Vail Jeweler’s Secrets: Opal myths dispelled
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –The opal, a gemstone considered by many to be the most beautiful in the world, is the legacy of those born in October.
Perhaps the most commonly accepted notion about the opal is also the least accurate – that the opal is unlucky for those who weren’t October-born. In fact, since Roman times, it has been thought that the opal is a very lucky stone, especially to those who receive it as a gift. The fallacy of misfortune is easily traced to a novel, “Anne of Gerstein” by Sir Walter Scott, in which the heroine wore a stone that was cursed.
The historical role of the opal is rich. The Roman senator Nonius owned a fabulous opal: when Mark Anthony came to power, he demanded the stone from Nonius. Nonius was so his prize that he preferred to go into exile rather than surrender it. Romans considered the opal the king of gems, since within it, it held the color of all others.
In the Middle Ages, golden-haired girls wore them to protect their fair locks. Opals also were thought to possess the power to render the wearer invisible.
Magic and lore name the opal as the stone of eyesight, clear mind, memory, prophecy and fortune in travel and business. It is said to attract energy as iron to a magnet. It is the stone of leadership.
The opal is a gem difficult to describe in words. No two opals look alike: in fact, one stone can appear changed in different light.
It is the fire, or flashes of color, that are distinctive. Black opal, the most precious, has a dark body color, sometimes dark blue, dark green to grey, with bright flashes of color within. White opals have a light body color interspersed with fire.
Opals can be enhanced by creating what are known as doublets or triplets. A doublet consists of an opal with a backing of darker stone cemented to the back, providing greater strength and contrast. Triplets are made by sandwiching a slice of opal between the darker backing and a clear quartz cap. This is done to give greater depth to the stone, and protect its rather soft and brittle surface. Unmounted doublets and triplets can be easily identified by viewing from the side.
Opals also occur in different patterns: in the harlequin pattern the fire appears to be a series of squares; the pattern of “broad flashes” is streaked with fire in a manner similar to the Aurora Borealis, though somewhat less subtle.
The opal is one gem that must be treated with care. Opals are 5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which means they are harder than pearls but softer than amethyst. So, they are soft enough to scratch and also brittle enough to chip. They should therefore be set in a style that will protect the stone or be worn as earrings or pendants, where they receive a minimum of punishment.
Heat and ultrasound cleaning should also be avoided. If however, it does happen that the surface is abraded through wear, the stone can be repolished.
Principal sources of this lovely stone are Australia, Mexico and Brazil. The availability is quite good, keeping the price competitive with other gemstones. It is also versatile, often appearing as cabochons, dome shapes, as plain or carved beads, or even as sculptures.
Dan Telleen is the owner of Karats, located at 122 E. Meadow Drive in Vail Village. He’s been designing jewelry in Vail since 1970. Call 970-476-4760 for more information.