Opal is the national gemstone of Australia and the birthstone for the month of October. The most striking feature of opal is the ability to refract and reflect specific wavelengths of colors. In fact, the term “opalescence” was coined to describe this phenomenon. The size and spacing of spheres of silica within the stone refract specific wavelengths of light; each sphere refracting a single, pure spectral color much like the droplets of water in a rainbow. The interplay of these pure wavelengths of light gives opal a unique visual.
Most opal is more than 65 million to 145 million years old. It is found in the Cretaceous layer of rock, formed when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Opal tends to be found near the earth’s surface in areas where ancient geothermal hot springs once flowed. The minerals bubbled up from beneath the surface of the earth and slowly over centuries lined the walls of cavities in the bedrock.
Opal is derived from the Latin word Upala that relates to precious stones and was considered the “cupid paederos” or child as beautiful as love. For Roman scholars, the opal represented hope and purity, a concept later adopted by modern Asian countries who consider the opal as a symbol of hope. The opal that the Romans referred was crystal formed volcanic gemstones in the Carpathian Mountains. It featured flashes color that was not seen anywhere else in the ancient world and really impressed the Romans. Ancient Greeks believed opal had the power to have sixth sense in foresight and also prosperity.
The Roman historian Pliny described opal as the queen of 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.”
Native Australian aborigines’ considered opal to have spiritual properties and have many myths and legends about Opal. They believed opal holds signs of their past ancestors and a spirit named Muda, who changes from man to pelican so pelican birds are considered spiritual also. Asian countries had experienced opals from Indonesia and appreciate the color spectrum of opals. The opal has been considered as a gemstone of hope and security in Asian countries. Japanese buy opals as show of wealth and standing in the community, and prefer perfectly formed gem quality even if the opal is small.
A large percentage of the world’s opal comes from three distinctive regions in Australia, Lightning Ridge (the home of black opal) the South Australian fields of Coober Pedy, Mintabie, Lambina and Andamooka (the main sources of light base opal) and the Queensland fields, where boulder opal originates. The major opal producing field for black opal is Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, Australia. Opal from Lightning Ridge is often considered to be the best and brightest in the world. The most sought after black opal is red or multicolor on black, which is very difficult to find. Such stones are always cut on the fields and sold immediately.
Check out these magnificient opal earrings available in our Fine Jewelry collection.
Next week we’ll share on some of the more famous opals through history.
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