October 26, 2021
By Chelsea Reed
Opal’s rainbow-like shimmer has captured the imaginations of people for millennia. From folktales to royal adornment, many cultures have admired the beauty of a fine opal specimen. Today, its colorful cast is a familiar treasure for many jewelry shoppers. Do you know these remarkable opal facts? Find out so you can impress your friends!
This common nickname might have come from a Roman scholar’s illustrious description in 75 AD. “Some opal carry such a play within them that they equal the deepest and richest colors of painters,” the scholar marveled. Indeed, the opal is a marvel of nature. Opallios, the Greek word for opals, means “to see a change of color.” And the Roman word for it, called opalus, literally translates as “precious stone.”
Scientists are still investigating how opals are exactly formed. Rainwater seeping into deep underground rocks is probably the cause. The water carries trace deposits of minerals over time, building the layers of the gemstones. How long does it take? No one knows for sure. They may take as long as 6 million years to develop!
We do know, however, what an opal is made of. Opal is made from hydrolyzed silica, which means it is silicon dioxide with water. The water content of opals ranges from about five to twenty percent. Silicon looks like tiny flat disks under a microscope. The arrangement of these “disks” is what gives opal its signature shimmer!
Yes, Martian opal exists! Tiny opal deposits were discovered on the Nakhla meteorite. This means water likely existed on the red planet a long time ago. Will that lead us to find traces of Martian life? Who knows, we may see it in our lifetime!
Opal is rated 4.5 to 5 on the Mos hardness scale, making it a somewhat delicate stone. You probably wouldn’t want to wear it in the middle of gardening, sports, or operating heavy machinery. It is not recommended to submerge opal jewelry into water either, especially older pieces. But as long as you’re not running a triathlon, wearing opal every day is certainly feasible. Clean opal jewelry with gentle soap, water, and a soft cloth.
95% of opals in the market come from the country today. Mines from the Land Down Under produces a variety of colors that include boulder opal, white opal, and the rare black opal stone. Fun fact: Australian opals are prominent in Aboriginal tribal legends and are revered in their cultural ceremonies.
As the supply of natural opals depletes in mines, synthetic opals may be an option. Since the 1970s man-made opals are formed with the same materials as natural ones, and their colors are gorgeous! They look so much like the real thing, only experts can tell what they are. Similar they may be, synthetic opals just aren’t the same as their natural counterparts. Gem connoisseurs far prefer natural ones. If you’re concerned about sustainability and desire natural stone, consider investing in opal estate jewelry.
Are you on a quest for the queen of gemstones? Take a look at Seaside Art Gallery’s fine estate jewelry collection. Each piece is carefully curated with clear descriptions, so you can shop with confidence. You might find that next treasure with your name on it!
Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes winning content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina. She might not be building sandcastles or swashbuckling with pirates these days, but the Outer Banks beaches continue to keep her young at heart.
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