The opal is the traditional birthstone for October. In Ancient Rome, the opal was known as the queen of gems and the Romans considered it a sign of purity and hope. The Greeks associated the opal jewelry with the ability to give the wearer the power of prophecy. In general, the opal is associated with the ability to influence happiness, loyalty, confidence, and faithfulness. It is also the gem given for the 13th wedding anniversary.
The word, “opal” comes from the Greek term “opallos,” which stands for “to see a change” in color. It radiates a mysterious interplay of colors, which come out as delicate tints of different shades when observed from different angles. It is a variety of the soft quartz crystal, and gets its beautiful colors from the very tiny particles of air and water trapped within its fissures.
Opal, the October birthstone color, can exist in various colors. The white opal is white with pale sparkles in colors of the rainbow. The black opal appears black, blue or gray in color from the ironstone in its formation.
Another type is the water or crystal opal, which is basically transparent and can also be referred to as the colorless opal, though it flashes brilliant colors within it when exposed to the light. Another type of opal is the fire opal. This is a transparent opal whose body color could be orange, red or yellow. It may also have colorful sparkles.
The finest opal stone is the Harlequin Opal and its colors are characterized by evenly distributed small flakes of different hues on the gem.
Popular sources of the opal are the United States, Australia, Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico. Mexico is known to produce the most transparent opals with slight colorings packed in large patches. Also, the fire opals that come from Mexico are of one distinct color. They come in a deep fire-like red color, which may vary towards warm yellow.
The opal has been known and revered by man for thousands of years for its beauty and mystery. Various ancient cultures from around the world have been intrigued by the opal and came up with different tales to express their reverence for this gem. Here are some of the tales;
The opal was sometimes referred to as the Eye Stone or Ophthalmius. During the 14th century, people believed that the opal could sharpen and strengthen vision. A superstition in India associated the opal stone with the ability to ease the mind of excess thoughts and enhance the memory. They would simply pass it across the brow to transfer those powers on the person.
Some folklore associated the opal with bad luck, too. This is because of the adversity that befell The Maiden of The Mist (1829), Anne of Geierstein, whose main jewelry included a big opal as narrated in Sir Walter Scott’s novel.
The Ancient Greeks saw the opal as possessing the power to give foresight and the gift of prophecy to the wearer if he or she used it selflessly. Otherwise, poor use would bring someone misfortune with love, disappointment, and failure in all ventures.
Olympic Australis is the world’s biggest and highly valued opal today. It was discovered in August 1956 at the opal field, Eight Mile in Coober Pedy, Australia. It weighs 17,000 carats and is 11” x 4.75” x 4.5”.
The October birthstone is a species of the silica mineral and weighs between 6 and 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. They are considerably soft as compared to most gemstones. One can easily mistake it for a crystal such as quartz and agate. How the opal refracts light depends on the way its particles are formed within the stone. It refracts more light when the particles are in orderly rows and layers. Such a stone appears more fire-like.
Opals are believed to keep hair lustrous and blonde, as well as heal mental sicknesses. They are also reputed as efficient in treating eye infections and boosting the healing process during any form of treatment.
Did you know the opal is categorized as a living gem? This is because the stone is about 5-10% water. In this case, if exposed to heat, harsh chemicals, and soap, it can actually dry out. Also, lengthy storage will cause the gem to wither and crack. Opals are soft and can easily damage if brought in contact with abrasive materials. To clean, wipe gently with a soft cloth. Make sure to wear your opal jewelry often so that it remains moist and in good shape.