Considered ‘The Queen of Gems’, the Opal is a beautiful gemstone that’s the birthstone of October (September 24th – October 23rd to be exact) Once thought of the mineral of bad luck – it’s now a gem to be admired and makes for a perfect jewellery gift or engagement ring.
What is an Opal?
An Opal is formed from a mixture of silicon dioxide and water. As the water travels down through the earth it picks up the silica from materials such as Sandstone and continues to travel into pockets and cracks in the surface. Once the water evaporates, small silica balls are left behind – this process is repeated over huge amounts of time, forming hardened and compact layers of silica until an Opal is born.
The country which produces the highest quality of Opals is Australia and mine most of the world’s Opals.
How do Opals get their Colour?
Opals get its beautiful colours from the silica spheres that diffract against white light, breaking it up into a spectrum of colours. The colours can be varied, depending on the size of the Opal, blue tends to come from smaller spheres, where as the rarest of red Opals come from larger spheres.
Opals come in a magical array of colours, with four main types being; Black, which are rare and quite expensive, White/Milk, Boulder and Crystal. The more colours an Opal has within it, the more value it has. It’s also valued based on its pattern and clarity.
Opal Lore & Magic
There are many stories that have travelled through time with the Opal, here are a few we found quite interesting!
You may have heard that Opals are bad luck? We think not! However this tale came from a 19th century a novel called Anne of Geierstien, written by Sir Walter Scott, who told the tale of a baroness who died when a simple drop of holy water fell onto the Opal she wore, it was said to have had supernatural powers and was drained of all colour from the holy water. As the book became extremely popular, so did the myth and therefore people began to reject the Opal, and sales of the mineral dropped by 50% and stayed low for the next 20 years.
In medieval times, if you were a maiden with locks of blonde hair, Opals were a key accessory to be worn, as it was believed the stone would prevent blonde hair from darkening. It was also believed the stone could make you invisible!
Since then, Opals have risen from the dead as they have gradually become popular as statement pieces for celebrities, even for Queen Elizabeth II, who was gifted the ‘Andamooka’ Opal on her first visit to Australia in 1954 on behalf of the people of South Australia, as the Opal represented their region.
How to Buy the Perfect Opal
Today’s Opals are more looked upon for their beauty, colour and wonder. They make fantastic engagement rings as there’s such a variety of Opals, you can find the one that suits you best.
Before purchasing your Opal ring; decide which colour you want to wear the most. White and Milky Opals are most commonly used in jewellery; however you can come across red opals which are beautiful and exotic however if you’re wanting to spend more and have something truly unique, black opals are the most expensive of the group.
The clarity and transparency will be different with each Opal you examine, as the clarity will differ depending on the stone. White Opals are opaque and can have the illusion of glass. If you’re chosen Opal is white or milky, there shouldn’t be any obvious marks.
As mentioned above, Opals have a variety of colours, they can either have a main colour or a ‘background colour’ which may have other colours within it. White Opals can have secondary colours that shimmer and have pearl like qualities. If you’re looking at purchasing a fire opal, these tend to be valued on how uniform the main colours are, which can range from yellow to orange.
When looking at Opals you may notice that they tend to have an oval cut, this is to ensure that Opal is maximised. Another type of shape that’s used, mainly for White Opals is called Cabochons – which means the Opal is polished into a smooth dome shape, which enables the best of the Opal to shine through.
Although Opals are not as durable as diamonds, they rank around 5 or 6 on the Mohs scale of hardness; they are a wonderful alternative to diamonds. Selecting a white Opal has the shimmering beauty of diamonds but is much more cost effective.
If you’re looking into Opals for a gift, there’s a few traditions the Opal has attached to it, firstly, the tradition of gifting Opals to celebrate a birth represents hope, purity and faith and dates back hundreds of years. The Opal also represents love, wonder and passion, if you receive an Opal, it’s said to symbolise loyalty and faithfulness, so it makes perfect sense that the Opal is also the gemstone for the 14th and 18th wedding anniversary year.
How to take care of your Opal
Opals are very delicate stones and like most jewellery, require some attention every now and then to make sure it continues to be in good condition. Due to the fracture in Opals, it’s always best to keep Opals out of sudden temperature changes.
When storing your Opal, investing in a jewellery box or bag is perfect to ensure that your jewellery won’t scratch against each other, leaving unwanted marks which will damage the stone.