October marks the beginning of fall in the United States. The trees begin to change color and the air becomes crisper. It is a season of change and it should come as no surprise that this month’s birthstone is somewhat of a chameleon. October’s birthstone is the opal and it treats the eye to an explosion of glistening colors.
It is the official birthstone of October by the National Association of Jewelers in 1912. The name opal is derived from the Latin word “opalus” which means precious jewel. Ancient cultures coveted the opal because of its unique ability to reflect and refract certain wavelengths of light creating a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. The Roman scholar Pliny wrote that the opal possesses the fire of a deep red garnet, the vibrant green of an emerald and the shimmer of an amethyst. The finest specimens of opal are found in Australia, and the Aborigines believe that the opal is a gift left behind by their ancestors as a sign of their presence.
Opals have been embellishing the Earth’s crust since prehistoric times. Actually, most opal is 50 - 60 million years old. It is actually non-crystallized silica, minerals that are found near the earth’s surface where ancient geothermal hot springs once flowed. Once the hot springs dried up, iridescent layers of silica and water were deposited in the cracks forming opal. This ethereal gemstone contains up to 30 percent water and is a very soft gemstone. There are two types of opal, common and precious. An opals distinction depends on the way the silica particles form. In precious opal, the silica particles are packed in regular rows and layers. This formation causes light to refract as it glides across the opals surface, creating gorgeous iridescent specks of blue, green, aqua, yellow and red. These colors are referred to as “fire”. In common opal, these silica spheres are irregular in size and formation; thus, do not refract light the way precious opal does. These gemstones display a milky white color, also called light opal, and are considerably less expensive.
A top quality opal can cost more per carat than a diamond. The primary factor in determining an opal’s value is the intensity of the luster and color. One of the rarest and most expensive varieties of this dynamic gemstone is called a “black opal”. It’s not actually black but has a very dark base which enhances the radiant “fire” colors found in these opals. These alluring gemstones are found in the Lightning Ridge region of Northern New South Wales, Australia. Queensland boulder opal also has a dark base and brilliant specks of “fire”. Opals from this region are extremely rare and can cost up to a $1000 per carat. Although more than 90 percent of the world’s fine opals come from southern Australia, it can also be found in Mexico, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Nevada.
The opal was once the subject of a dark controversy as many began to believe that it was an evil stone. Historians have traced the source of this notion to England’s Sir Walter Scott. Scott’s bestselling novel “Anne of Geurstein”, written in 1829, told the story of Lady Hermione who is falsely accused of being a demoness. After a drop of holy water accidentally falls on her opal and destroys its color, she dies. The story spread across Europe like wildfire and people began to believe that Scott was warning them of the bad luck an opal can bring. Many people stopped buying the gemstone and, within months of the novel being published, the opal market crashed. Prices for the once pricey opal plummeted 50 percent and the market took almost 50 years to recover. In 1877, the mysterious black opal was discovered in South Wales, Australia and the world was once again held captive by this alluring gemstone. Actually, the discovery of the Australian black opals led to a steep decline in European opal production.
Although there was a dark cloud over the opal for a brief period in history, there are nothing but positive attributes associated with this beautiful gemstone today. Crystal healers believe that an opal is a pure gemstones and that it inspires true and spontaneous action. Opals are said to enhance one’s emotions and allows its wearer to release their inhibitions. Some believe that opals strengthen the memory and enhance loyalty with respect to love, business relationships and personal affiliations. The opal has also been attributed with physical healing properties as well. There are several cultures that used the ground form of opal to purify the blood and kidneys, to disperse infection and to regulate insulin production. For hundreds of years, the opal has been used by midwifes to provide comfort during childbirth. The metaphysical properties of the opal are as diverse as the many varieties and appearances of this gorgeous gemstone.
No one can deny the intriguing beauty of the opal. The interplay of the wavelengths of light that seem to dance across the opal give this breathtakingly beautiful gemstone a whimsical allure. When you are looking for a unique gemstone that has an air of mystery, a dramatic appearance and a touch of sophistication, the opal should be your first choice. These illustrious gemstones add style and beauty to anything it touches.