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The name opal is derived from the Latin word opalus, meaning "seeing jewel". According to another theory the word opal
comes from upala, a Sanskrit word simply meaning a stone. The opal is a unique gemstone that is not crystalline, but is rather
made up of hardened silica gel.
Common and precious are the two distinct types of opal. If an opal displays a play of color, it is known as a precious opal. If it
lacks a play of color, it is known as a common opal.
The formation of the silica particles is the determining factor of a precious or common opal. The precious opal has a distinct
pattern of silica particles which are packed in layers and rows.
The milkiness of many white and gray opals is due to an abundance of tiny gas-filled cavities in them. Precious opal reflects
light with a play of brilliant colors across the visible spectrum. The play of color, or flash, or light show is caused by the
diffraction of light set up by the layers of silica spheres in its composition.
An opals value is determined by several factors including, luster, brilliance, color intensity,color play and evenness of the
The variety of opal known as white opal has a light background, and the colors displayed lean toward the pastel hues.
Black opal is the most revered variety of opal. It has a strong play of color (flashes of different colors). It is called black opal
because it has a dark background color.
Fire opal is transparent. Yellow, orange, red or brown may be the background color in a fire opal. At times, the fire opal does
not have the typical play of color. Mexico is the main source for this type of opal, therefore it is also known as Mexican fire
The Romans believed opal was the symbol of hope and purity. Because of their fiery colors, the Arabs believed opals fell from
heaven in flashes of lightning.
Legend has it that to attract Mark Anthony, Cleopatra wore opals.
Opal was considered a stone that brought luck because it was believed to possess all the virtues of each gemstone whose
color was represented in it's color spectrum. It was also believed to bestow the power of invisibility if wrapped in a fresh bay
leaf and held in the hand. At the beginning of the 20th century, superstition had it that when a Russian saw an opal among
other goods offered for sale, he or she should not buy anything more since the opal was believed to embody the evil eye.
Black opal is regarded as an extremely lucky stone. In ancient times opal was accepted as a symbol of faithfulness and
confidence. It has reputed healing properties, especially to increase mental capacities such as creative imagination. Black
opals worn near the heart on necklaces made of gold are said to protect one from the evil eye and protect travelers on
journeys to far away lands. Opals have been ground up and used as magic potions to heal the body, ward off bad dreams, and
used as energy enhancement tools.
97% of the world's opal is produced in Australia.