Opals come in many different colors, which symbolizes the somewhat uncertain nature of October as a month.
The opal is the traditional birthstone for October. Opal’s shifting play of kaleidoscopic colors is unlike any other gem. Fine opal’s beauty is elusive and challenging to capture in words. It has been compared to fireworks, jellyfish, galaxies, lightning and volcanoes.
Opals come in many different colors, which symbolizes the somewhat uncertain nature of October as a month. Some Octobers will be warm and pleasant: others will bring in winter and cold weather. Harvest times are often connected with this month, as are the frightful connections with Samhain and Halloween.
Each opal is truly one-of-a-kind, as unique as our fingerprints. Some prefer the calming flashes of blues and greens; others love the bright reds and yellows. As you turn and move the opal, the color plays and shifts, giving you a gem that can be worn with a plethora of ensembles.
In general, the opal is thought to be related to the ability to influence happiness, loyalty, confidence, and faithfulness. For centuries, people have associated this precious gemstone with good luck.
To this day, you will hear that it is bad luck to purchase an opal for yourself or it must be surrounded in diamonds (but then, everything looks good surrounded in diamonds, right?!). Though some modern superstitions claim that opals can be bad luck to anyone not born in October, this birthstone remains a popular choice.
Read on to learn more about this beautiful and extraordinary gemstone.
You have multiple choices in opal: white opal, black opal, fire opal-red to orangey-red, sometimes yellow (might or might not show play-of-color) and common opal without play-of-color (pink or blue). If you are lucky enough to have this as your birthstone, you have many choices in color!
Opals have characteristic colors due to impurities within the stone. The milky or pearly appearance of some opals are due to inclusions of tiny gas bubbles.
Yellows and reds betray the presence of iron oxides. The spectacular black opals that sometimes flash green, blue and red get their color from magnesium oxides and organic carbon within the stone.
It is interesting that the same gem that’s capable of inspiring such awe is also a mainstream offering of modest value. Its wide availability makes the calibrated white opal cabochon perhaps the most familiar phenomenal gem.
At the same time, a rare top-quality black opal’s remarkable beauty makes it truly phenomenal.
Since opal was discovered in Australia around 1850, the country has produced 95% of the world’s supply. Opal is also mined in Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Ethiopia, the Czech Republic and parts of the U.S., including Nevada and Idaho.
The name “opal” originates from the Greek word opallios, which meant “to see a change in color.”
Opal’s characteristic “play-of-color” was explained in the 1960s, when scientists discovered that it is composed of microscopic silica spheres that diffract light to display various colors of the rainbow. These flashy gemstones are called “precious opals”; those without play-of-color are “common opals.”
Opal’s classic country of origin is Australia. Opals are formed in near-surface volcanic rocks, within cavities and cracks. The opal is a fragile hydrated silica material, made of submicroscopic silica spheres held together by more silica and water.
It is a soft stone, easily altered in appearance by changes in heat and pressure. This mineral contains varying amounts of water within it that determine the appearance of the gemstone. When water evaporates out of an opal, the stone appears slightly smaller and the stress of the evaporation creates cracks on it.
The fragile beauty
The water content of opal gems can range from three to 21 %—usually between 6 and 10 in gem-quality material. This makes opal a delicate gemstone that can crack or “craze” under extreme temperature, dehydration, or direct light.
Because opals contain so much water, they are susceptible to drying out when exposed to heat. This can cause crazing, or cracking, which is irreversible.
When storing your opals, always make sure that it is in a cooler temperature, preferably with a bit of moisture in the air (a small dish of water or cotton ball will do).
Opals are also porous and can be easily damaged by acids and chemicals such as detergents, perfumes and jewellery cleaner.
Also, opals should not be stored in airtight containers, e.g. lockboxes, safety deposit boxes. If they lose moisture, they will craze a fine network of cracks that resembles a spider’s web.
Finally, opals are soft with a hardness of 6 on the Mohs scale. This makes them vulnerable to knocks, scuffs and abrasions, which means they are more suited for earring and necklace settings rather than rings in order to keep them safe while wearing.
Today, opals are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, despite the misgivings that they can bring back luck to those who wear them.
For those born in October, opals can and should be considered a bit of gem magic to be enjoyed for their stunning play-of-color that is unmatched by any other gemstone.