Foxfire Jewelers The Creative
Custom Jewelry Studio since 1985
14176 NE Woodinville-Duvall
Woodinville, Washington 98072-8551
Opal is a gemstone that ranges from
semi-transparent to opaque. Opal's body color covers a broad spectrum
of colors, but it is mostly prized for what is known as 'play
of color.' This is the ability to reflect and break up light into
multiple colors which occur as medium- to broad-sized pinpoints,
or larger flashes within the stone. Play of color occurs in only
a fraction of Opal stones, and the rest of the non-precious opal
is known as potch.
Opal was formed when silica was liquefied
and washed down into fissures in the surrounding rock, where it
then solidified into a hardened gel. Unlike most other gemstones,
Opal is therefore not a crystal, but rather an amorphous solid.
Microscopic silica spheres sometimes would line up in a pattern
which acts as a diffraction grating, which has a prism like effect
and produces the brilliant plays of color.
Opal today is mostly found in Australia,
Mexico, and the USA. Its name comes from the Sanskrit "Upala"
and the later Greek derivative "Opallios," meaning to
see a change of color. There are several types of naturally occurring
A transparent or white body color with play of color.
Blue, grey, or black body color sets off the play of color.
Yellow to orange body color: may have play of color or if not,
is often fashioned into faceted stones.
Most often black Opal which has occurred in thin veins; the resulting
cut stones have a layer of Opal with some of the ironstone matrix
In addition to these completely natural
stones, stonecutters create some assembled Opal gemstones:
Opal Doublet: A thin slice of Opal
is glued to a black or brown backing stone to enhance its color
and makes it durable enough for wear.
Opal Triplet: Same as an Opal doublet,
but with a clear quartz or glass cap added on top of the Opal
for added durability. The slice of Opal used in the triplet is
often much thinner.
The ancient Romans called Opal the
queen of gems because it encompassed the colors of all the other
gems. They revered Opal as a symbol of hope and purity and held
it to be second only to the prized Emerald. At that time Opal,
called by the Latin "Opalus," was primarily found in
In later times, women in Scandinavian
countries wore opals as hair ornaments in the belief that it preserved
their blond hair and kept it from going grey.
The Arabs thought that opals were formed
by lightning strikes and that this is why the brilliant flashes
of color are captured within. Other legends said that Opal would
act to ward off lightning, and give the cloak of invisibility
to its wearer when desired. It was supposed to grant vigor, aid
the heart and kidneys, and protect against fainting and infection.
A modern folktale, in which a person
should not wear Opal unless it is either their birthstone or a
gift, traces its roots to the 1817 novel by Sir Walter Scott,
"Anne of Geierstein," in which Opal is associated with
misfortune borne by the heroine.
Opal should be treated with some care
to prevent sharp blows, scratches, and should never be kept in
oil or other chemicals. Opal contains a percentage of water as
part of the stone; it need not be kept in water, but should never
be stored in a bank vault for long periods of time because of
the dehumidifiers used in many vaults.