Opal Gemstone: History and Some Other FactsAugust 01, 2023
The Opal is the birthstone for October but if your birthday isn’t in October, would you wear it? Your answer, most likely, depends on your belief in the supernatural, specifically a superstition that claims bad luck for the wearer whose birthday is not in October. But where did this superstition come from? Is there any documented proof that some truly awful misfortune fell upon the wearer whose birthday was not in October, or was it perhaps dreamed up and perpetrated by someone who didn’t want her sister(s) wearing her Opal?
Whatever the situation, the power or belief in the superstition often works. My position, however, is to pooh-pooh the superstition and prove to you that Opals are good luck whether or not you were born in October. But first, some facts about Opals you may not know beginning with history, – a very interesting story – their composition (what they’re made of), endorsements, the ideal environment where they can develop, the origin of the superstition, and the types of Opal.
Opal HistoryThe earliest recorded discovery of an Opal was 6,000 years ago in Kenya so we can say with certainty that Opals are ‘old’ stones known and prized by many ancient civilizations including ancient Greece and ancient Roman. In 75 AD, in fact, that ancient Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about Opals saying some carry such a play of colour as can be likened or equal to the brightest, richest, deepest colours preferred by and used by painters while others imitate the colours of other gemstones – the fiery red of the Ruby, the green of the emerald and a flaming yellow or orange like that of burning oil or sulphur similar to that of the Citrine. This play of colour is a unique characteristic of the Opal known today as a Prismatic Play of Colour due to the Opal’s unique ability to reflect a rich rainbow or flash different colours – bright yellow, orange, green, blue, red or purple – when moved or when the light source changes.
Opal Composition or what they’re made of and the ideal environment for their development
Opals are made of silica (the very stuff found on beaches worldwide) created by ancient rainwater seeping into cracks in parched earth. The ideal environment for this process to occur is Australia’s desert-like Outback where heavy rains alternate with arid periods when, during that dry season the water evaporates leaving behind tiny particles of silica to harden over time, 5-6 millions of years in fact, into the stones we call Opals. That length of time, moreover, will produce a mere one-centimeter Opal! This ideal outback environment explains why Australia has cornered the market with their fabulous Opals.
EndorsementsDespite their obvious beauty and that unique characteristic of appearing to reflect a rainbow, Opals have never reached the same heights or status as a diamond or other precious gemstones. Some say the reason is no celebrity endorsement. But that’s wrong because Opals were the favourite gemstone of Queen Victoria and loving them so much she gave one to each of her five daughters. Also, in France’s crown jewels there is an Opal and, again according to Pliny the Elder, Mark Antony also loved Opals.
Lucky/Unlucky Opals & Opal SymbolismAs in all good debates, there are two sides, so no surprise that there are those who say the Opal is a lucky stone but proof is in short supply for either side. In fact, I know of only one story about a French baron living in London taking a family-owned, since the twelfth century, Opal to the London Pavilion in 1908 where a soothsayer told him the Opal would bring him good fortune in the form of an inheritance of half a million pounds. Not only did the prediction come true but the ancient Opal also had a feint inscription in old Spanish that translated into “Good Luck”. In the seventh century too, opals were believed (a) to be the luckiest of all gemstones because they showed in one stone all the colours of all the other gemstones and (b) possess a certain magical power that would preserve the life and color of blond hair. The ancient Greeks also believed Opals possessed supernatural powers that would protect the wearer from illness and, more, bestow upon the wearer the gift of prophecy. And other symbolism invests the Opal with love and passion, loyalty and faithfulness – making it perhaps the ideal stone(s) for an engagement ring – naming it a seductive stone that intensifies and stabilizes emotional states and releases inhibitions.
The unlucky aspect or superstition, according to George F. Kunz (the Kunzite gemstone) and others, is a misinterpretation or careless reading of the novel Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott in 1829. No one knows for certain why this story of the Opal being an unlucky stone was put about but speculation has it that it was circulated for commercial reasons. And now that you know the truth about the origin of the superstition, feel free to wear Opals without fear that some dreadful misfortune will befall you.
Types of OpalsFrom Australia from where comes about 90% of the world’s Opals: the Boulder Opal, the Black/Dark Opal, the Natural Opal, the Light/White Opal, the Matrix Opal, the Composite Natural Opal (Doublets/Triplets); from Mexico, (and my #1 favourite Opal) the incredibly beautiful Fire Opal believed by ancient Mayan and other cultures as having been created in the waters of paradise and given the name “the stone of the bird of paradise’ for its amazing fiery-orange color. A comparative newcomer (1994, 2008 and 2013), from Ethiopia, the Welo Opal is now set to challenge Australia’s dominance in the Opal market. This Ethiopian Opal also has that distinctive Play-of-Colour characteristic in a variety of patterns and rates as my second favorite Opal. And from Peru the most amazing greeny-blue Opal that could easily rival the colour of the Turquoise.
For further information or just to see these precious Opals (dubbed precious by the Romans centuries ago) you really should see Monika at LL Private Jewellers where, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed and you will enjoy the most amazing eye-candy experience with these gorgeous Opals.