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The Legend Of Opal

Lyle Sopel -

Dear Collector Friend,

Your iridescent opal will last a long time if you use care. The stones should never be kept in oil or any other chemical substance. This may cause them to lose some or all of their fire. Because opals can contain as much as 20% water, they should never be stored in a bank or vault for long periods of time because of the dehumidifiers used in many vaults. If opals get too dry, they tend to crack. This anomaly is called “Crazing,” and it wipes out the value of the stone. You should avoid leaving your opal near anything potentially drying. To keep your opal from drying, it may be helpful to immerse it in water for several hours every now and again.

Opal has a lengthy and fascinating history and according to Australian Aboriginal Folklore, the Universe’s creator came down to Earth one day on a beautiful rainbow. When the creator’s foot touched the ground, the stones turned into opals! According to Arabic legend, opal falls from the heavens in flashes of lightning.

Long ago many thought that opal brought bad luck to its wearer. The superstition comes from a few different factors. Opals have in fact been considered good luck throughout most of their documented history, but in much earlier days, when jewelers did not understand how to handle and work the stones properly, the stones would often dry out, crack and break while being cut, polished or mounted. Naturally, this was considered bad luck.

 

The History Of Opal and the Story of Bad Luck

Avid stone collectors are aware that this unfortunate reputation and myth actually is the blunder of Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter Scott’s best selling novel, Anne of Geuerstein, written in 1829, was the story of Lady Hermione, who is wrongly accused of being a demoness, and falls dead shortly after a drop of holy water falls on her opal and wipes out its color. The people took this to mean that the author was warning readers of the bad luck an opal can bring, so purchasing came to a halt. Sir Walter Scott succeeded in destroying the European opal market for almost 50 year. Within months of the novel being published, the opal market crashed and prices were down 5o percent!

Luckily, approximately 50 years later, in 1877, an gorgeous black opal was found in South Wales, Australia, and the opal market was revived. These black opals excited collectors and admirers. The discovery of these opals in Australia led to the downturn of European production. Australia is in fact, still the principal source of black and white opal. Many do not realize that the myth of the opal being bad luck is not warranted by any evidence or occurrence, or that the discovery of the black opal destroyed these adverse conceptions over 100 years ago.

Furthermore, in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Anne of Geierstein, the main character, Lady Hermione, wore an enchanted opal in her hair. It gave off fiery red flashes when she was sullen, and it sparkled intensely when she was content. As the story goes, one time when a few drops of holy water were sprinkled on the gemstone not only did it lose it its fire and sparkle, following this, Lady Hermione fell ill, was carried to her room and placed in bed. The following day all that was found of her and the gem was a heap of ashes in her bed.

Additional History and Lore

Opals have a very protracted  history and there are many other myths pertaining to the stone. In medieval times, all blond maidens wanted a necklace made of opals, as this was considered a guarantee to prevent their hair from greying or darkening. The opal was also thought to make a person invisible whenever he wished, and for that reason, it was called Patronus forum meaning, Patron of Thieves.

In ancient times opal was a symbol of fidelity and assurance, and in later history it became associated with religious emotional prayer. It was believed to have a strong therapeutic value for diseases of the eye, and when worn as an amulet, it would keep  the one the bares it free from disease as well as increase the powers of the mind.

Many also believed that the colors of red and green were seen, the wearer would also enjoy the therapeutic powers of those stones: the power to stop bleeding from the Ruby or the power to cure diseases from the Emerald. The stone is also known to Purify  the blood and kidneys, regulates insulin, eases childbirth, and alleviates PMS.  Of all the stones opal is said to be the most useful in preventing ill health. It strengthens the immune system and helps the body be resilient to infection.

 

So what is this Amazing Stone?

A mineral that is “A hydrated amorphous silica softer and less dense than quartz and typically with definite and often marked iridescent play of colors.” The opal is a stone so distinctive that everyone can identify it, with its many colored flashing lights. The vibrant colors within an opal resemble the colors of the autumn and is the birthstone of the multicoloured month of October. Opal is unique among stones, as it displays an array of very brilliant miniature rainbow effects, these colors were very highly prized in Roman jewelry.

The play of color comes from opal’s formation process, which is different than many gems. The color comes from the reflection of the scattering of light from the minuscule, systematic and closely packed silica spheres that make up opal. The arrangement of these spheres,  varying in size and pattern, are responsible for the different colors. The more brilliant the color, or fire, the more valuable the gem. The most familiar opals are nearly opaque white or more translucent white, some having a black or reddish background. All opals differ greatly in their color of fire. Some have only red and orange sparkle and some also have green, and some also have yellow and blue lights.

Black opals may have all of these colors as well as purple. Opals show just about every shade of every color in a assortment of combinations. Opals with an abundance of red are usually the most expensive. Those strong in blue and green are equally as beautiful, but, less rare, so their price is less. One of the most rare opals is called the Harlequin Opal, which displays color patterns resembling a checkerboard.

Opal is a soft stone, rating a 5.5 to 6.5 on Mohs Hardness scale. It is usually milky and translucent. Opal is a hardened silica gel containing 5-20% water. Some opals may crack if allowed to dry out too rapidly after being mined. Opals may be somewhat porous, in which case it is dangerous to immerse it in liquids other than water. Opal is an amorphous solid, meaning, it has no crystal structure. The only other major amorphous gemstone is Amber.

 

How it’s Formed and Where it’s Found

Opal is formed when silica is liquefied and washed down into fissures in the surrounding rocks, where it then solidified into a hardened gel. Opal is found in fossilized shell, wood and bone. Some precious opal forms in gas cavities in volcanic rocks, in places such as Mexico and Slovakia, but most often Australian deposits occur in sedimentary rock formations. This stone is not found in many ancient archaeological diggings, and this is because the stones do not last for thousands of years due to their  higher water content than many other stones they often dry out. The fire, or color, in opal is made by the cracks in it. It’s opulence is also one of its few weaknesses – the cracks are not visible to the naked eye. If the cracks are visible without a magnifying lens, it will not be considered as fine opal.

 

Purchasing and Caring for your Opal

Bring a little good luck and good health into your life of the life of a loved one by purchasing your very own opal piece!

“The Base Body Tone Guide” is the best kept secret for buying opals on the internet, as most internet sellers give a fairly accurate description of the stones body tone that they are selling. The opal association is marketing a body tone guide with opal stones and doublets so all buyers and sellers can have a uniform guide to gauge opal. These will help buyers compare opals between sellers. You should always buy off a seller who guarantees his product and grading so if you disagree you can return it. The base body tone refers to the darkness or lightness of the opal ignoring the play of colour and brightness of the stone. The base colour can only be determined by looking down on the top of the stone and ignoring the material on the back of the stone. Only those stones ranking N1 to N4 are considered black opals. The opal price is determined by body tone, brightness, colour, play of colour, size and allowing for faults and imperfections.”

https://www.opalauctions.com/learn/technical-opal-information/black-opal-brightness-and-body-tone-guide

Tilmorrow,
Art, Nature, and Beauty Always,

LYLE

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