October’s Birthstone: Opal History and Symbolism

Oct 1, 2021 | Birthstones

Opal: October’s Birthstone

There are few stones as magical as the “kaleidoscope gem” also nicknamed “Empress”, “Pandora”, and the “Light of the World”. Which stone could inspire such grand monikers? Opal!

Opals are so fascinating they have been compared to volcanos, fireworks, and galaxies. Their fantastic display of color is what makes them so mesmerizing. Formed by heavy rains carrying silica down from rock and settling in crevices hardening over millions of years, opals didn’t become so captivating overnight. In fact, it can take 5 million years for just one centimeter of opal to be formed.

These gemstones have two distinct colors. Their background color and their “play of color”. Opals come in a range of background colors including black, green, blue, purple, orange, red, yellow, and white. White opals are the most universal. Black opals are the rarest and some consider them to be the most beautiful. Red, yellow, and orange opals from Mexico are considered “Mexican fire opals”. Opals that have the most variety and intense display of “play of color” are the most sought-after and most expensive.

There are precious opals and common opals. Precious opals display a play of spectral color with every color of the rainbow represented, while common opals do not. Common opals are usually a brownish orange and are not as desirable.

Opals are one of the most delicate birthstones, measuring only 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs scale which tests a stone’s hardness. Because opals are so soft you should treat opal jewelry very carefully. They are not the best choice for daily wear making them a less than ideal option for engagement and wedding rings.

Every piece of opal jewelry is not solid opal. Opal doublets and triplets are very common. An opal doublet consists of two layers. The first layer being the opal itself backed by a black background meant to intensify the color of the opal. In some occurrences, the second layer may be a layer of white or crystal opal. Triplets include the black backing, a thin slice of opal, and a plastic or glass topping. The topping protects the opal and can sometimes enhance the color. Unsurprisingly doublets and triplets are less valuable than solid opal.

It’s estimated that 95% of the world’s opals come from Australia, but opals can be found in Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico, Siberia, Canada, and Madagascar.

Throughout history opals have been considered the luckiest and most magical gem because of their enchanting display of all colors. Historians believe the name opal came from the ancient roman “opulus” meaning “precious stone”. Arabic legends say that opals fell from the heavens in flashes of lightning. Ancient Greeks believed opals gave owners the gift of prophecy and guarded against diseases. It was even once believed they preserve the life and color of blonde hair. Cancel that appointment with your colorist ladies and throw out your box of Nice & Easy. All you need is an opal!

Symbolizing love, hope, purity, truth, harmony, and passion opals are seen as a protective stone. This unique gemstone is said to encourage freedom, independence, and creativity. Some believe that opal intensifies the emotions of the wearer.

Opals should be treated with special care. If your opal is looking dirty and doesn’t sparkle like it once did, bring it to Les Olson Jewelers where one of our expert jewelers can professionally clean it for you. Because opal has the same hardness as glass it is easily scratched and damaged, so be sure to remove your jewelry if you are doing manual tasks. Never let anyone clean your opal with an ultrasonic cleaner because the vibrations may cause cracking.

Caring for doublets and triplets is different than solid opals because they consist of multiple layers. Therefore, prolonged exposure to water could cause layers to lift and water to infiltrate the piece which will cause the opal to take on a foggy or grey appearance. For this reason, doublets and triplets should never be immersed in water.

Stop into Les Olson Jewelers to see our special selection of fine quality Opals. They are set in precious metals, and there are many unique designs to pick from! You can even pick your favorite loose Opal and design your own one-of-a-kind piece!

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