The name "opal" comes from the Sanskrit word upala, meaning precious stone. During Roman times, the Latin word opalus came into use. As it possessed all the virtues of the gemstones whose colors reside within it, opal was considered by the ancient world to be the most bewitching and mysterious of gems, worn for its virtues of soothing and strengthening the sight, healing diseases of the eyes, and capable of providing great luck. In the Middle Ages, opals were set into crowns and worn in necklaces to ward off evil and to protect the eyesight and even ground and ingested for their healing properties and to ward off nightmares.
But in 1829 a book by Sir Walter Scott transformed the opal’s lucky perception. It featured an enchanted princess who wore an opal that changed colors with her moods. A few drops of holy water extinguished the stone’s magic fire, though, and the woman soon died. People began associating opals with bad luck and within a year, opal sales in Europe fell by 50%. Despite the superstitions, opal was redeemed in the twentieth century, and is today a coveted gem.
OPAL PHYSICAL PROPERTIES
The opal dates back to prehistoric times. It’s a non-crystallized silica, which is a mineral found near the earth's surface in areas where ancient geothermal hot springs once existed. As the hot springs dried up, layers of the silica and water were deposited into the cracks and cavities of the bedrock, forming opal. This gemstone contains up to 30% water, so it must be protected from heat or chemicals, both of which will cause drying and may lead to cracking and loss of iridescence.
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.
OPAL METAPHYSICAL PROPERTIES
In the metaphysical world, opal acts as a prism to bring a full spectrum of light energy to the system, soothing and clearing the emotional body, and boosting the will to live and the joy of one’s earthly existence. It enkindles optimism, enthusiasm and creativity, and allows for the release of inhibitions inspiring love and passion.
Opal is known for its ability to bring one’s traits and characteristics to the surface for examination and transformation. Just as it absorbs and reflects light, opal picks up thoughts and feelings, desires and buried emotions, amplifying them and returning them to the source. While magnifying one’s negative attributes may prove to be uncomfortable, it allows for understanding how destructive these emotions can be and assists the process of letting them go.
Opal is the considered the modern October birthstone, with tourmaline being the traditional October birthstone and a modern alternative.
The concept of associating a gemstone with each month of the year is an ancient practice, believed to trace back to the Bible with the breastplate of Aaron, a religious garment set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Later, the writings of Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) linked the 12 stones in the Breastplate and the 12 signs of the zodiac. The idea was proposed that each of the gemstones had special powers associated with the corresponding astrological sign, and that wearing these stones at the right time would have therapeutic or talismanic benefits.
The concept of each person always wearing a gemstone corresponding to the month of their birth is a modern one that scholars trace to 18th century Poland, with the arrival of Jewish gem traders to the region. Yet the modern list of birthstones was not defined until 1912, by the National Association of Jewelers in the USA.
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Many cultures have their own list of birthstones and legends associated with each. I find historical traditions fascinating, especially ones as long-running and evolving as the birthstone. That combined with my interest in stones and meaningful jewelry made creating a birthstone collection of my own a must-do. Available in both yellow bronze and white bronze with a choice of chain lengths, I designed this necklace to be an everyday wardrobe staple. You can shop the birthstone collection here.