My birthstone is an opal, but it wasn’t until recently that I really began to appreciate the stone. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the fact that I had never really seen a truly beautiful opal, or from the stories I heard from my grandmother that opals are thought to be an unlucky stone. Luckily (for superstitious opal lovers), this fear is relatively new and unfounded. In fact, for centuries, many cultures credited the opal with supernatural origins and powers. Arabic legends say that the opal falls from the heavens in flashes of lightening. The ancient Greeks believed the opal to be the tears of Zeus and would bring its owner the gifts of foresight and prophecy. Romans loved the opal, believing it to be a symbol of hope and purity. Marc Antony was quite obsessed with it. And in medieval times, opals were thought to cure eye problems. So where did the unlucky superstition come from? It was the plot line of 19th century ghost story, Anne of Geierstein, by Sir Walter Scott that changed the perception – an opal, worn by the story’s heroine, brought her to her downfall.
The opal is a mixture of silica and varying amounts of water. It’s the water, which may form five to ten percent of the stone’s volume, that makes the opal such a beautiful gem. Those flashes of light that the opal is famous for come from a tiny silicon sphere. As one of the softer mineral gems, opals need to be cared for – for example, if you put them too close to a fire, they will crack and tarnish. It was only recently that I discovered some of the beautiful opal varieties – like the black opal or the fire opal (I love this fire opal from Erie Basin), but the tip-top of my wish list is this opal necklace from Caitlin Mociun. It’s a bit out of my price range, but I’m keeping it firmly in my someday file. -Amy
Illustration by Max Tielman