Opal is a mineraloid (a mineral-like substance that does not demonstrate crystallinity) that is made from water and silica. It is composed of micro scale (150 to 300 nm) silica spheres, hexagonal, or cubic close-packed lattices. This internal structure causes interference and diffraction of light passing through it. It gets even more complicated than that, but I’ll stop there.
Opal has the ability to refract and reflect specific wavelengths of light and from this we get the term opalescence.
The color of opal ranges from clear through white, gray, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, brown, and black. The most common coloring is white and green. The rarest is red against black.
The origin of the word opal is a topic of debate. It may be adapted from the Roman term opalus (precious stone) or it may have been adapted from the Greek word opillos (to see a change in color). The stongest argument is that it was adapted from the Sanskrit word úpala.
History and Lore
- In the Middle Ages, it was believed opal possessed the virtues of all the gemstone whose colors could be seen in its color spectrum. It was considered good luck.
- In Sir Walter Scott’s book Anne of Geierstein, the Baroness of Arnheim wears an opal talisman that has supernatural powers. When a drop of holy water falls on the stone, it turns colorless, and the Baroness dies soon afterwards. Due to the popularity of Scott’s novel, people began to associate opals with bad luck and death.
- Archaeologist Louis Leakey found six-thousand-year-old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya.
- Opals are set in the crown jewels of France.
- Pliny described the opal as “the fire of the carbuncle, the brilliant purple of amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald, all shinning together in incredible union.”
- The Romans called opal “cupid paederos” (child as beautiful as love) and believed it was the symbol of hope and purity.
- The Arabs believed opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning thus acquiring their color.
Opal is the symbol of faithfulness and confidence.
- Andamooka Opal | Queen’s Opal: a 203 carats andamooka opal set with diamonds into an necklet and presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 to honor her first visit to South Australia.
- Halley’s Comet Opal: the largest uncut black opal in the world; named because it was unearthed in 1986, a year when Halley’s Comet could be seen from Earth.
- Flame Queen: 263.18 carat opal, best-known example of “eye-of-opal”, an eye-like effect created when opal in-fills a cavity; this stone has a flat, central raised dome that flashes red or gold depending on the angle, and it’s surrounded by a band of deep blue-green, triangular in shape.
- Orphanus: an opal set in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor (known as “The Crown of Charlemagne”). It was described “as though pure white snow flashed and sparked with the color of bright ruddy wine, and was overcome by this radiance.”
- Roebling Opal: a 2,585 carat uncut black opal with flashes of blue and green from Virgin Valley, Nevada.
- Sun God Opal: 35 carat transparent blue gem with play-of-color, it has a human face surrounded by sun rays carved into the stone; assumed to be Aztec when cataloged in 1839, however, the origin remains unknown.
Magical and Mystical Properties include
- restoring inner harmony
- strengthening memory
- purifying blood
- aiding in channeling and psychic journeys
- mounted in gold and worn close to the heart, it wards off evil
- fire opals (red-orange) enhance personal powers and protect against danger
- black opals bring good luck (seems contradictory to the information above)
- white opals give power to the wearer during the full moon
Opals should not be used in conjunction with other stones.
Discharging & Recharging
To discharge opal, soak it frequently in water for 30 minutes. To recharge, place it among clear quartz crystals. Do not recharge in the sun. (In stone therapy, when using stones to heal, their energy is used up, requiring the stones to be recharged.)
This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.
photo: Wikipedia, closeup from Wikipedia Loves Art at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, flame opal
series logo image by wikimedia.org, awesome colorization by me!