Get ready to fall head over heels jewellery lovers! In this blog post, we are embarking on an awe-inspiring journey into the mesmerizing world of opals. These captivating gemstones have bewitched us for centuries, and it's no wonder why. Opals are renowned for their iridescent play of colours, which creates an enchanting dance of light that has left people spellbound since ancient times. In fact, in ancient Arabic folklore, opals were thought to have fallen from the heavens during lightning storms.
Let's delve into the fascinating realm of opals, exploring their types, colours, history, and care, and discover why they stand apart from other gemstones in their unique creation process.
THE OPAL FAMILY:
1. Australian Opals:
First on our list is the renowned Australian opal, often considered the queen of opals. Australia is the world's primary source of opals (accounting for approximately 95% of the worlds opal supply), and these stunning gems come in various types, including white opal, black opal, boulder opal, and crystal opal. The classic white opal is known for its delicate pastel shades, making it a popular choice for jewellery.
2. Boulder Opal:
Boulder opals, found only in Queensland, Australia are distinctive for their intriguing matrix, as they form naturally on ironstone boulders. These gems combine the beauty of precious opal seams within the rugged charm of their natural host rock, creating stunning and organic patterns.
3. Ethiopian/Welo Opals:
Ethiopian opals, also known as Welo opals, have gained significant attention in recent years. These opals display a captivating play of colours and often possess an internal fire that seems to originate from within the gemstone itself. They come in a variety of colours and patterns, and their unpredictability only adds to their allure.
4. Mexican Fire Opal:
The Mexican fire opal is a true representation of its name. With its fiery orange and red hues, this opal gemstone exudes warmth and passion. Unlike some other opals, Mexican fire opals are typically transparent or translucent, which allows light to pass through, intensifying their fiery brilliance.
5. Mexican Cantera Opal:
Mexican cantera opal is a special type of Mexican fire opal. Cantera means "quarry" in Spanish, revealing the make-up of these opal gems. The fire opals found within this rhyolite host rock and are too difficult to extract so gem cutters include the host rock. These gems feature a charming pinkish or grey host rock with a fire opal window.
6. Peruvian Pink Opal:
Peruvian pink opals are a delicate and soothing gemstone renowned for their soft, blush-pink hues. Mined in the Andes Mountains of Peru, they are prized for their tranquil energy and are often associated with emotional healing and love. This opal variety is cherished for its gentle, harmonizing qualities.
7. Peruvian Blue Opal:
Peruvian blue opals stand out due to their captivating blue shades, reminiscent of serene ocean waters. These opals are known for their tranquility-inducing colours, which evoke a sense of calmness and peacefulness. A relatively rare gem, Peruvian blue opals are only found in the Andes Mountains of Peru.
8. Owyhee Blue Opal:
Owyhee blue opals, named after the region they were first discovered in Oregon, USA, display a mesmerizing soft blue hue. They are often cut into cabochons (and take very well to a rose-cut) to showcase their ethereal beauty and are highly sought after by collectors.
Are there other types of opals? Yes, you bet. This isn't an exhaustive list, just a list of some of our favourites here at Mikel Grant Jewellery.
KNOW YOUR TYPES OF OPALS:
Solid Opals vs. Composite Opals
When it comes to opals, there are three main categories: solid opals, opal doublets, and opal triplets.
1. Solid Opals: Solid opals are 100% natural opal gemstones. They are formed through a natural process over millions of years and are prized for their pure opal composition. Solid opals come in various types as we've seen above, each with its own unique play of colours and patterns.
2. Opal Doublets: Opal doublets consist of two layers—the top layer is a slice of natural opal, and the bottom layer is usually uncoloured common opal or ironstone. These layers are bonded together to enhance the opal's colours and protect the delicate opal top layer. Doublets can be a more affordable option, and they offer similar visual appeal to solid opals.
3. Opal Triplets: Opal triplets are the most affordable option among opal jewellery. They consist of three layers—the top layer is a cap of protective quartz or glass, the middle layer is a thin slice of natural opal and the bottom layer is a black backing. This combination intensifies the opal's colours, but triplets are more susceptible to damage and may not have the same durability as solid opals or doublets.
*A note about doublet & triplet opals: since they consist of layers of that are glued together, one should never soak these kinds of opals in water as it can separate those layers, destroying your opal.
HOW OPALS ARE CREATED:
Opals have a unique formation process that sets them apart from other gemstones. Opals are amorphous or non-crystalline gemstones unlike most other gemstones, like diamonds or sapphires, that are crystalline in nature with their atoms arranged in repeating patterns.
Opals are primarily formed in sedimentary rock environments. They result from the percolation of silica-rich water through rock crevices and cavities. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind solid deposits of silica which eventually harden into opals. This is quite distinct from many other gemstones, which form through various intense geological processes like crystallization in igneous or metamorphic rocks under immense pressure and temperature.
The play of colors in opals occurs due to the arrangement of these silica spheres within the gemstone. When light enters the opal, it refracts and diffracts off these spheres, producing the mesmerizing spectral colours we adore.
Opals display a wide range of colours, including hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink, all due to the diffraction of light, making them truly enchanting gemstones.
