Australia is a country of extremes-extreme heat in the vast Outback, incredibly deadly snakes and spiders, and uniquely bizarre animals not found anywhere else on earth. Luckily for jewelry-wearers everywhere, Australia’s singular conditions make it home to one of the most unique and most sought-after gems in the entire world: the opal.
90% of the world’s opals come from Australia, but the country only exports certain types of opals. Unless you’ve been to Australia and come back with jewelry as a souvenir, you probably haven’t seen the diverse range of colors and shapes this gemstone comes in.
At Sol’s Jewelry and Loan, we have a wide range of jewelry that our customers bring to us. If you’re interested in unique jewelry, swing by to see what we have for you. In the meantime, read through this blog to learn more about opals.
1. There Are Many Types of Opals
When you think of an opal, you probably picture a pearlescent, shimmery stone that reflects all the colors of the rainbow. This type of opal is called a “precious opal,” and the way the stone broadcasts the entire rainbow spectrum is called “play of color.” Common opals don’t exhibit play of color-instead, they have one basic color. They look nice, but they’re not as interesting or sought-after as precious opals.
Although most Americans picture light, creamy, or milky opals that contain flecks of rainbow colors, opals actually come in varying shades that range from light to dark. Some of the most common types of opals include the following.
These opals have a much darker background (or “body color”) than the whiter opals Americans are used to seeing. Instead, the body color looks black or navy and reflects a deeper rainbow palette, including dark blues and forest greens.
Most black opals are mined from a few sites near the city of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales,
Australia. Because they come from such a specific spot, black opals are the rarest type of opal. Black opals with red flecks are the rarest type of black opal.
These opals look more translucent than dark or black opals do. They’re also much more common than black opals. The name “white opal” can be misleading-light opals can have a body color as dark as light gray.
A matrix opal is an opal that fills in the cracks in a host stone like ironstone. This type of opal occurs most frequently in Queensland, Australia, and it rarely forms anywhere else in the world.
These unique opals bond to their host stones. Usually, a thin layer of opal forms across the rock, which is usually ironstone-though in one unique area in South Australia, quartzite is the host rock rather than ironstone. All opals might seem to show every color of the rainbow, but boulder opals are actually the only ones that can show the entire spectrum, from red to indigo and violet.
Most Americans are used to light or white opals rather than dark/black or boulder opals. If you encounter another type of opal, count yourself lucky! They can be hard to find outside Australia.
2. Opals Do Come From a Few Other Countries (Including the US)
Again, at least 90% of all the opals in the world are sourced from Australia-the number could actually be as high as 95%. However, you can also find opals from countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Slovakia, Turkey, Hungary, Indonesia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Guatemala.
There are even a few cities in the United States that mine opal. In Humboldt County in Nevada, miners have found black and white opals alike. Spencer, Idaho also hosts an opal mine, and visitors can dig for their own opals at a “mini-mine” where miners place opals from the larger mine for adults and kids to dig up.
3. There Are Several Conflicting Superstitions About Opals
Unlike certain gems or precious metals that have always been considered lucky (for instance, gold or gold coins), opal’s reputation has run the gamut between incredibly lucky and incredibly unlucky. In the Middle
Ages, for example, some people considered opals lucky and thought they might have healing powers.
On the other hand, others during the same time period considered opals unlucky (or even evil) because their luminescence made them look similar to cats’ eyes or toads’ eyes, which were associated with witches and the evil eye.
In 1829, Sir Walter Scott published the book “Anne of Geierstein,” where one of the characters wears a piece of opal jewelry that supposedly contained an evil spell. When a little holy water came in contact with the dastardly jewelry, the spell is broken.
After the novel’s publication, sales of opals in Europe dropped exponentially and opals were known as extremely unlucky, even though Queen Victoria is said to have loved them.
Of course, opals aren’t actually unlucky-but they are gorgeous, unique, and extremely versatile. You can find them in gold and silver jewelry alike and in both men’s and women’s wedding rings. They appear in necklaces, rings, earrings, and metallic headbands. Every single opal is unique; they all reflect a different pattern of colors, which means that your opal jewelry is one of a kind.
Visit Our Jewelry Store
At Sol’s Jewelry and Loan, we both sell and accept jewelry. Stores like ours are perfect places to find unique jewelry options-people bring us everything from family jewelry and heirlooms to more recent and exotic purchases. If you’re looking for opal jewelry or any other type of stone, swing by our location today!