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Opal Meaning and Properties


Opal History

The name "opal" comes from the Sanskrit word 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. Ancient Greeks thought the stone could give people the gift of prophecy and protected them from disease. During Roman times, the Latin word opalus came into use.

Opal is now associated with the birthstone of October (along with pink tourmaline) and as the gemstone of the 14th marriage anniversary. While some people believe it is unlucky for people not born in October to wear opal, the gemstone has actually long been valued as a stone of luck and magic. Opal is also an alternative birthstone for April babies.

Opal Metaphysical 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 gemstones 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 people believe that opal can help moderate and harmonize sexual desires. European cultures have long believed opal is a symbol of hope, purity and truth.

Opal Geological Properties

Opals come in three natural varieties: opalescent precious opal, fire opal (yellow to red-orange) and the generally opaque common opal. A French manufacturer, Gilson, created the first "opalescent" imitation opal in 1973 though synthetic opals have been created since the '30s. Natural opals are non-crystalline, hydrated silicon dioxide gemstones that contain up to 30% water. It's possible for opals to dry out and crack, and they are relatively soft, fragile gemstones.

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 often referred to as "fire" or "play of light." 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.

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

Mineral Information hardened silica gel with water content
Chemical Composition SiO2-nH2O
Color transparent to opaque, all colors
Hardness 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 1.98 - 2.20
Refractive Index 1.450

Proper Care of Opal

Opal is a fairly soft stone and can be damaged by steam or ultrasonic cleaning machines and harsh chemicals. The best way to clean opal is with a soft, untreated cloth and mild soapy water. It is recommended to not submerge the gemstone in soapy water. While solid opals won't be damaged by submersion, doublet or triplet opals (non-solid, man-made opal stones) can be. Gently pat dry and be sure jewelry is completely dry before storing or wearing. Store opal jewelry away from other pieces of jewelry as metals and harder gemstones can cause damage to the softer stone.

To learn more about opal and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of ''Gemstones of the World''

Designing with Opal

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. Natural opal gemstone is soft and works better in earrings or pendants than when used in bracelets or rings that could experience impact and scratches.

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.

Shop for Opal Items

**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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