Opal

 

I.

For thousands of years mankind was captivated by the magic and poetic games of the Opal’s colours, born under the influence of light. Precisely because of its elusive colours, for centuries Opal was considered to be the most mystical stone. But with the discovery of the electric microscope during 1960, with a capability to magnify 20,000 times, the Opal’s secret was revealed. Opal reflection was found to be induced by very tiny pieces of the mineral cristobalite contained in a silicon gel. Using technical terminology, this interesting feature is called irisation or opalescence.

The name “opal” has its origins in Sanskrit, meaning “inflammation” or “highly valued stone”. There is also a possibility that the name derives from the Greek word opallios, which means colour changing. The Romans called this stone “opalus” which means “stone of several elements”.

 

II.

Different beliefs exist in connection to the Opal. The Ancient Greeks believed that this stone represented the tears of the god Zeus and it was therefore extremely highly valued, like diamonds. They believed that this stone gave the power of prediction and prophecy, and that it could provide success in war or any other avenue of life.

According to the legend of the Australian Aborigines, the Creator came to earth on a rainbow to bring a message of peace and harmony to humanity. Upon every point of Earth that he stepped, the stones started to come alive with shimmering rainbow colours. It was the birth of Opals. But among the Aborigines there is also a belief that Opals are half-snake half-devil, deceitful with their fiery colours, trying to lure people into the devil’s lair.

In contrast, the Romans believed in the healing power of Opals, and they were considered a symbol of hope and purity. In Ancient India it was believed that there was actually a rainbow goddess woven into the Opal stone.

The old Arabian culture believed that Opals fell from the sky and that their play of light represented imprisoned lightning.

Medieval men believed that Opal brought good fortune, because each stone contained a wide range of colours, like a colours of rainbow traditionally associated to luck. During the Middle Ages this wonderful stone was called Opthalmius or “Eye Stone” because it was believed to strengthen eyesight, and girls with blonde hair wore it to protect their hair from darkening.

 

 

 

 

III.

There are however, various superstitions which state that Opal brings bad luck. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, European jewellers spread rumours that dark and black Opals bring misfortune. The main motivation for this arose from the strong influence of opaque Australian Opal on the market, and the competition it had created on the European market. Even today, there are those who believe that it is not a good idea to buy someone Opal except for a birthday, and only then if it is in October.

Magic believers are saying that the Opal is a night gemstone, so jewellery featuring this precious stone should be worn in the evening.

Opals were very popular and appreciated in ancient times. In Ancient Rome, this stone was acquired from the mine at Cernovice, which was also known in trade as the “Hungarian Opal”. The mine was exploited until 1922, when it ceased to exist. Due to their dotted opalescence, Hungarian Opals were very popular throughout Europe. The main centre for Opal trading during the Middle Ages was Istanbul, which connected Europe and the Middle Eastern jewellery markets.

 

IV.

In some cases, Opal has a special colour variety called “fire”. In these cases, the stone is considered to be highly valuable. The ancients believed that the storm god was jealous of the rainbow god, so he broke the rainbow, and pieces fell and nested in Fire Opal stones. This flame in Opal represents one’s potential to reach spiritually high realms. It is also used to obtain vision and clairvoyance in rituals by Australian natives — the conjuring of old times which is called Dreamtime. It is not difficult to assume that many are attracted by the noble beauty of Fire Opals.

Opal, as with many other precious stones, has its own variations which are charming in their own special ways. We can see colourful “Harlequin” or “Fire” Opal with shades of red distributed in stripes. There is also “Gold” and interesting “Girasol”, from whose depths radiates a lively bluish light.

Unusual Opals — extremely red in colour — were exploited in Mexico since Aztec times. At the end of the nineteenth century, Australia had found its first deposits of Opal. The most expensive specimens of Australian Opal in different colours can reach a value of up to $7000 per carat. Australian Opal possesses excellent quality and fascinates with its play of colours, ranging from white to dark blue and rare black. Areas where Opals are exploited are uninhabited, without water, and are known for extremely high temperatures.

 

 

V.

Because Opal is extremely sensitive, it can be treated only en cabochon or oval. Despite flaws such as high sensitivity to dust, high temperature, the effect of soap and acid, Opal is highly sought after and expensive. Its popularity most certainly arises from the magic of its colours.