Opals have intriguing auras around them that no other gemstone has. For centuries, the opal has been shrouded in magic and mystic by people. It has made a distinct place for itself in the eyes of the jewelry experts and devotees because of its unique appearance and vibrant colors, which will change and startle your eyes as you roll the stone in your hand. Packed in this gemstone are all marvels of the sky – dancing rainbows, sparking fireworks, and stunning lightning.
The origin of the word ‘opal’ comes from two sources. The first source is the Greek word opallos, meaning “to see changes of color”. Alternatively, the Romans are believed to have based the name opalus on the Sanskrit word for precious stone, upala. Whatever the source of the name might be, the stone is revered to have an unmatched allure like no other gemstone.
There are two broad categories of opal: precious and common. Precious opal exhibits rainbow like play-of-color, while the common opal does not.
Archaeological facts reveal that opal was first discovered in Virgin Valley, North America, over 10,000 years ago and used in Kenyan artifacts about six thousand years ago. Further historical evidence implies that that the Aztecs were mining opal around the same time in South and Central America.
It was not before the 1800s that opal was mined at the Lightning Ridge in Australia, now becoming the national stone of the country. Preceding the discovery of Australian opal in the world market, the primary sources of opal were Hungary and South America.
The Australian Aborigines recognized opal’s unique power and beauty since the Dreaming times and named this remarkable stone as ‘Rainbow Serpent’, describing it as a divine blend of colors by the Creator.
Quoting his friend Onomacritus, the ancient Greek Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.E.) mentioned opal in the oldest book of precious stones such that “the delicacy of the opal reminds me of a loving and beautiful child”. In Roman era, Mark Antony (83-30 B.C.E.) desired to present an opal ring to Cleopatra, but the senator fled rather than giving it up to him.
Most importantly, the well-known author & natural philosopher, Pliny (23-79 C.E.), expressed his opal purchase as “having a refulgent fire of the carbuncle (ruby or garnet), the glorious purple of amethyst, the sea green of emerald, and all those colors glittering together mixed in an incredible way.”
Opal was also widely recognized as ‘ophthalmios’ (eye stone) during the Middle Ages (5th – 14th centuries), owing to a common belief that it was beneficial to the eyes. Shakespeare (1564-1616) stated the opal as “a miracle” and the “Queen of Gems” and Queen Victoria (1837-1901) rejoiced in wearing and gifting opal encrusted jewelry.
Myths And Legends
Many other myths about ancient gods revolve around opals. It is believed that when Zeus, the Greek king of the gods, defeated the Titans, he was so happy that he wept and his tears turned to opal when they fell on the ground. Another myth holds that the beautiful Indian Goddess of the Rainbow turned herself into the rainbow-colored opal to escape the advances of male gods.
The Arabs were of the opinion that opals descended from the heaven in flashes of lightning, thus acquiring their fiery color. The ancient Greeks believed that opal bestowed the power of foresight and prophecy. Ancient Romans held opals in high esteem above all gemstones and paid hefty amounts in exchange for this fortune-bringing stones.
Australia is the chief source of opals, with major mining towns of Andamooka, Coober Pedy, White Cliffs and Lightning Ridge. A large number of fire opals are found in Mexico. Additional sources of precious opals include Brazil, the US, Africa and some areas of the former Soviet Union and Nicaragua.
The formation of opal began many millions of years ago. When water travels down through the earth, it carries silica on its way and settles as a silica-rich solution into cracks and voids, caused by natural disorientations or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, a silica deposit is left behind. The cycle repeats itself over very long periods of time, eventually turning the deposits into magnificent opal gemstones.
Opal is non-crystalline, hardened silica gel – it contains unstructured “lumps” or “balls” of silica and about 5-10% water.
There are two varieties of opal – precious opal and common opal. The differentiating factor between the two varieties is the orderliness of the silica lumps. The irregular lumps of silica in opal work like prisms, refracting white light and splitting it into the colored array of light spectrum.
Precious opal is made of equal sized, regularly arranged silica balls which makes its color and patterns richer and shows flashes of color or iridescence, depending on the angle of viewing and light. Common opal has irregularly shaped and arranged silica balls, making it opaque and displaying no iridescence.
Opals in general are known to reinforce the vigor and will to live. The stone is believed to be linked to the heart and associated with stimulating glands and regulating metabolism. Opal has a positively uplifting effect on the human psyche, restoring a warm healing energy for broken hearts and preserving harmony.
Different colored opals are associated with different healing powers.
It is believed to augment productivity in life and work by regulation and activation of vital glands. White opals regularize the physical, emotional, and intellectual cycles of the wearer and avoid harsh behaviors that may occur in difficult times. Also, it harmonizes pure desires of love and resolves food related disorders.
The fire opal is believed to be very effective in overcoming emotional turmoil and helping in letting go of the past. Medically, it regulates the abdomen and lower back and heals the intestine, kidney and adrenal glands. Fire opal also stimulates sexual organs.
Blue opal is a source of emotional soothing and realigning with one’s spiritual purpose. It is effective in overcoming the bad experiences of the past that might be adversely affecting the present.
Blue-green opal has effective healing properties in detoxifying and regenerating the liver and easing the feeling of burden on heart and chest.
Green opals restore and strengthen the immune system helps to fight cold and flu.
Pink opal is particularly effective in healing headaches. It heals blood disorders by promoting tissue regeneration, muscle tension, heals spinal disorders and fights menopausal symptoms.
These opals are typically useful in relieving sexual tension caused by emotional stress as well as aligning newly discovered or released emotions. Black opals in particular will soak pain and/or illness and relieve chronic bone issues and diseases embedded deep in the body tissue.
Like any other stone, opal is valued for it quality, clarity and cut. Prices can begin from $1,000 a carat. Black opal is the rarest and thus most expensive – it might be available for around $20,000 per carat. 0.75 to 10 carats of black opal is most popular to make rings. Stones weighing as much and even heavier ones are embedded in pendants and brooches.
Opal is the birthstone for the month of October. It is associated with the zodiac signs of Libra, Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio and believed to be ruled by Mercury.