At the heart of every opal lies a remarkable story of creation. It begins in the vast depths of the earth where silicon and oxygen combine to create silica, the primary constituent of opal. Over millions of years, this silica becomes infused with water through a process known as weathering, forming a gel that seeps into crevices and cavities in the ground.
In time, under the right conditions of pressure and temperature, the water slowly evaporates, leaving behind a hard, lustrous deposit: the opal. Interestingly, the play-of-color we admire in precious opals is caused by the internal structure, which consists of countless tiny spheres of silica that diffract light to display a variety of colors.
Tracing Time: The History of Opal Jewelry
Delving into the history of opal jewelry, we uncover a lineage as colorful as the gem itself. The Romans, who cherished opal for its ability to incorporate the beauty of all precious gems, named it “opalus,” which translates to “precious stone.”
Later, in the Middle Ages, opal was revered for its supposed ability to render its wearer invisible, earning it the nickname “Patronus Forum,” or the Patron of Thieves. Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in popularizing opal jewelry in the 19th century, countering the superstitions surrounding it and celebrating its multichromatic allure.
In recent times, Australia has become synonymous with opal mining, producing an estimated 95% of the world’s precious opals. Opal has also been adopted as the birthstone for October, symbolizing faithfulness and confidence.
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Fact or Fiction: Opal Myths and Facts
There is a multitude of myths surrounding opal, mainly due to its unique appearance and historical significance. For instance, contrary to popular belief, opals do not bring bad luck. This superstition can be traced back to a misinterpretation of Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Anne of Geierstein.”
Another myth suggests that opals lose their shine over time. However, the fact is that with proper care and maintenance, opals can retain their luster and play-of-color indefinitely. On the factual side, opals are relatively soft gemstones, with a hardness rating of 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, making them prone to scratches and breakage if not handled carefully.
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The Art of Preservation: How to Care for Opal Jewelry
- Opal is quite a soft gemstone, so store your opal jewellery separately from other jewellery to avoid scratches and damage. Soft cloth pouches or jewellery boxes are ideal for storage of precious jewellery.
- Clean your opal jewellery regularly to remove dirt and oil buildup. To clean opal jewellery, simply wash it in warm soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly. Check out our comprehensive jewellery cleaning guide for more tips.
- Avoid getting your opal jewellery wet regularly or for extended periods, especially if the opals are doublets or triplets which have artificial backings. We recommend taking it off when showering or swimming. If your opal jewellery gets wet, you should dry it quickly and thoroughly to prevent damage.
- For high value opal jewellery, we recommend having your pieces professionally inspected and cleaned periodically to ensure that it stays in top condition.
- Avoid exposing opal jewellery to harsh chemicals, such as bleach and cleaning agents, as these can damage the gemstone. Take care if using chemical cleaners on precious metal which has opals set into it: clean around the stones as best you can and be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly when you’re done.
- Never expose opal jewellery to extreme temperature changes, as this can cause the gemstone to crack or become discoloured. In particular don’t use a steam cleaner on opals.
Wearing Opal Jewelry: Tips for Safe and Stylish Adornment
To ensure the longevity of your opal jewelry, it is important to wear it correctly. Avoid wearing opal rings when doing manual tasks, and always put on your opal jewelry last when dressing up to prevent exposure to cosmetics or perfumes. It is also recommended to take off your opal jewelry before swimming or showering, as the chlorine in water can damage the opal’s structure. Protective settings, especially for ring use, can help ensure you’ll enjoy your opals for many years. For example, bezel settings, solid backings, raised prongs, or cage-type designs can all keep opals safe from blows and scratches. Opal doublets and triplets can also make the stone itself more durable.
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I am a dedicated professional with over 20 years of experience in the field of jewelry repair and restoration. Born and raised in California, I found my passion for the intricacies of jewelry design at a young age when I had the chance to observe a local craftsman at work. Throughout my career, I have specialized in restoring vintage and antique jewelry pieces, bringing them back to their former glory while maintaining their historical integrity. I regularly contribute articles and opinion pieces to a variety of jewelry-focused websites and magazines, sharing my insights and knowledge about jewelry repair techniques, trends, and the cultural significance of various jewelry pieces.