It’s so much alike an artist’s palette, flashing a myriad colors and textures like viscous heavy-bodied impressions on the eye, that the opal has earned a deserved comeback around the necks and fingers of women worldwide. The chameleon of precious stones, this mineraloid puts on too many faces to cover in one article. The blue opal is today’s stone of choice to go under the jeweler’s loupe.
First, though, a little bit of introductory history. Don’t worry, we’ll cut it short.
Opal – the stone of many colors
Every piece of stone is unique, the same way a living being is imprinted with a one-of-a-kind DNA chromosomic sequence. Ranging across the whole spectrum of shapes, sizes and colors, opal is deemed a jeweler’s dream stone.
Want more proof than its name origin? The word opal is derived from the Sanskrit ‘upala’, which literally translates to ‘precious stone’. Later, the Greeks being Greeks wordsmithed and polished its meaning to ‘see a change of color.’ To their everlasting credit, the ancient linguists nailed it.
By nature, the opal is elusive and playful on the eye- a visual spectacle like a highly concentrated aurora. Its internal makings give the stone a blending of colors by diffracting light. The conditions of its formation also contribute to its diversity.
Opal is the effect of water trickling down the nooks and crannies and crevices of the underground. As silica is picked up from the sandstone and carried down the depths of the earth, the water evaporates, leaving behind a deposit to be unearthed by man’s hunt for beauty.
Nevertheless, even precious stones are prone to fading trends. Across the centuries, opal saw its popularity wax and wane under the reign of superstition.
In the Dark Ages, it was considered a harbinger of good luck for its rainbow quality- if it contained all colors on earth, then it must have possessed the virtues of all other existing gemstones.
Opal then walked the disreputable road from glorified piece of adornment to villain status. It became the tool of witches and evil sorcerers who found their fun in casting ‘the evil eye’ on innocent people, and a socially confused 19th century associated it with the black plague, famine, the rise of rebellions and the fall of monarchies.
The final strike came from the quill of Sir Walter Scott who in 1829 demonized opal jewelry in the first chapters of Anne of Geierstein as a criminal stone. Apparently, most readers didn’t make it to the third volume of the trilogy to witness the absolution this precious stone. For decades afterward, the European market suffered the consequences and the jewelers stocked their wares with abandoned opal rings and necklaces.
Blue Opal – The Color of Peru
Where Australian earth harbors the solid brown highly opaque boulder opals, or Mexico glimmers with fiery thin-veined stones resembling little suns, the depths of the Andes Mountain range drown in the translucent and tidy blue of the Peruvian Opal.
Looking into this Andean opal is like free diving into the Caribbean Sea. At least, this is the description all witness accounts converge at. The cutting technique used on the blue opal gives it different levels of clarity, transparency or dendritic design.
Falling in the category of Common Opals due to its lack of ‘play of color’, the blue opal is nonetheless the rarest of its kind. It’s this characteristic that makes it the diamond of opals. Look up San Patricio, Peru and you’ll find it inextricably linked to this precious stone.
While artisans may keep only small quantities of the stone so their collection is pure and free from chemical mining, dyed stones still infiltrate the market to be sold in mountains of beads and earrings to unaware customers.
One word of advice. Borrow the eye of the specialist before you get swept in by the dazzling blue. If the stone is unevenly colored, then you are probably dealing with a fake.
You could also test the blue opal for authenticity by sensing its energies. Chrystal healing lore says that the Andean stone washes down in its watery blue any physical feeling of fatigue or dizziness, brain disorders or iron absorption syndromes.
Legend also reputes that the blue opal is a tension releaser, the kind to substitute a good Thai massage or a daily intake of Valium. If you’re shy, it eases communication. If the flow of ideas is stuck in uncreative unbudging mind mud, blue opal is supposed to unstick it.
Under its influence, old wounds heal, the stress of the every day is relieved and the impact of an inherently uncertain future is softened. All that philosophers and doctors can’t fix in the blue bead of a pretty necklace.
Of course, we’re not meant to completely entrust our emotional or physical health to a stone, no matter how precious, just as our faults, misfortune or bad decisions can’t be all blamed on it either.
Still, across times, ladies of the court, writers, emperors and queens have revered the opal as the stone to carry a story.
Famous Opals in History
The Burning of Troy
A black opal whose crimson stripes are said to be internal fires burning so brightly they sizzle to the surface like hot coals, The Burning of Troy is the legendary jewel Napoleon Bonaparte I offered his wife and all time love, Josephine. Given opal is the stone to celebrate the 14th year of marriage, it’s not a surprising choice. At the time, the Honduran gem must have been the largest Black Opal in the world at 700 karats in cut form. It mysteriously disappeared after its wearer’s death.
The Olympic Australis
Named for the Melbourne Olympic Games being held at the time, and the largest and most valuable opal yet mined, this gem is valued at a staggering price of A$2,500,000. It hails from South Australia, the largest producer of white and crystal opals in the world.
A celebrity among gems, the opal is a stone that knows how to draw an audience with an impressive lighting spectacle of rainbow hues. The blue opal doesn’t even have to go to such lengths. An almost transparent blue, it charms by its simple and minimal design.