If you were born in the month of October, you are lucky to have opal as your birthstone! An undeniably majestic gem with a fascinating history, opals are certainly a sight to behold.
Their ethereal quality has mesmerised gemstone lovers for centuries. For example, during Ancient Roman times, opals were considered a true rarity and treasure, and were symbolic of love and hope. During this period, opals were mined in what is now the Czech Republic, and their popularity continued until the seventeenth century. However, due to the scarcity of this fascinating gem, good quality opals were hard to come by, and their popularity consequently fell, until a new mine was discovered.
In the late 1800’s, the discovery of opals in Australia was made. This revealed a whole new spectrum of this remarkable gemstone, and their popularity spiked yet again, being featured in the Victorian era in intricate, ornate yellow gold settings.
By the 1930’s, the Eastern European mines were unable to compete with the standard of opals being unearthed in Australia, and therefore ceased production. This allowed Australia to become the world’s main opal source, known for their spectacular white and black stones.
Opals consist of small spheres of silica arranged in a regular pattern, with water between the spheres. When the light passes through these spheres, it is forced to bend to fit through their gaps. This bending effect splits the light into the colours of the spectrum! This phenomenon is known as ‘play of colour.’
There are two most common types of opals, the first known as white, and the second known as black opals. White opals have a predominantly milky white background, with white platelets of colours within the stone in colours of orange, green and blue. These platelets give opals their irresistible iridescent quality!
Black opals are considered the most valuable of the opal family. These stones have dark backgrounds and contain platelets of red, green and blue. The most prestigious examples of black opals are unearthed from the Lightning Ridge area of Australia, and the most superior of these will demonstrate a strong colour contrast, and vivid colour play.
Other types of opals include fire opals! Fire opals are found in Mexico, with the most significant deposits discovered in Queretaro in 1835. The gemstones have warm body colours of yellow to orange to red. Although fire opals don't usually show any play of colour, they occasionally exhibit bright green flashes!
It has been said that opals are the physical manifestation of a rainbow, and this kaleidoscopic gemstone is a true wonder of nature!