Home DM News History of the Opal Gemstone

Often recognised as the ‘Queen of Gems’, and known as one of the world’s most beautiful gemstones, opals have been cherished throughout all of history with their essence and symbolism transforming through different cultures and generations.

The word Opal comes from a number of different places, transcending from the Latin word ‘Opalus’, the Greek word ‘Opallios’ & the term ‘Upala’ which reflects the true definition of a precious stone. If you look back through history you will discover that opals are cited and admired by some of the most influential figures and leaders. Historically, opal discoveries and mining advanced similarly to the ways emeralds, rubies and sapphire jewellery are produced. And as these gemstones were discovered, they were slowly altered into decorative shapes and jewellery.

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Where do Opals come from?

Opal stones were discovered in Australia, New South Wales in the late 1880s and the first shaft was dug in 1901 or 1902. While it did not appear on the global market until the 1890s, Opal is now considered the national stone of the country with 95% of the world market being supplied by Australia. Prior to this discovery, opal was sourced primarily in Hungary and South America. Archaeological research and findings suggest that the opal gemstone was first mined in Virgin Valley, North America, over 10,000 years ago as well as being used in artefacts throughout Kenya 6 thousand years ago. Opal of alternate characteristics also occurs in more than twenty other countries, including Zambia, Ethiopia, Peru, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, and Mexico.

How are opals formed?

One of the most fascinating elements of any gemstone or natural resource is the journey it has encountered. From being hidden underground to being handcrafted into high earrings, the Opal gemstone offers a unique and radiant iridescent play of colours. They are formed through a complex geological process involving the interaction of water and silica-rich materials, forming two primary types of opals ( precious opals and common opals ) as a result of their formation process.

Precious Opals are known for their vibrant play of colours. They are formed when the silica spheres are relatively uniform in size and spacing, allowing for the diffraction of light and the display of spectral tones. Common Opals on the other hand are typically translucent to opaque. They are formed when the silica spheres are not as uniform in size and spacing, resulting in a milky appearance.

The meaning and symbolism of the Opal gemstone

Like many of the world stones, Opals come with a wide selection of beliefs and characteristics which different religions, cultures and ethnicities live by. Many cultures have associated opal with supernatural origins and powers. Arabic tales state it falls from the heavens in flashes of lightning whilst the ancient Greeks believed opals gave their wearers the gift of prophecy and protection.

October Birthstone

Europeans have long considered the gem a symbol of hope, purity, and truth and in more recent times, Opal has become the October birthstone with many people buying jewellery or small gifts for birthdays or Valentine’s Day.

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Colours of an Opal stone

The vast majority of Opals do not present colour and are called common opal or potch. Common opal is commonly grey, black, white or amber-coloured, but is also found in other hues. However, the size of the spheres inside an opal stone will influence which colours are visible. The light passing through an opal stone is first deflected, bent, and then diffracted, with colour being emitted from the light rays in the stone. The reason opal appears iridescent and multi-coloured is that when the stone is moved, the light will hit different spheres at different angles offering a unique and constant shift of colouring.

Black Opal: What is it and where to find one

By comparison, black opals are the most valuable form of opal due to their dark body tone. Precious black opals are rare and there are only a few locations in which they are found. The main one today is around New South Wales, Australia where the first black opal is thought to have been found in 1877. Unlike ordinary opals, black opals have carbon and iron oxide trace elements, which cause the unique darkness. Because of their dark body tone, the rainbow colours in a black opal stand out much better than lighter opals, generally cut into an oval shape but also formed into freeform or teardrops.

Opal Jewellery Handcrafted by the London Jeweller, David Morris

When caught by the light, Opal-coloured prisms flash in rainbow-like colour, making it the perfect choice for High Jewellery that makes a statement. Our expert craftsmen offer the opportunity to create pieces that are truly remarkable, and perfect for special events, weddings, birthdays and momentous occasions. Designed and handcrafted with skill, precision and the world’s rarest stones, our Opal Jewellery come with remarkable hues, encrusted diamond embellishments and a number of luxury features.

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