I’ve been obsessed with opals for as long as I can remember, because my grandmother’s name was Opal and she was one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known. You can see an opal even from a distance, because the of the “fire” it produces. When you see a rainbow of colors scintillating all at once against a slightly milky backdrop, it’s creates a phenomenon called “opalescence.” Cool, right? I mean, there are hundreds of gemstones in the world and this gemstone called opal has a type of “essence” named after it. In fact, there are only a handful of gemstones with its own “essence” named after it. The other gemstones unique enough to have an “essence” named after it are: pearl (pearlescence), labradorite (labradoresence), and fluorite (fluorescence).
In fact, fluorescent lights came from what scientists discovered from this gemstone hundreds of years ago. I don’t want to sound technical here, but I would like to explain how precious opals get their incredible play of color. Play-of-color is defined as “a pseudo chromatic optical effect resulting in flashes of colored light from certain minerals, as they are turned in white light.” The internal structure of precious opal causes it to diffract light, resulting in play-of-color. Depending on where it’s formed and mined, opal may be transparent, translucent, or opaque and the background color may be white, black, or nearly any color of the visual spectrum. Black opal is considered to be the rarest and super expensive, fetching as high as $100,000 per carat. Premium quality Mexican Fire Opals are rare and expensive as well. Unlike all the other opals, the Mexican Fire Opal displays one dominant color that ranges from cherry red to orange. Opals in gray, and green are the most common. Regardless of how, when, where it was formed, they can be found in transparent, translucent, or opaque forms.
Being in the jewelry business, I’ve been blessed with access to a wide variety of gemstones, but opal is one of my favorites. Other than my engagement ring and wedding ring, my opal necklace is one of my personal favorites. Speaking of favorites, did you know that the opal was Queen Victoria’s favorite gemstone? If you ever get a chance to go to London, I encourage you to visit the V & A Museum (Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert) where, along with their fashions, art & artifacts, some of the best opals are in full display. It’s worth noting that in her time, being the Queen of England meant that she had access to whatever she wanted and Opal was her favorite. I discovered that Queen Victoria inherited the crown when she was only 18 years old. Queen Victoria had a sense of style that combined a sense of innocence and elegance. She collected beautiful opals from all over the world for her entire life.
Opals are mined primarily in Australia, Ethiopia, United States (Oregon), Mexico, and each region produces different variety of opals. Here are the types of opals produced available.
Australia – White, gray, green, black, and terms like lightening ridge opals are associated with opals mined in Australia.
Boulder opal – opaque background with organic patterns in deeply saturated colors such as red, green, black, orange, cobalt blue, brown, and yellow.
Black opal – dark background, but not black, with internal flashes of colors such as green, blue, red, pink, purple, yellow, etc.
Mexican Fire Opal – Fire opal is a transparent to translucent opal, found in colors of yellow to orange to red. Although it does not usually show any play of color, occasionally a stone will exhibit bright green flashes. Premium quality Mexican Fire Opals are commonly cut and polished in cabochon form.
Ethiopian Opal – Ethiopian Opals were discovered in 1994, have become a major factor in the opal market. Ethiopian opals display the intensity of color play only seen in some of the most expensive black opals. They are quite stunning!
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