Opal is a mineraloid, its composition is similar to that of quartz but it contains water so it does not crystallize. Primarily white in color, opals are categorized as common (almost always opaque) and precious (all other variants). The particularity of this gem is that it breaks down the light that passes through it into different sets of light and rays of the colors of the rainbow, going from red to violet. This is a phenomenon called iridescence. From opal comes the word opalescence.
Fragile stone, it does not withstand heat and lack of humidity very well, which can cause cracks and loss of color. When this is the case it is said that the opal "dies".
Its name would come from Sanskrit "Upala" which translates as precious stone or gem. It could also come from Greek "Opallios" or Latin "Opalus" which mean "to see a change in color". Known and famous since ancient times, naturalist Pliny the Elder graded the opal as the second stone after the emerald.
According to Greek mythology, the opals would be tears shed by Zeus after the gods of Olympus managed to defeat the titans. In the Arabic tradition, the opal would be flashes of lightning trapped in the rock. The Australian aborigines called it "rainbow serpent".
In the Middle Ages it was nicknamed the "eye stone" as it was believed to be favorable for the eyes and to enhance clairvoyance and introspection practices. The church used it in episcopal rings and several royal families have garments and jewelry with opals like those of Queen Victoria who made this gem popular throughout the Commonwealth.
Stone that attracts luck and generates hope, it was a symbol of purity and strength for the ancient Greeks and Romans. They believed it capable of favoring clairvoyance and intuition while facilitating meditation. Considered magical by many, the opal is credited with the virtues of numerous other gems, especially those that exist in variants of many colors such as tourmaline.
On a physical level, it is said that it neutralizes infections, reduces gastric and digestive problems and regulates the renal system by facilitating the circulation of fluids throughout the body. Apart from helping with skin hydration, it has a soothing effect on the body as it promotes sleep, reflection and concentration.
A protective stone, it amplifies emotions and releases the blockages or tensions of those who possess it. The opal invites detachment, to live in the present moment and is a guide to the awakening of consciousness.
Starting in the 18th century, the opal comes from Červenica in today's Slovakia. In 1847, they are discovered in Australia at Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge. Today, opals from Australia account for around 98% of the world’s production.
There are multiple varieties of opal, usually each depending on their country of extraction. Common opal, also called "potch", is almost always opaque, does not show iridescence and exists in various colors. Found in abundance in Mexico, the fire opal has a milky background, a very pronounced red color, and little play of color. The harlequin opal has flakes that look like iridescent frost in all colors. Black opal has a dark base background that ranges from dark gray to black making the color spectrum stand out.
We find opal deposits in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Germany, the United States, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Australia as well as several other countries in the world.