Our favorite October birthstone? Opal! This gemstone looks like many colors depending on the light–a quality which led ancient people to develop many beliefs about the magical powers of opals. Here, a little background on this opulent–and intriguing–gemstone.
The ancient Romans were enamored with opals. In the words of 75 AD Roman scholar Pliny, “Some opali carry such a play within them that they equal the deepest and richest colors of painters. Others…simulate the flaming fire of burning sulphur and even the bright blaze of burning oil.” Opalus–the Roman name for opals–was synonymous with precious stone. Medieval Europeans believed the stone carried all the powers of the other stones whose colors were represented within it. In various other times, they’ve been believed to preserve the color of blonde hair, be a key ingredient for invisibility, and promote more limitless possibilities for the stone’s owner.
The Dark Side
The stone, however, hasn’t always been so universally adored. In the 1800’s, author Sir Walter Scott nearly completely–and unintentionally– derailed the opal industry with the publication of his novel Anne of Geierstein. In it, a baroness accused of being a demoness is killed when a drop of holy water touches her opal–a scene which was widely interpreted to mean that opals in general were unlucky. Many began to view opals as bad luck. In some areas, shopkeepers stopped selling the stone at all–sad news for admirers of the opal.
Back Up From Down Under
Interest in opals was revived in the late 1800s, due in part to public interest piqued by the discovery of many large and unusual opals in Australia. Australia quickly became the top producer of opals. Additionally, many scholars–both of literature and of jewels–were beginning to speak out against the anti-opal sentiment spurred by Scott, pointing out both issues with the interpretation of the novel and describing the stone’s beauty.
Today, the popularity of opals continues to price, despite the centuries old prejudice. The opal’s complicated, rich history only adds to the charm of this complex and beautiful stone, making it an thoughtful and interesting gift piece. Need more inspiration? Check out the Szul opal collection here!