In Honor of this Month’s Birthstone: Opals

03.10.2010 § 1 Comment

Roman Senator Nonius, who had in his possession an Opal worth 20,000  Sesterces, represented a growing threat to Marc Anthony’s power in Rome. Marc Anthony accused him of being too rich and ordered the senator  to sell him the gem. Pliny in his writings, is surprised at the attachment Nonius showed for the gem through his choice to go in exilewith it rather than obey Marc-Anthony and getting rid of object of his misfortune.

The queens of gems, as Shakespeare called them, were believed to have many different powers through the ages. Among the funniest: Opals were supposed to help robbers in flight become invisible. Overall, the amazing colors of Opals were a sign of luck and despite all the superstitions, good or bad, Opals have known their apogee in jewelry during the Art Nouveau period.

The Opal group is very wide in varieties and is divided in three categories: Precious Opals, Fire Opals and Common Opals, all characterized by the opalescence and/or play of colors. The most valued opals are generally with red against black hues. For centuries, the best Opals came from Cervenica, Slovakia. This was before the Australian Opals were found. Today Australia accounts for 97% of the world’s Opal production. The worlds most famous Opals were discovered in New South Wales and South Australia. Fire Opals on the other hand are mostly found in Mexico.

Last year I visited an Opal dealer: Emil Weis Opals. In the polishing factory in Idar Oberstein, actually in Kirschweiler not far from Idar, one really felt this atmosphere of exploration and adventure. It was a live dream to see the amazing collection. There were all colors, qualities and sizes, the most amazing necklaces and engraved opals… I often think about all those magnificent Opals.  An Opal could also be a good O  for Charlotte in my acrostic bracelet. hmm…

Pictures: Google Images & http://www.jewellermagazine.com

Beware: Opals have no internal structure or crystallinity: they are amorphous and contain water (3% to 30%) which accounts for the opalescence. With time Opals can loose their water, crack and become less opalescent. Oil and water impregnation can remedy to opalescence loss, however the cracks will remain. Be careful when you handle Opals, they are rather fragile and suffer a lot from heat, pressure, shocks, salt, cosmetics, soap and other detergents.
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