This unique gemstone falls into one of two categories, Precious Opal or Common Opal. The first boasts a magnificent 'play of colour' which has been highly prized in jewellery since Roman times and the latter comes in many varying colours but completely lacks iridescence or any 'play of colour'. The play of colour is caused by the reflection and scattering of light from the minute, uniformly sized and closely packed silica spheres that make up the Precious Opal.
Common Opal comes in a wide range of colours with Pink and Green being the most well known and it is almost always opaque.
Around ninety five per cent of Opals come from the outback deserts of Australia and the remaining five per cent are mined in Mexico, Brazil, the US states of Idaho and Nevada and more recently some have also been found in Ethiopia and Mali.
Gold seekers in Australia stumbled across the first few pieces of Precious Opal in 1863, but it is believed they were mined by the Aztecs much earlier in South and Central America.
As with all gemstones, there are many legends and myths which surround the Opal. One story comes from the Australian Aborigines who believed that God came down to Earth on a rainbow in order to bring the message of peace to all humans. At the very spot where his foot touched the ground, the gemstones came alive and sparkled with the colours of the rainbow and hence this fascinating gem was born.
The name Opal possibly came from the Sanskrit word 'upala' meaning "valuable stone" and this in turn was probably the root for the Greek term "opallios" meaning "colour change".
The Ancient Greeks believed the Opal could give the wearer the power of foresight, the Romans revered it as the symbol of hope and purity and believed it could protect from disease. Eastern people regarded it as the symbol of truth and the ancient Arabs believed it came from heaven and acquired the play of colour from flashes of lightning.
During the Middle Ages, Opal was thought to be beneficial for eyesight and some even believed it could render the wearer invisible hence it was carried by thieves. The French Emperor Napoleon gave his wife Josephine a magnificent Opal called 'The Burning of Troy' because of its variation of colour.
In the nineteenth century a superstition brought about by the novel 'Ann of Geirstein' by Walter Scott, in which the Opal was described as unlucky, damaged its popularity, but public figures such as Queen Victoria and the French actress Sarah Bernhardt subsequently re established its popularity.
The Boulder Opal forms in thin veins within ironstone boulders, these are fine grained, heavy and compact sedimentary rocks whose main components are the oxide of iron, clay and/or sand. Freshly broken ironstone is usually grey, however the brown external appearance is due to oxidation of its surface. Ironstone is not always homogeneous and can be found in a red and black banded form which is known as Tiger Iron. Boulder Opal is lucky for those under the star sign of Aries.
In crystal healing, Opals are said to help with depression and also help the wearer find true love. They also enhance the positive characteristics for people born under the zodiac sign of cancer.
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