Opal: The Rainbow-like Gemstone
No other gem has ever been described in so many ways as opal has. Writers have compared it to volcanoes, galaxies, and fireworks. Gem connoisseurs have pointed out its similarities to jellyfish, lightning, and cosmos. Admirers praised it with poetic names like Pandora, Light of the World, and Empress. This reputation opal largely owes to its unmatched color.
The Color of Opal
Being such a multifaceted gemstone, opal cannot be denied its legendary status as a gemstone with the most incredible display of colors. What makes opal one-of-a-kind gem is not simply the scheme of colors it possesses, which includes just about any color there is, but its pearly luster known as opalescence.
Opalescence is a an optical phenomenon referring to milky iridescence exhibited by precious opal that is caused by a reflection of short wavelength light. It seems as if colors overflow each other and create a beautiful painting. It is quite mesmerizing. There is this dreaminess in opal’s color that resembles the rainbow. It awakens our imagination and stimulates our senses.
Precious opal, however, is not the only existing type of opal. There are other varieties of opal, all distinguishable by their unique qualities.
Types of Opal
By definition, opal is a hydrated silicon dioxide classified into two major groups: common opal and precious opal. Each of these groups has different subgroups as well.
Common opal, also known as “potch”, lacks the play of color that is typical for the precious opal. Nevertheless, the potch does come in a variety of colors that includes a range of wonderful pastels. Mostly it is opaque to translucent. This type of opal is seldom used in jewelry primarily due to its limited supply.
There are many varieties of common opal out of which agate and dendritic opal are the most frequent.
Precious opal is the most desirable type of opal given its superb opalescence display. It comes in pretty much any color under the sun with red, orange, and yellow hues being the most sought after since they’re the rarest. These colors increase the value of opal and command higher prices. Blue and green hues are not as in that high of demand considering they are in abundance.
There are also plenty of precocious opal varieties with boulder, black, and fire opal being the most prominent. Fire opal in particular, as it contains the most desirable colors mentioned earlier.
Sources of Opal
The good news for opal lovers is that it is found in many countries including Australia, Ethiopia, Russia, Japan, United States, Brazil, Peru, and Mexico among others. Mexico is the main producer of fire opal while Australia has the most opal mines overall. More than 90% of all world opal comes from there, making the opal the national gemstone of Australia.
Opal’s Legends and Tales
The history and lore of opal are just as rich as its color. This gem has been associated with numerous legends and attributed a multitude of supernatural powers throughout different cultures and time periods.
In ancient Rome, opal was a symbol of love and hope. In fact, Romans are the ones that named it after the Latin name “opalus” meaning precious stone. Arabic legends say it falls from the heavens in flashes of lighting. The ancient Greeks believed opals gave their owners the gift of prophecy and guided them from the disease. What’s more, throughout all ages, opal has been regarded as the luckiest and most magical of all gems because it can show all colors.
Opal is an October birthstone and is said to protect and illuminate those born in this month.