Opals: Meaning of October’s Birthstone – stunning vintage opal brooch
THE opal has earned itself many colourful descriptions, such as ‘Pandora’, ‘Peacock Gem’ and ‘Light of the World’. Some authors have even compared these gems to fireworks or galaxies.
In Australia, where much of the world’s best opal comes from, the Aborigines call it the ‘Rainbow Gem’. According to their lore, the Creator of the world came down to earth walking on a rainbow. Once he reached the ground, his feet turned all the stones into multi-coloured opals.
Why do opals shimmer in so many different colours?
Opal was formed when heavy rains soaked the sun-baked ground in places like Australia’s outback and the African deserts. The rain water carried dissolved silica with it, and the liquid crept into cracks inside rocks.
When the water dried, only the silica deposits were left. These layers formed opal.
It is the silica inside opals that gives them their shimmer and colour. Gemmologists call this unique sparkle ‘play of colour’.
It is usually considered the opal’s most characteristic quality –although it’s not present in every opal. For instance, fire opals only display one colour, ranging from orange to yellow. (See some examples of different types of opals below.)
The reason why opals can exist in every possible colour, and all colour combinations, is because the silica molecules inside them can group together in all kinds of patterns. Each opal therefore reflects light differently. And no two opals are exactly the same.
Image credits GIA.com
The opal is a stone of legend and lore in many cultures. Arabic mythology claims it fell from the skies during lightning storms. The early Greeks believed that opals could protect their owners from illness. In ancient Rome, people believed that opals could help blonde women retain their hair colour.
Traditionally, the opal is considered to be the birthstone for October and is believed to bring luck, health and love to its wearer. To astrologists, the stone represents the star sign of Libra, symbolising sincerity and purity.
Clockwise from top left: Amethyst ring with an opal ‘halo’, Mexican fire opal ring with diamonds, Australian white opal ring with garnet accent stones in gold
To shop these rings now: Click to View
Anthony, Cleopatra and the opal ring
One of the most fascinating stories about opals in recorded history features the famous lovers, Anthony and Cleopatra. Besotted by the Egyptian queen, Anthony wanted to give her a truly special gift, and he decided that only an opal would do.
Anthony soon spotted an exquisite opal ring, belonging to a Roman Senator called Nonius. Offering Nonius four times the ring’s value in gold, Anthony tried to pressure him into selling it. But Nonius did not want to part with his precious opal. Since he was too scared to say no to the powerful Anthony, he packed up his wife, children and the ring… and fled Rome!
Opal and Gold Ring – Click to View
Meaning of the name ‘opal’
There are differing opinions about the origin of the name opal. One of the theories is that it comes from the Roman word opalus, which in turn evolved from the Greek opallios – meaning ‘changing color’. The word may also have come from the ancient Indian Sanskrit word upala, which means ‘precious stone’.
What do opals mean to us now?
Queen Victoria loved opals and she made the gem truly popular in the late 20th century. But many people don’t realise that fine opal jewellery is still very visible on red carpets today – and it’s colourful shimmer has a huge influence on fashion, beauty and design:
Why buy opals as a gift?
Opals are unique. The way they reflect light in every colour of the rainbow makes them the ideal precious gift for any big occasion. And if your loved one was born in October, the opal will have special meaning to them as their birthstone. White opals are also a stunning alternative to pearls and diamonds, because their light-coloured shimmer goes with any outfit.
See the opal’s incredible shimmer – VIDEO
To fully appreciate the opal’s beauty, watch the video below. From about 16 seconds in, you’ll be able to see how the tiny iridescent flecks inside the opal catch the light at different angles:
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