Opals: Meaning of October’s Birthstone – stunning vintage opal brooch
The opal has earned itself many colourful descriptions such as rainbow gem and peacock jewel. Some authors have even compared it to fireworks or galaxies. In this article, discover the meaning and lore of October’s beautiful birthstone and why it shimmers in so many luxurious colours.
- Where opals come from
- Opal birthstone lore
- Australian opals
- Famous celebrity opals
Where do opals come from?
Opals are found all over the world, including Africa, Europe and Asia. But gem experts agree that the best specimens of this shimmering gemstone come from Australia.
Rough opal from the Coober Pedy mine in Austrlia | Photo creditWikipedia.com
What is opal?
Opal formed millions of year ago when heavy rains soaked the sun-baked ground in the arid desert, and rainwater carried a dissolved mineral called silica into cracks inside rocks. When the water dried, the silica deposits were left, and these layers formed opal.
Why do opals shimmer?
It is the silica inside opals that causes a sparkling and flashing effect. Silica spheres are stacked, a little bit like tiny marbles in a box, and they diffract light in a fantastic variety of patterns and colours. Gemmologists call this unique multi-coloured sparkle play of colour. It is usually considered the opal’s most characteristic quality.
The Australian outback where the best opal in the world is found
Do all opals shimmer?
No, the colourful shimmer is not present in every opal. For instance, fire opals only display one colour ranging from orange to yellow; see more about these below.
See opal shimmer on VIDEO
In this video, you’ll see how the interior of the opal plays with light, creating the rainbow shimmer this gemstone is famous for:
Opals come in many colours
Each opal reflects light differently and no two opals are exactly the same.
White opal is the most popular type in jewellery because it’s pearly white colour is easy to wear and combine with any outfit. It can be milky, translucent or opaque, and it shows a stunning, pastel-shaded play of colour when you move it in the light.
Fire opal, on the other hand, comes in translucent orange, yellow or red hues. It is sometimes called Mexican opal.
Black opal is the rarest type of opal. Its background is very dark and because of this, its play of colour really stands out. However, its price can be prohibitive and its dark colour is hard to wear; that’s why it is usually reserved for big, expensive statement jewellery pieces.
Ancient opal lore in Australia
The indigenous people of Australia call opal 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. Today, the opal is Australia’s national gemstone.
Opal legends in other cultures
Arabic mythology claims that opals fell from the skies during lightning storms. The early Greeks believed that opals could protect their owners from illness. In ancient Rome, opal had many meanings, but the most curious one is the belief that opals could help blonde women retain their hair coveted colour.
Meaning of opal October birthstone
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.
Cleopatra and the opal ring
One of the most fascinating stories about opals features the famous lovers, Anthony and Cleopatra. Besotted by the Egyptian queen, Anthony wanted to give her a truly special gift. He decided that only an opal would do. Soon Anthony spotted an exquisite opal ring. The only problem was that it belonged to a Roman Senator called Nonius.
Anthony tried to pressure Nonius into selling the ring, offering him four times the ring’s value in gold. But Nonius did not want to part with his precious opal. Too scared to say ‘no’ to powerful Anthony, he chose instead to pack up his house, wife, children and the ring and flee Rome, never to return!
‘The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra’ painting by L. Alma-Tadema | Image credit Sotheby’s New York, Wikimedia Commons
The 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‘.
Opals on the red carpet in Hollywood… The Beautiful Australian Oscar winner Cate Blanchett loves Opals! pic.twitter.com/NofAV3tUY2
— Kathy Karpaty (@qsopal) August 25, 2014
Famous celebrity opals
Queen Victoria absolutely adored opals, and being a trendsetter, she made the gem truly popular in the late 20th century. Much later, Cate Blanchett made headlines in 2014 by wearing her country’s national gemstone in a pair of stunning drop earrings to the Oscars.
Opal’s influence is visible everywhere
Many people don’t realise that the influence of opals is visible everywhere. But if you stop and think about shimmering eye makeup, sequinned dresses or metallic car paint with flecks of colour that glimmer in the light, you’ll soon realise what huge inspiration this gemstone offers to fashion, beauty and design.
Meaning of opal October birthstone gifts
Opals are unique. The way they reflect light in every colour of the rainbow makes them the ideal precious gift for any occasion. If your loved one was born in October, the opal birthstone will have special meaning to them as. White opals are also a stunning alternative to pearls and diamonds because their light-coloured shimmer goes with any outfit.
For buying advice, visit our Opal Gem Guide.