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October birthstone Opal: True or False?


October is the month opal. It is an extremely beautiful stone and it has been seeing a come-back for the recent couple of years. The special characteristic of opal is the colour play. It displays rainbow hue, which mysteriously changes colours depending on the angle you look at it.

The largest producer of opal is Australia. Indeed opal is the national stone of the country. Mexico and, more recently, Ethiopia also produce high-quality opal.

As mysteriously as the stone goes, there are lots of mysterious stories around opal. So, here is some True or False about opal. This is a very general information and use this as a rough guidance. For more technical, gemological information, some books, such as Gemstones of the World, are useful. 

1.    There are many opal varieties

The entry pages of opal in Gemstones of the World, jewellery designer's bible.

  • White opal – This is the most widely used kind of opal into jewellery. White is the basic colour with some colour plays with green, orange etc.
  • Black opal—This is a kind of opal with dark grey, dark blue, dark green and black as the basic colour with colour play. Black opal is more expensive than white opal.
  • Harlequin opal—This is the most sought-after variety. The colour play is shown in a pattern of mosaic.
  • Jelly opal-- Blue-ish grey translucent opal with little play of colour. 
  • Fire opal – Opal in the colour range of red-orange is called fire opal. It has little or no colour play.
  • Pink opal – Opal in pink is specifically called pink opal. It has little or no colour play.

Terra earrings from the Age of Discovery collection


2.    Opal has no shape
While most other gemstones have specific crystal systems-- for example diamond’s crystal system is cubic and sapphire’s is trigonal—opal does not have any specific shape. This is called amorphous. 

Although many opals are still cut and polished in round or oval shapes, opals in their natural, organic, free forms are becoming very popular.

3.    Opal is made of water
True, well, at least partially!
Opal always contains water, between 3 and 20 percent of the weight. Some suggest the proportion is up to 30 percent.  But it is usually 6-10 percent. 
So occasional “watering” is a great idea. Just place opal into a plain water in a glass, a mag etc. If the metal of the opal jewellery does not like water, place wet cotton wool over opal and leave it for a while.  Also, please avoid exposing opal to extreme light, heat and dryness.

4.    Opal cannot be used for a ring
However, opal is a soft stone, compared with other gemstones such as diamond, ruby and sapphire, and it does not like stress. Make sure to have opal set with protective metal settings. 
Also, I normally do NOT recommend opal for engagement rings. 

5.    Opal’s colour fades  
Due to the water property, the colour of opal can fade if the water evaporates over time. So make sure your opal occasionally gets watered.

6.    Opal shrinks

Opal does not shrink! However, opal might crack when it becomes very dry. Again, make sure it gets watered occasionally. 

7.    Opal invites bad luck
False! Unscientific!
What I have been told is that diamond dealers in the 19th century, when opal was THE gem, spread rumour that opal was bad luck, trying to steal some market share from opal.
There is no way to verify this anecdote today. But if this was the case, diamond dealers did a very good job!
Also, this is what I found in the Wikipedia.

Terra ring from the Age of Discovery collection

“Following the publication of Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein in 1829, opal acquired a less auspicious reputation. In Scott's novel, the Baroness of Arnheim wears an opal talisman with supernatural powers. When a drop of holy water falls on the talisman, the opal turns into a colorless stone and the Baroness dies soon thereafter. Due to the popularity of Scott's novel, people began to associate opals with bad luck and death. Within a year of the publishing of Scott's novel in April 1829, the sale of opals in Europe dropped by 50 percent, and remained low for the next 20 years or so.”  

Well, we live in the 21st century and we all know opal does not invite bad luck. 
Bottom line is opal is the beautiful stone. Here at the IKURIA studio, opal jewellery tends to sell as soon as they are made. Quite often, I do not have time to have it photo taken.
Enjoy and treasure your opal jewellery!