October Birthstone - Opal
The name opal is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit upala, meaning “precious stone,” and later the Greek derivative “Opallios,” meaning “to see a change of color.”
Opals Throughout History
Opals have a very long history, and there are many myths pertaining to the stone. In medieval times, all blond maidens wanted a necklace made of opals, as this was considered an absolute guarantee to prevent their hair from fading or darkening. The opal was also thought to make a person invisible whenever he wished, and for that reason, it was called Patronus forum (patron of thieves). Romans believed opals were the combination of all precious stones. It is documented that Caesars gave their wives opal for good luck, hope and purity. Opals were nicknamed by the romans as “Cupid’s Stone” which suggested the clear complexion of the god of love.
Among the ancients, opal was a symbol of fidelity and assurance, and in later history it became associated with religious emotional prayer. It was believed to have a strong therapeutic value for diseases of the eye, and when worn as an amulet, it would make the wearer immune to disease and increase the powers of the eyes and the mind. Furthermore, many believed that to the extent the colors of red and green were seen, the wearer would also enjoy the therapeutic powers of those stones: the power to stop bleeding from the ruby or the power to cure diseases from the emerald.
Australian Aboriginal legend states that their creator came to Earth on a rainbow, and where he stepped the rocks turned into opal.
The Arabs thought that opals were formed by lightning strikes, and that lightning was responsible for the brilliant flashes of color captured within the stones. Other legends thought that opals acted to ward off lightning.
The reputation of opal being a source of bad luck began in the 1800s. Sir Walter Scott published Anne of Geierstein, which featured an enchanted opal. The story ended badly for the opal and its owner, and as a result, the opal market in Europe crashed and its reputation tarnished.
Another reason for the opal’s less desirable reputation could be due to improper handling. Opal has more water content than other gemstones, resulting in vulnerability to extreme temperature changes. Extreme cold, heat or dryness can cause crazing in opal – also known as cracking throughout the stone.
Properties of Opal
Precious opal’s structure causes the display of spectral colors, known as the play-of-color phenomenon. Red is the rarest play of color.
Types of opal:
Black Opal – Most expensive type of opal, play-of-color against a dark background.
Light Opal – The play of color is against a light gray to colorless background.
Boulder and Matrix Opal – Opal still containing the host rock.
Fire Opal – Transparent to translucent, yellow, orange or red body color may or may not show play of color.
Common Opal – Translucent to Opaque, many body colors with no play of color. Most popular is Peruvian Blue Opal.
Composite or Assembled Opals – Doublets and Triplets. Doublets have a thin layer of opal on top of plastic or black onyx. Triplets include a quartz cap on top of the opal layer.
Opals are 5.5 – 6 on the Mohs hardness scale. Number one source of opal is Australia, it also can be found in the US, Mexico, Ethiopia, South America, and Eastern Europe.
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