Opal is arguably the most unique and diverse birthstone of all. It takes on many shapes, each with their own firework display of colors, with streaks of red, blue, yellow, green and purple flashing through the stone, making them a constant source of wonder.
Historically opal was found primarily in central Europe and was a rare material prized by the wealthy. The discovery of extensive opal fields in Australia in the late 19th century changed this, making opal more commercially available and increasing the variety of colors and patterns. Australia is still the biggest producer of opal, but over the last couple of decades, Ethiopia has become a significant source and is known for its beautiful crystal opal which is transparent to translucent with little to no body color and shimmering patches of play-of-color.
The Romans treasured opal as the most precious of all gemstones, believing the ability of this one stone to display the colors of all the other precious gems marked it out as unique and special. Its name ‘opalus’ means precious stone and it was said to combine the virtues associated with the other precious stones and be the luckiest of them all. However, in the early 19th century, the notion took hold that the opal brought bad luck, perhaps partly down to a novel by Sir Walter Scott, which depicted them as a symbol of misfortune; the novel’s heroine is seemingly possessed by her opal jewel, which eventually spirits her away.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark continued to fuel the superstition when, on becoming Queen in 1863, she removed ‘the unlucky opals’ from Queen Victoria’s crown and refashioned her mother-in-law’s piece with rubies.
Luckily, when Australian opals appeared at the end of the 19th century, it didn’t take long for the public to fall for their mesmerizing allure.