Opals are made of microscopic silica spheres. When light bounces off an opal gemstone, you'll see changing rainbow color flecks popping and shining against a black or white background.
Types of Opal
You'll find a medley of shades when it comes to opals. They can appear cool with hues of greenish-blue, gray, or violet. And they can also give off warm yellow, orange, and red tones, depending on how the opal picks up the light.
These color distinctions create different varieties of opals, such as:
- Fire Opal
- Boulder Opal
- Flashy Opal (also known as Precious Opal)
- Black Opal
- Common Opal (the least color-changing of the bunch)
Each opal differs in shape, color (both background and color play), opaqueness, price, and rarity.
Where Do Opals Come From?
The American Gem Society (AGS) reports that opals were first discovered in 1850 in Australia. The heavy rains in the Outback help transport silica deposits below the Earth's surface to crevices that sit between layered rocks. As water levels subside, opals begin to form.
Another source, the Gemological Institute of America, states that opals sourced in India were the first to be transported to the Western world and made available in the US.
While 95% of opals still come from Australia today, they're also mined in places such as:
Africa: Ethiopia and Madagascar
Europe: Czech Republic
The Middle East: Turkey
The United States: Nevada and Idaho
South America: Honduras, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru
These unique mineral deposits and climates help create equally striking, unique opals. And since no two opals are exactly alike, you can curate an impressive collection of different types of opal earrings, rings, necklaces, and more.
How to Care For and Clean Your Opals
The Mohs Hardness Scale measures a mineral or gem's resistance to scratching on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, the hardiness of a delicate pearl ranks between 2 and 4, while a real diamond clocks in at a 10.
Opals are rated a 5.5 to 6, which is somewhere in the middle. Natural opal is considered a delicate stone, as Gem Society points out, so even though you can wear them every day, they aren't super hardy and should always be treated with care.
It's best to store precious opal jewelry separately from your other earrings, necklaces, and bracelets with clasps since they can easily get scratched.
Opals can also crack under extreme temperatures, which means you definitely don't want to leave them in your car on a hot day. And drowning your opal in loads of direct sunlight exposure may cause them to lose a bit of their beautiful rainbow color.
As for cleaning your opals, warm soapy water is all it takes to get rid of gunk and restore their lustrous shine.
Fun Facts About Opals
Share these fun facts about opals over brunch, on your social media posts, or during your next virtual hangout:
- Ancient Romans called opals "opalas."
- A Sanskrit translation of "upalas" means "precious stones."
- The Greek word "opalios" translates as "to see a change in color."
- Opals are associated with good luck.
- Besides birthstone jewelry, opals are often given as a 14th wedding anniversary gift.
Now let's move on to the newer addition to the October birthstone list.