Perhaps best known as the birthstone of October, opal is a unique gemstone with a colorful past. Today, opal is renowned for its “play of color,” or ability to display a multitude of colors upon first glance. The most prominent color of opal is milky white with flecks of color sprinkled throughout, but there are also opals that create dazzling flashes of color when turned towards light. Although all opals are able to reflect and showcase their unique beauty, opals that are able to produce the extreme unexpected flashes of color are known as “precious opals.” Precious opals exhibit the play of color trait.
Microscopic spheres of silica that are arranged in neat rows cause the play of color trait. In order to showcase the brilliant color caused by the play of color, the light source must be moved, the angle of observation must be changed, or the stone must be moved. Although modern opals are known for their colorful exhibitions and unique colors, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, centuries ago, opals were believed to bring bad luck.
In 1829, a man named Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel titled Anne of Geuerstein. The novel’s heroine, Lady Hermione, is accused of being a demon. She is unstoppable until a drop of holy water accidentally falls on her opal ring. Shortly after the drop falls, Lady Hermione’s ring loses its color and she dies. The readers of the time interpreted Scott’s novel as a warning against the evils of opals, and as a result, the opal market crashed. In fact, it wasn’t until black opals were discovered in Australia almost fifty years later that the opal industry began to finally recover from Sir Walter Scott’s novel.
Ironically, modern day opals are known for enhancing self-esteem. Even beyond that, opals are considered to be representatives of justice and harmony. Although opal’s reputation is no longer questioned, the stone remains a delicate one. With a ranking between 5 and 6 out of 10 on Mohs scale of hardness, opals are gentle stones. In fact, the milk colored gemstone is comprised of up to twenty percent water. To avoid any potential damage to the stone, it is crucial to take special care when wearing opals and be sure to avoid full-frontal blows to the stone. When storing opals, be sure to always store the stone in a padded cloth bag or pouch to avoid any potential damage. But above all, be sure to enjoy your glorious gemstone.