white opals.
In terms of evaluation, opals have been compared to paintings, where each should be considered on its own terms and merits. In black opals, for example, blue and green are predominant, and where this is the case to the exclusion of other colors, the value of the stone will be restricted. Other hues are more highly prized, especially red and gold in combination with the more common colors, and ideally the color ‘zones’ or ‘patches’ are evenly spread throughout the surface of the stone. Limpid and translucent varieties are known as ‘water opals’ and Mexico produces some extraordinary translucent orange gems known as ‘fire opals’.
Care of Opal
Opals are among the most delicate gemstones used in jewelry items and therefore require special care. In view of their relatively low hardness (5.5 to 6.5 on Mohs Scale) they can be easily scratched. And there is their significant water content reason of their water content which causes them to crack if kept in low-humidity environments. Opals should be cleaned gently with mild detergent in warm water, using a soft cloth or brush. Bleach and chemicals should be avoided.
And last but not least, opals should not be cleaned in an ultrasound cleaner, as the vibrations may cause cracks in solid opals.
If you have to store your opal jewelry for a longer period of time, it would be best to keep them in sealed plastic bags with damp cottons placed over them in order to prevent dehydration.
And as a preventive care measure, opals are better suited for earrings, brooches and pendants which are the items less exposed to wear and tear. And should you wish an opal ring as a constituent part of your opal jewelry set, it would be best to have the stone set in a bezel rather than prongs for better protection. And .in case you wear your opal ring on a daily basis, idt should be re-polished regularly not to lose its luster.