OPAL LORE & LEGENDS:
Opals have a rich history dating back thousands of years. They have been prized by ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Romans. The first recorded opal discovery was in Roman times when the gem was referred to as the "Cupid stone." In the Middle Ages, opals were considered a symbol of hope and purity, and they were highly valued for their unique beauty.
The opal's captivating play of colour has long been associated with magic and mysticism. The Romans believed it was the most powerful of all gemstones and the most potent symbol of hope and purity as it encompassed the beauty of every gem. However, opals also bore a reputation for being unlucky in certain cultures, especially during the Middle Ages when superstitions arose, possibly due to their shifting colours being associated with witchcraft.
Aboriginal Australian Lore:
Opals hold significant cultural and spiritual importance for the Aboriginal people of Australia, particularly for the native people around the area where opals were first discovered. According to their mythology, opals were created when a rainbow touched the earth, leaving the colorus trapped within the stone. Opals were regarded as sacred and held deep spiritual connections to their ancestors.
Birthstone and Superstitions:
Opal is the birthstone for October, and it is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and prosperity to those born in that month.
Opals were believed to have various healing properties in ancient civilizations. They were thought to enhance one's creativity, emotional stability, and intuition. Opals were also considered to be beneficial for eyesight and were used in traditional medicine as remedies for various ailments.
Love and Passion:
Opals have long been associated with love, passion and desire, making them a popular choice for engagement rings. In ancient times, opals were considered to be tokens of love and affection. They were often exchanged between lovers as a symbol of loyalty and desire. Additionally, opals were believed to have the power to rekindle the spark in a relationship and strengthen emotional bonds. Queen Victoria's love for opals contributed to their popularity during the 19th century.
There are several famous historical instances where opals were believed to bring misfortune and tragedy to their owners. One such example is the "Black Prince's Ruby," a red spinel mistakenly believed to be an opal. The stone's alleged curse stretches back to the 14th century, where it is said to have brought doom upon some of its owners, including Edward, the Black Prince, who died under mysterious circumstances.
OPALS AS TRADITIONAL GIFTS:
Opals have a long history of being associated with various traditional gifts and celebrations. Their unique play-of-colour and vibrant appearance make them a cherished and meaningful choice for special occasions.
Opal is one of the traditional birthstones for the month of October (the other being tourmaline). The stone is believed to bring happiness, luck, and prosperity to the wearer. Opals, with their dazzling colours and iridescence, make for a personalized and thoughtful gift for those born in October.
Opals are traditionally associated with the 14th wedding anniversary. The opal's vibrant colours are seen as a representation of the changing and multifaceted nature of love over time. It symbolizes passion, romance, and enduring emotional connections, making it a meaningful choice for couples celebrating many years of marriage.
Opals have been considered symbols of good luck and protection in various cultures throughout history. In ancient times, they were believed to possess magical properties and were thought to bring fortune to the wearer. As a result, opals have often been given as talismans or lucky charms on special occasions, such as graduations, new beginnings, or important milestones in life.
Engagement and Wedding Rings:
While diamonds are historically the most popular choice for engagement and wedding rings, opals have been gaining popularity as unique and unconventional alternatives. Opal engagement rings and wedding bands offer a distinct and eye-catching aesthetic. They are perfect for couples who appreciate non-traditional designs and want to showcase their individuality and love through a distinctive gemstone choice.
CARING FOR YOUR OPAL JEWELLERY:
Opals are relatively soft gemstones compared to others on the Mohs scale, which measures a gem's hardness. Opals generally range from 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, making them susceptible to scratching and damage. Opals are also a porous gemstone, meaning that they will readily absorb whatever they are in contact with. This means that opals require gentle handling and proper care to maintain their beauty over time.
To ensure the longevity and beauty of your opal jewellery, consider the following care tips:
- Avoid exposing opals to harsh chemicals, perfumes, or lotions, as they can damage the gem's surface.
- Store opal jewelry in a soft pouch or cloth to prevent scratches.
- Keep opals away from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight to prevent dehydration and cracking.
- Clean opal jewelry with a soft, damp cloth and mild soap. Avoid ultrasonic and steam cleaners, as they can cause damage.
- Avoid immersing your opals in water for sustained periods of time as opals will absorb water which may affect their colour (sometimes permanently)
Use the golden rule when wearing your opal jewellery:
"Last on, first off."
Put your opal jewellery on only after applying perfumes and lotions and take your jewellery off before washing dishes, showering, swimming etc.
Congratulations! You've now become well-versed in the captivating world of opals.
These iridescent gems, born from a magical combination of water and silica, have woven their way into human history, culture, and hearts for millennia. From the enchanting play of colours to the diverse types they manifest in, opals are truly nature's artwork. As you admire and wear your opal jewellery, remember the care they deserve to maintain their timeless beauty.
So, whether you're drawn to the fiery passion of Mexican fire opals or the serene tones of Peruvian or Owyhee blue opals, may opals continue to cast their spell on you, lighting up your life with their kaleidoscopic brilliance🌈✨
Happy opal shopping and collecting!