The Mystery of the Opal
Opal is the birthstone for people born in October or under the sign of Libra. Among the gemstones, opals are unique because they shine and sparkle in a continually changing play of colors. The variations of colors are practically unlimited.
The first Opals were accidentally found in 1849 -- the same year as the famous California gold rush -- on an Australian cattle station now called Coober Pedy. The world's largest and most valuable opal gem was found there in August 1956. It weighs 17,000 carats and is almost a foot long. The name of the town in the Aborigine language means "white men digging in hole" since that is the way the stones were mined at the time. Men would dig a deep hole in the ground, lower themselves in it, fill a bucket with the ore, and then other men on the surface would draw it up with a rope, much the same as drawing water from a well on early American farms. The prospectors lived underground in holes and caves, to protect themselves from the blistering heat of daytime and the icy winds of nighttime.
Almost ninety-five per cent of all fine opals still come from the dry and remote outback deserts of Australia. Aptly, the opal is the official national gemstone of Australia. Many tourists from other countries go to Australia every year to buy sacks full of raw opals as well as fashioned jewelry.
Legend of the Opals
The native Australian aborigine legends hold that the creator came down to Earth on a rainbow, in order to bring the message of peace to all the humans. They believe that at the very spot where his foot touched the ground, the stones there became alive and started sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow.
In Japan, Kyocera and Inamori are notable producers of synthetic opals. They contain substances not found in natural opal and lack the brilliant radiance and colors of real opal.
Lucky Or Deadly?
In the Middle Ages, the opal was considered a stone that provided great luck. Each gemstone was believed to possess all the virtues of whatever colors were represented in it. It was also said to confer the power of invisibility if wrapped in a fresh bay leaf and held in the hand.
Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel in 1859, however, that shattered this belief. In Scott's novel, the Baroness of Arnheim wears an opal talisman with supernatural powers. When a drop of holy water falls on the talisman, the opal turns into a colorless stone and the Baroness dies soon thereafter. People began to associate opals with bad luck and death for many years thereafter.
Opals are not very hard. They appreciate a protective setting. In earlier days, an opal's sensitive surface was often oiled, but today sealing them with colorless artificial resin has become quite popular.
Because many opals occur in nature as fragile thin sheets, jewelers often join the opals with other materials on the top and/or bottom of the actual opal gemstone. Such opals are called Doublets and Triplets and are not as valuable as solid opals.
If stored too dry or exposed to heat over a longer period of time, opals will show fissures and the play of color will become paler. Therefore, opal jewelry should be worn as often as possible, for then the gemstone will receive the needed humidity from the air and from the skin of its wearer.
........Thanks to Gems N' Loans, Oceanside CA for this information