October Birthstone: Opal
October’s birthstone, the opal, is a gem unlike any other. It is usually white or black overall, with streaks and flashes of many other colors (pinks, greens, blues, oranges, golds, and more) due to chemical impurities within the stone, and the pattern of each opal is as unique as a human fingerprint. The stones are composed of submicroscopic fragments of silica, which are held together with more silica and water, and the different amounts of water within the mineral is what gives each stone its unique appearance. Opals are formed in the spaces inside near-surface volcanic rocks, as very hot water in the ground dissolves silica into a gel that eventually re-forms as a gemstone. This means that some fossils, such as shells, bones, or wood, can become opalized as their original material dissolves.
Opal is a delicate stone; if the water inside it evaporates, it can shrink or crack. It is a relatively soft material, and its appearance can change when it is exposed to changes in heat or pressure. During Medieval times, changes in an opal’s color intensity were thought to reflect the health status of its wearer, and the stones were believed to prevent fainting and infection, keep hearts healthy, and cleanse dirty air. However, opals became associated with death when the plague swept across Europe, because if a sick person wore an opal, it would maintain its brilliant color until the person’s death, at which time it would lose its luster and become dull. It was believed that opals caused people to die; however, the stone’s appearance was actually affected by the change in heat from a burning fever to a cold corpse. We love the folklore behind gems at our Austin Texas jewelry store. Come by and ask us any questions!
Legends and superstitions about opals exist in cultures ancient and modern in as many different places as Rome, India, Australia, the Middle East, and eastern Asia. Today, the majority of opals are mined in Australia, which is especially famous for its black opals. Other sources include Ireland, Japan, Ethiopia, Brazil, Hounduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Fire opals, translucent or transparent opals with flashes of red, yellow, and orange caused by iron oxide impurities, are mostly found in Mexico, although some are mined in Nevada. NASA has even discovered opal deposits on Mars!
Because opals are so soft, they are usually turned into cabochons for use in jewelry, which means the stones are shaped and polished, rather than having facets cut into them. Opals can be used in rings, brooches, earrings, necklaces, pendants, and bracelets, although their versatility is somewhat limited due to their sensitivity to heat. When choosing a piece of opal jewelry, be sure to consider the pattern and play of colors within each stone, as each one will, of course, be different from the next.
William Shakespeare once wrote that the opal was the “queen of gems,” and it’s not difficult to see why. If you’re interested in opals or opal jewelry, come into your Austin, Texas, jewelry store destination, Copeland Jewelers, to see our current selection of opal pieces, or to discuss the creation of an opal Austin custom jewelry piece!
3801 N Capital of Texas Hwy
Austin, TX 78746