the opal

by Ruby Loveridge

“October’s child is born for woe, And life’s vicissitudes must know, But lay an opal on her breast, And hope will lull those woes to rest.”

The first recorded name of the Opal was given by the Ancient Romans, who referred to the stone as ‘Opalus’, which means, ‘precious stone’. Later on the Greeks soon renamed the stone ‘Opallos’, meaning ‘to see a change (of colour)’.

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Opal’s are most commonly known for the variety of internal colours they hold, often giving the gemstone a shimmering effect which catches the eye of many. With that and the simple alluring and endearing factors of the gemstone alone, one would find it hard to resist. Though the previous mystery of how exactly one stone could hold so many colours has been revealed via the electron microscope, the stone never fails to astonish buyers with its incredible appearance. What brings the beauty to the Opal is the contrast between its colour play and background.

The Opal is composed of silicon dioxide, much like Quartz, though much softer and contains up to ten percent water. The gemstone’s appearance can be easily altered with the help of heat and pressure, differing amounts of water can also alter the appearance of the stone. If water evaporates out of the stone, it can cause the gemstone to shrink in size, due to that, cracks could even form around the stone due to the pressure and the strain of it shrinking.

Through the years, the myths and legends surrounding the Opal have flourished to all parts of the world, beliefs and stories handed down through time from one generation to another, all believing different things could come from the stone. For example, The Arabians believed that the Opal had fallen from the heavens in flashes of lightening, whilst The Chinese believed the Opal to be ‘the anchor of Hope’. Many believed the Opal represented innocence, purity and hope. Up until the nineteenth century, The Opal was thought to be a lucky stone, one which would bring happiness and good fortune. However, that original, positive belief was replaced with negativity when Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘Anne Geirstein’ was released. Throughout the novel, Sir Walter uses the Opal to reflect the changing misfortunes of the heroine.
Due to this, critics conjured up the theory that Sir Walter Scott was insinuating that the Opal was an unlucky stone. While Sir Walter Scott may not have intentionally interpreted the stone to be unlucky, most of those who read the book believed it to be so, which lead to the theory and fear of Opal’s actually being unlucky.

For almost fifty years the Opal Market was believed to have been negatively impacted due to this misinterpretation of Sir Walter Scott’s novel. Within just months of the novel being published, prices were down by a huge 50% which soon lead to the Opal Market slowly going further and further downhill. Though, it wasn’t just one reason the Opal gained the reputation of being unlucky, due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of how to treat an Opal correctly by sellers back then. The Opal’s would often dry out or break whilst being polished or cut, which also lead to the theory that Opal’s were unlucky.
Thankfully buyers and sellers nowadays have the correct knowledge to treat an Opal with the correct care, restoring the beauty and showing that in fact, this stone was not unlucky, it just needed proper care.

However, not everyone in the nineteenth century believed the superstition, least of all Queen Victoria, whom was a great admirer of the Opal. She had given Prince Albert a badge of The Order of the Golden Fleece in 1841, featuring the stone, which was also one of Prince Albert’s favorite gems. Queen Victoria also presented her daughters with Opal jewellery on the celebrations of their marriages and nothing as we know of brought them any misfortune.

Of course, like all rumours, the superstition eventually died down, though it had huge help; the discovery of the Black Opal.
Found in South Wales, Australia, in 1877, it astonished buyers with the strange beauty, giving the Opal Market a helping hand it needed to get back up after the previous negativity.

One of the famous Ancient Roman Historian, Pliny, described the Opal with such admiration that it was clear he believed this precious stone was more valuable than them all.

fire opals from mexico
fire opals from mexico

“...for in them you shall see the living fire of the ruby,

the glorious purple of the amethyst,

the sea green of the emerald,

all glittering together in an incredible mixture of light”.

How could anyone disagree with him, though everyone prefers certain stones to the other, it’s hard to deny the beauty of the Opal.

All in all, despite the various beliefs surrounding the stone, the Opal’s beauty never fails to attract many, even after so long.

Some would say the stone is timeless, which in all honesty would be the most perfect way to describe it. After all, this very stone is still as popular as it was back then. And even with the negative superstitions, the Opal is still and will always be known for one thing, it’s incredible beauty.

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