Opals are the stuff of legend, a gemstone with a kaleidoscope heart. They’re also one of my favorite gemstones to work with. With their play of color and mystical appearance, they have captivated jewelers, monarchs, and poets alike, securing their place in history as one of the most fascinating stones in the world. Opals are nature's canvases, painted with the most delicate and intricate touches. These are the gems that come alive with every movement, a painter's palette of hues locked within smooth, lustrous surfaces.
Unlike other gemstones, opals don’t derive their allure from a single hue. They are famed for their 'play of color,' a unique optical phenomenon that showcases a spectrum of colors that shimmer and shift within the stone. This dazzling display is the result of opal’s internal structure, which is made up of countless silica spheres that diffract light, creating its signature rainbow-colored flashes. It’s as if you’re holding a sliver of the sky after a rainstorm.
Origins and Mythology
These gems originate from a process that begins with rain. As the rainwater seeps deep into the Earth, it carries with it dissolved silica from sandstone. This silica-laden water finds its way into the nooks and crannies of the underground rock, filling voids left by natural faults or decomposing organic material such as fossils.
Within these deep, dark crevices, the conditions are just right for the silica to begin its slow and methodical transformation. Over time, as the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This deposit starts as a gel-like substance that occupies the spaces where water once flowed. With the passing of millennia, this gel dries out, and these layers of silica harden to form opal.
Elk Antler & Australian Black Opal Bolo Tie
This process is not quick by human standards—it unfolds over millions of years. The arid regions of Australia, where the majority of the world’s opals are found, provide the perfect geological kitchen for cooking up these gems. The gradual drying out of the gel allows the formation of the tiny spheres of silica that are key to the opal’s dazzling array of colors. These spheres are stacked in a precise, regular pattern, and it's the size and arrangement of these spheres that diffract light, breaking it up into the spectral colors that give opal its unique fiery rainbow.
But not all opals display this play of color; those that do are known as precious opals. Others, like common opal or potch, lack the colorful sparkle but have a charm of their own with a milky or pearly luster. The resulting stone, whether it's the rarer black opal with its dark body and vibrant color play or the more abundant white opal with its ethereal glow, each carries a mystique, a fragment of geological alchemy that's as unique as it is beautiful.
Opals are primarily mined in Australia produces about 95% of the world’s supply of opals, but other sources include Ethiopia, Mexico, and Brazil. The stone’s name comes from the Latin word 'opalus,' meaning 'precious jewel,' and it has been revered throughout history. The ancient Romans considered it a symbol of hope and good fortune, while the Greeks believed it bestowed the gift of prophecy upon its owner. Aboriginal Australian legends spoke of opals as the footprints left by the Creator as they walked the Earth, touching the land with the colors of the rainbow.
Types of Opals
Opals come in various forms, each with its distinct characteristics:
- Black Opal: The rarest and most valuable, with dark body tones that make the colors even more vibrant.
- White Opal: Has a lighter body color and is more common, but still showcases a beautiful play of color.
- Boulder Opal: Formed in ironstone boulders, it often features a dark body and bright veins of opal color.
- Fire Opal: Ranges from yellow to orange to red, and sometimes, though not always, has a play of color.
- Water Opal: Clear and colorless with flashes of color, also known as crystal opal.
Caring for Your Opals
Crushed White Mother Of Pearl & Opal Necklace
Opals are softer than many other gemstones, so they require special care. They should be cleaned gently with mild detergent in warm water and a soft brush. It’s also important to avoid sudden temperature changes, exposure to harsh chemicals, and activities that could scratch or chip the stone.
A Stone for the Creative Soul
Elk Antler & Australian Black Opal Bolo Tie
Perhaps more than any other gemstone, opals are associated with creativity and imagination. They inspire artists and writers and are thought to enhance inspiration. We pay homage to this creativity by setting opals in designs that amplify their natural artistry, ensuring that each piece speaks to the soul of its wearer. Opals are often set in ways that maximize their color play, surrounded by diamonds or set in reflective metals to showcase their splendor.
Every opal is unique. When selecting an opal, consider what colors and patterns speak to you. Some may prefer the fiery reds and oranges of a fire opal, while others may be drawn to the tranquil blues and greens of a black or boulder opal.
Opals are a testament to nature’s artistry. Whether you’re drawn to their vibrant spectrum, their rich history, or their artistic inspiration, an opal is more than a gem—it’s a living palette, a fragment of rainbows captured for eternity. When you wear an opal, you don’t just wear a stone; you wear a piece of the earth’s story, a sliver of the cosmos, a gem that echoes the colors of the world.