Opal: The Radiant Rainbow Gemstone

Opal, a mesmerising gemstone that embodies the spectrum of the rainbow, has been celebrated for its distinct beauty and captivating properties. The name ‘opal’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘upala’, meaning ‘precious stone’. This article delves into the world of opal, its use in jewellery, and the fascinating qualities that make it a treasured gemstone.


What is an Opal?

Opal is a hydrate of silica, a mineral species that includes quartz and chalcedony. The gemstone’s unique colour palette spans the entire spectrum, displaying play-of-colour due to the diffraction of light off silica spheres within its structure. The most prized opals exhibit a broad range of vibrant colours, such as fiery red, cool blue, and lush green. Opal’s luminous play-of-colour and brilliance make it an ideal choice for jewellery designs that showcase its kaleidoscopic beauty.


Types of Opals

Opals come in various types, each with unique characteristics that make them sought after by collectors and gemstone enthusiasts. Here are some of the different types of opals and what makes them desirable:

Black Opal: Black opals are the most prized and valuable type of opals. They feature a dark body tone with vibrant play of colours, which can include shades of blue, green, purple, and red. The dark background enhances the intensity and contrast of the play of colours, making black opals highly sought after.

White Opal: White opals are characterized by a light or white body tone with play of colours. They are known for their delicate and pastel-coloured flashes, which can create a subtle and ethereal beauty. White opals are widely available and are popular for their affordability and versatility in jewellery.

Boulder Opal: Boulder opals are formed in ironstone or sandstone matrix, and their unique feature is the presence of the host rock, which forms a natural backing. The combination of the opal and the surrounding matrix creates beautiful patterns and textures. Boulder opals are sought after for their striking visual appeal and the contrast between the opal and the host rock.

Crystal Opal: Crystal opals are translucent to transparent with a clear or light body tone. They exhibit an exceptional play of colours, often with a captivating transparency that allows light to pass through the stone. Crystal opals are highly valued for their brightness and clarity, which enhance the vividness of the play of colours.

Fire Opal: Fire opals are known for their fiery orange, red, and yellow hues. They have a transparent to translucent appearance and display a vibrant, warm colour play. Fire opals are sought after for their intense and vibrant colours, which resemble the brilliance of a burning flame.

Ethiopian Opal: Ethiopian opals are relatively new to the market but have gained popularity for their captivating play of colours. They can exhibit a wide range of colours, including flashes of red, orange, green, blue, and yellow. Ethiopian opals are highly sought after for their unique patterns, brightness, and vibrant colour displays.

Each type of opal possesses its own distinct beauty and appeal, making them sought after by collectors, jewellery designers, and opal enthusiasts who appreciate their mesmerizing play of colours and individual characteristics.


Exploring Opal Triplets, Doublets, and Solids

Opal triplets, doublets, and solids are different types of opal gemstones with varying compositions and structures.

Opal triplets: consist of a thin slice of natural opal sandwiched between a clear protective layer on top and a dark backing material on the bottom. This construction enhances the play of colours in the opal and provides durability.

Opal doublets: are similar to triplets but have a thicker slice of natural opal and a clear protective layer on top. They lack the dark backing material found in triplets. Doublets offer a balance between appearance and affordability.

Opal solids: also known as solid opals or natural opals, are made entirely of natural opal without any additional layers. They are the most valuable and sought-after type of opal due to their pure composition and intense play of colours.

In terms of pricing, opal triplets are generally the most affordable option since they contain less natural opal. Opal doublets are a step up in price due to their thicker opal layer. Opal solids are the most expensive because they are composed entirely of natural opal, often displaying vibrant and mesmerizing colour patterns.


Opal Mythology, Symbolism and Superstition

Imbued with mythology and symbolism, opal has been the centre of various ancient tales. It was regarded by the ancient Romans as the most powerful and precious of all gemstones due to its ability to exhibit all colours. Romans believed opal held all the virtues of each gemstone whose colour was represented in its colour spectrum, and it was considered a symbol of hope and purity.

Ancient Greeks believed opals were the tears of Zeus, the king of gods, and that they brought prophetic powers and protection from diseases. Aboriginal Australians, meanwhile, have long revered opal as a sacred stone and believe it holds the spirits of their ancestors.


Do Opals Bring Bad Luck?

Yes, it is a myth that opals are considered bad luck. While there have been superstitions associated with opals in the past, they are largely unfounded. The myth that opals are bad luck can be traced back to various sources and superstitions throughout history. One theory suggests that the myth originated from Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Anne of Geierstein,” published in 1829. In the novel, the character wears an enchanted opal that brings about her downfall. This fictional portrayal may have influenced public perception and contributed to the belief that opals are unlucky. However, it’s important to note that this myth does not hold any factual basis, and opals are widely appreciated and valued for their beauty and uniqueness today.


Opal in the Courts of Royalty

Eminent figures such as Queen Victoria, Empress Josephine of France, and Empress Eugenie of France were captivated by opal’s, adorning themselves with exquisite opal gemstones.


Opal Jewellery

The versatility of opal makes it a popular choice for various types of jewellery, including rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Its hardness, with a rating of 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, requires more care in wear than some harder gemstones. However, the gemstone’s stunning play-of-colour makes it a favourite among both contemporary and traditional jewellery designers. High-grade opal is typically set in gold, and lower-grade opal may be set in silver.

High-grade opal typically exhibits a wide, vibrant play-of-colour with excellent clarity, while lower-grade opal may present a more restricted colour play or lack the stone’s characteristic sparkle. To differentiate between the two, closely examine the gemstone’s colour range, transparency, and overall visual appeal.

Rings: Opal rings, often set in gold or platinum, radiate a kaleidoscope of colour. The gemstone is often cut into cabochons to maximize its unique play-of-colour.

Necklaces: Opal pendants and necklaces offer a mesmerising focal point, with the gemstone’s colours complementing a wide range of skin tones. Designers often use accent diamonds or other gemstones to enhance the beauty of opal centrepieces.

Earrings: Opal earrings can range from simple studs to elaborate drop designs. The gemstone’s vibrant colour play adds a touch of sophistication and intrigue to any outfit.

Bracelets: Opal bracelets often showcase the gemstone’s striking play-of-colour in a variety of styles, such as tennis bracelets, charm bracelets, or cuff designs.


The Magic of Opal

Opal is the birthstone for October and is often gifted on 14th wedding anniversaries, symbolising hope, innocence, and purity. Opal is believed to possess healing properties that can help inspire creativity, enhance self-worth, and aid in expressing one’s true self.

Opal is a gemstone that exudes magic and vibrant elegance. Its enchanting play-of-colour and captivating history make it a popular choice in the world of jewellery. Whether set in a delicate ring or a statement necklace, opal’s allure is undeniable, making it a cherished addition to any jewellery collection.


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