All About Opals
What do opals look like?
Although every single piece is uniquely different, opals have a 'play' of colours that seem to flash differently from different angles. The 'play' of colour that you see in opals is caused by the light entering the top of the stone, reflecting throughout and then leaving through the bottom - without ever really penetrating into the stone. The play-of-colour will often appear to shift as you move the stone around or tilt it at different angles.
Opal can also look like a glistening pool of oil on water; sometimes completely black, other times with flashes of reds, greens, oranges and pinks. The colour in opals is a magnificent thing. Unlike any other gem, opals can display all the colours of the rainbow in an iridescent, moving pattern of red, green, blue, yellow, purple, aqua, pink, and any other colour you can imagine.
What does opal mean spiritually?
Opals promote a feeling of security, a sense of calm, they ease stress and depression. Known as a stone of protection, an opal is a marvellous shield to keep from absorbing other people’s negative thoughts and energies.
It helps with self confidence and increases self esteem, keeps you calm and collected and brings spontaneity and happiness.
Opal can reflect your mood and intensify emotions, it encourages freedom, independence and creativity along with good karma, hope and positivity.
Opal is known as a happy stone, it's said to keep the wearer smiling for no reason. Opals encourage us to live life fully and embrace positive changes, they help you stay in touch with your emotions and are thought to bring inner peace. They're encouraging stones that banish sorrows, fears and all negative feelings.
Are there health benefits of wearing opals?
There are all sorts of beliefs about opals helping physical things, from treating infections and fevers, purifying blood and kidneys, and regulating insulin and it's even said that opals help ease pain in childbirth and soothe PMS and strengthen your memory along with easing nightmares and help with peaceful sleep.
How are opals formed?
Opals are formed when water trickles down through the ground and picks up a residue of sandstone over time, the liquid gets caught in crevices and cracks of rocks and as the water evaporates, the residue thickens and the silica deposits which form the opal is left behind and solidifies creating an opal.
The origin of the word “opal” comes from a Sanskrit word “upala” which means precious stone. The Greeks were the first to place opals on a pedestal, they believed that opals fell from heaven and changed colour in water while sailors used the stones to foretell their fate while at sea.
Olympic Australis - discovered near Coober Pedy in South Australia, was named with reference to its Australian origins and significant appearance during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It was sold for a record amount of almost $2 million per kg!
What type of opals are there?
Although opals come from all over the world, including Mexico, Brazil, Hondura and the USA, 95% of all opals are Australian Opals. The glistening gems come in colours from blue and green, white, pink and black.
For over 100 years Australia has been the leading producer of opals. The first discovery of opal was made in 1865 by 17 year old Willie Hutchison who found a small piece on the banks of Fish River, New South Wales. Soon after, nearly 40 km north at Black Hill, near Parramatta Creek, came discoveries of opalised shells and bones which were sent to England for analysis.
Meanwhile further south in the same state, an even more groundbreaking discovery was made at Lightning Ridge. The first miners set out looking for tin before turning their attention to opals. Between 1900-1914 many people visited the fields around Lightning Ridge but it wasn’t until 1926 that three men formed a company called ‘Opals Down Under’ with the goal of promoting the mining opportunities available there
Boulder opals are only sourced from Queensland, they actually grow on another stone – giving the name ‘Boulder opals’. They generally form on ironstone and are created in the cracks of the boulder. The veins of the opal are very thin and Boulder opals are cut with the backing stone still attached to the thin layer of opal. They have beautiful colours and unusual patterns and often there are area of the base stone showing through.
In 1994 the first opal was discovered in Ethiopia and now Ethiopia is the second leading opal supplier. This is a very exciting discovery as opals have not been mined in Africa before. These Ethiopian opals are only found in the north of the country, near the city of Wegel Tena. Very little information can be found about these Ethiopian opals but they appear to be similar to Australian boulder and matrix opal.
Opals can be transparent, translucent or opaque and the main colour can be black, blue, white and nearly any colour at all, it depends on the conditions in which the opal was formed. The most common colours are white, grey and green and black opals are the rarest colour.
Opals can be solid stones and can also come in an opal doublet form which is created using a thin layer of natural opal sitting on top of another material such as chalcedony, black onyx, obsidian or sandstone. This secures the fragile crystal structure and protects it when set into jewellery. It also helps to increase luminosity and create brilliant colours. While the material underneath tends to be dark, this creates even more contrast between the bright play-of-colour displayed by the opal above. As you might imagine, there are many different types of opal doublet but all are used for the same reason
How old are opals?
Opal has been around for nearly 300 million years and was first mentioned in the bible as one of the foundations of heaven. This makes them as old as dinosaurs, but much prettier in my opinion. At one stage an enormous sea covered much of Australia and as it evaporated the opals formed. Additionally, they’re created by rain and it takes five to six million years to from about one centimetre of opal to be formed.
Interesting facts about opal
The Opal is Australia's national gemstone and opals are known to indigenous Australians as the 'Fire of the desert' and are a powerful symbol of Australia's torrid centre. Indigenous stories tell of a rainbow creating the opal by touching the earth and thus creating a permanent rainbow.
Opal has been found on mars, I only know of two gemstones that have ever been discovered outside of earth, peridot being the other one.
Opal is the birthstone for October
People born in October are lucky enough to have the opulent opal as their birthstone, the spectacular stone has endless colour combinations and a beautiful gem to commemorate their birthday.
How to care for your opals?
Doublets, triplets and boulder opals only need a wipe over with a damp cloth to keep them clean while solid opals can be washed in soapy water, rinsed well and dried. Never use any chemicals on your opals.
Are opals ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ luck?
I can’t look at an opal and not smile and personally I can’t imagine that something so pretty could possibly be considered bad luck.
Over the past two hundred years or so opals have had a few bad luck myths thrown at them. Some of the unfair superstitions are:
Gifting opals is bad luck – FALSE – Who wouldn’t be delighted with an opal gift?
Opals are only safe to be worn by people with a birthday in October – Rubbish! They’re beautiful on everyone.
Opals are the stone of ‘tears’ – only tears of happiness here.
Putting an opal under a pillow is supposed to bring bad dreams – what a nightmare!
Actually for thousands of years opals have been believed to be one of the luckiest gemstones and associated with good fortune. In the Middle Ages, opals were considered the height of good luck charms as they contained all the virtues of each gemstone combined, including their colour spectrum.
In ancient Rome emperors gave their wives opals as a token of hope purity and good luck. Early Greeks believed that opals brought them foresight and prophecy, Egyptians loved them for their powerful and positive qualities and Arabian tribes believed that opals were carried to earth on bolts of lightening.
I’m not sure why they got a bad rap for a short time in history, but I’m telling you that opals are definitely GOOD LUCK!
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