The name Opal comes from the Sanskrit “úpala” which entered Europe as the Latin “opalus” is a precious stone that has been known since ancient times for its beauty. The colourful and iridescent stone comes in a variety of shades and when hit with light, diffract the rays into a whole variety of beautiful colours. Opal is the traditional birthstone for October and also the stone given to celebrate the 14th wedding anniversary.
Pink Opal - October Birthstone
The Meaning And History Of Opal
October and Opal have been associated for centuries, in the traditional Indian Ayurvedic tradition as well as the European. The Hindu story tells of a woman who caught the eye of the three most powerful gods, Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Shiva and Vishnu showered her in gifts, while Brahma gave her the first opal to show his devotion. Similarly, Medieval Europe had its own stories and superstitions about opal, with many believing it gave its wearer some form of invisibility, which led to it being labelled “patronus furum” or the patron of thieves. The most beautiful story about the creation of opals is that of the Australian Aboriginal people. They say that when their creator god came down to Earth to spread a message of peace among his creations, the very spot where his foot touched the ground for the first time burst into stone that carried all the colours of the rainbow, the first opals.
There have actually been little bits of time in which opals have been considered unlucky. The most famous came due to a character in the 1829 book “Anne of Geierstein” by Sir Walter Scott. In the book, a villain wears a magic opal which has holy water dropped on it. Shortly after, the opal turns black, the villain’s powers disappear, and they die. Unsurprisingly, for a few years after the book’s release, opals became associated with the supernatural and death, and sales of the stone actually dropped across the whole of Europe.
Probably the most famous, and currently the first named opal is “The Burning of Troy”, which was given by Emperor Napoleon I of France, to his empress Joséphine. The actual gem itself was lost sometime during the reign of Napoleon’s nephew, but this first gem being given as a gift of love by one of history’s most famous men has stayed with the gem in the centuries since. So who knows, maybe October is the perfect time to gift your special someone with an opal just as vibrant as they are, or even use the warmth of the colours to heat everything up as we head into the winter months.
Where Does Opal Come From?
The Australian people have also kicked off their own love affair with the stone, with the myths of the Aboriginal peoples still living in the national spirit of our Antipodean siblings. It was even proclaimed as their national gemstone by the Governor-General in 1993. Unsurprisingly, Australia is where over 90% of the world’s opals come from, and even just the state of South Australia accounts for around 80% of the whole world’s production. The Australian people have really developed a special relationship with opal, with so many towns and communities growing to love the gem they work with to support their families.
It was the discovery of opal stones in the 19th century in the Australian outback that led to the stone being accessible for anyone other than royalty and the super-rich. Before then, the only place where you could get decently sized opals was the small Slovak town of Červenica, then part of Austria-Hungary. The scarcity of the gems, alongside their very clear beauty, unfortunately made very sure that only those with horrendous amounts of money to spend could get their hands on an opal. Thankfully, the days when you had to be a royal to wear an opal are long gone. The gems can now be worn by anyone, but their beauty is still unparalleled.
The Properties Of Opal
To get extra technical, just for the devout gem-heads among us, opals come in just three natural varieties: opalescent precious opal, fire opal, and common opal. Don’t be fooled by the common opal’s name, it’s just as special, but they are normally opaque and lack the iridescent colours of a precious opal. Fire opals are limited in colour to the spectrum between yellow and red. They also lack the opalescence, but they are translucent giving them a unique look. Some of the best can also be virtually transparent, a look very prized by collectors.
Opals are actually formed by rain, which is the main reason why the moisture inside the gem is so incredibly important. The rain falls on silica, and as the rain is evaporated away, the silica and the leftover moisture form the gemstone. The variation in the silica spheres inside the stone is what gives all the lovely variation in opacity, opalescence, and colour.
Opal - October Birthstone
The captivating opal is the birthstone for the month of October. Opal is also the stone given to celebrate the 14th wedding anniversary. Symbolising faithfulness and confidence, opal is the perfect birthday gift for that someone special.
Mystical Powers Of Opal
Opal is considered an emotional stone that amplifies traits, pushing them to the surface to bring about deep self-awareness. Opal is associated with water and is a silicate containing water, correlating with one's emotions. It is a karmic stone, that encourages positivity to others which is then attracted back to you. It promotes loyalty and faithfulness to nurture and strengthen relationships with others.
Alongside the mental benefits, opal is also said to be extremely beneficial to one's physical health. It boosts the immune system to help combat fevers and infection and is also known to boost one's memory. Opal was often worn in ancient times to cure the eye of disease. It was also believed that wrapping opal in fresh bay leaf would grant one the power of invisibility from others.
Interesting Facts About Opal
1) Opal has been around since what seems like the beginning of time. The exact origin of opal has been disputed but there is a lot of evidence to suggest it was around in ancient where it was known as "opalus" meaning special stone.
2) Neatly 95% of the world's opal comes from Australia. Other countries that also play a role in mining opals are Mexico, Brazil and Ethiopia
3) Unlike many other commonly known gemstones, Opal's beauty is often left untouched and in it's natural state. The only exceptions to this rule are fracture filling and smoke treatment which are applied to darken this precious stone
4) Opal became the official birthstone of the month of October in 1912 by the National Association of Jewellers. It had, however, unofficially held that title since the 15th century
5) Opal has been found on Mars! It joins a rare list of other gemstones such as Peridot to have been found outside of our planet.
Caring For Your Opal Jewellery
Taking care of your opals can be tricky, as the little bit of moisture that each stone has inside it must be maintained. If that moisture is dried up, then your opal may start to dull, and in severe cases, it can even start to crack on the surface. That’s why the golden rule is to keep any opal jewellery away from extreme heat. Similarly, opals really don’t do well with strong acids, so please don’t wear them when working with stronger cleaning products. We’ve also got to mention that opal is not a particularly strong stone (5.5 out of 10 on the Mohs scale for the technical among us), so keeping them away from other jewellery in storage is very much recommended.
In terms of maintaining the gems, the main factor is that little bit of moisture in the stone that is so key to its colour. If you do notice your opal losing some of its life, we’d recommend wrapping it in some damp cotton wool and putting it in an airtight bag.
Where To Buy Opal?
An opal gem really is the perfect gem to go with an outfit for any occasion. A classically cool opal ring for the everyday, a big opal pendant to show off, or even some understated opal earrings for a subtly splendid outfit. There’s always an opal for every outfit and every mood, and Harfi can help you find it. You can browse our opal collection here and the rest of our ethical, gemstone jewellery here.