It Gets Fiery with the October Birthstone; Opal
“Perhaps against no other gem has the bigotry of superstitious ignorance so prevailed as against the wonderful opal.” – Isidore Kozminsky, 1922, ‘The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones’
Today, we want to focus in on one stone in particular: Opal. This stone is so magical and enchanting that it’s more than worthy of a post all of its own!
In the past, precious gems were worn not just because of their beauty but also because of the powers people believed they possessed. While most stones are believed to have positive qualities, somewhere down the line Opal gained a reputation as a bringer of bad luck. In medieval Europe, for example, owners of opals were called witches or sorcerers, and many people were frightened of the stone because of its similarity to the ‘Evil Eye’, and the eyes of animals like cats, toads, and snakes. It was even thought to have played a role in the Black Plague.
Where these beliefs came from, no one knows. In fact, the Opal stone is one of the most stunning in terms of its appearance that we know of, and for every story of belief that warns against wearing or carrying opals, there are many more accounts of its positive qualities. In Ancient Rome, the stone was named opalus – meaning ‘precious stone’, and it was compared to volcanoes, galaxies, and the richest colours found in paintings and fires.
Likewise, the ancient Greeks believed that opals could predict the futures and would protect them against illness. Even in Europe, since long before people started worrying about witchcraft, the opal has been considered a sign of hope, purity and truth. People have long admired the opal’s ability to contain within it all colours. In fact, some historians suggest that rumours might have been spread about the opal’s evil qualities to prevent people from trying to steal them, so attractive is their appearance!
One historian, George Kunz, attributes the worst damage to the Opal’s reputation as coming from a book called ‘Anne of Geierstein’, published in 1892. People interpret the book’s story as a woman being bewitched and eventually dying after her opal touches holy water, and mysteriously changes colour. Kunz says that this damaged the opal gemstone market in Europe beyond repair, but that tragically this is because people misinterpreted the story. In fact, the opal was warning its owner of poisoning (the real cause of her death) – so it was meant to be lucky after all!
So, although more recent history has seen the opal lose some of its popularity to superstition and misunderstanding – in some parts of southern Europe and the Middle East people still will not sell or buy it – we believe that it’s time to go back to the way it has been viewed for far more of history: as a lucky stone, representing truth and hope. Even Shakespeare admired the opal, calling it “that miracle and queen of gems”. Queen Victoria was also a fan, wearing opals throughout her reign, and keeping a large personal collection of them.
There you have it – a potted history of the dark and mysterious opal, with as many facets and colours to its past as you can find within the stones themselves. Here at Origin31 it’s one of our favourite gemstones to work with when hand making our collections or our bespoke jewels– why not have a look at some of our designs and see what fortunes opal might bring you?