Opal Gemstone Properties

Design Possibilities

Precious and Gilson imitation opals display a unique visual phenomenon--they flash rainbow-like colors. Depending on the background color and the predominant "fire" display color, opals can be "framed" by either silver or gold. The natural iridescent luster of pearls complements the fire of opals. White opals work well with light, pastel-colored gemstones. Dark opals can be beautifully mixed with darker stones that match the opal's background color, or that pick up the flashing colors. The natural gemstone is soft and will wear better as earrings or pendants than when used in bracelets or in rings.

Fire opals are yellow to orange-red and do not display fire. For a startling complementary color scheme, mix the orange-red fire opal with a greenish-tinted turquoise or Swarovski crystal. Or try combining fire opal with gemstones that are close in hue: citrine, carnelian and red aventurine. A beautiful harmony is created by a split-complementary scheme: fire opal with blue and green aventurine.


The name "opal" comes from the Sanskrit word for "upala," meaning precious stone. In Indian mythology, the virgin Goddess of the Rainbow was turned into an opal by the Mother Goddess because she was being chased by suitors Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. During Roman times, the Latin word "opalus" came into use.

Metaphysical/Healing Properties

It is said that precious opal, with its display of fire, can spark creativity, and that the "dance" of its fire can help people enjoy their lives. The light-colored stones have long been associated with helping people become less visible to others and also in improving eyesight. The gemstone has been associated with the sacral chakra, imbalances of which can cause problems with addictions. Some believe that opal can help moderate and harmonize sexual desires.

Scientific Description

Opals come in three natural varieties: the opalescent precious opal, the fire opal (yellow to red-orange), and the generally opaque common opal. A French manufacturer, Gilson, created the first "opalescent" imitation opal in 1973. The natural opals are non-crystalline gemstones that can contain up to 30% water. They are actually a hardened silica gel. It's possible for them to dry out and crack, and they are relatively soft and fragile gemstones. They rank between 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs' hardness scale.

The precious opals display a unique opalescence. Depending on the angle of view, rainbow-like flashes of different colors appear, caused by light reflecting off of extremely small spheres of cristobalite within the silica gel. The phenomenon is called interference. The flashing of color is called "fire" or "play of light." The precious opals appear in a range of white to black (usually dark gray, green or blue backgrounds).

Fire opal is named for its color and does not display opalescence. It can range in color from yellow to red. It is usually milky, but the best examples can be transparent.

Mineral Information hardened silica gel with water content
Chemical Composition SiO2-nH2O
Color transparent to opaque, all colors
Hardness 5.5-6.5
Specific Gravity 1.98-2.20
Refractive Index 1.450


Opals are found in the veins and cavities of igneous or sedimentary rock. The best quality opals are found in Australia. The gemstone is also found in Brazil, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, southern Africa, and Nevada.

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**Please note that all metaphysical or healing properties listed are collected from various sources. This information is offered as a service and not meant to treat medical conditions. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® does not guarantee the validity of any of these statements.

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