From its earliest known days, opal acquired a name from the Sanskrit word upala, for precious stone. It stands to reason that its primeval moniker harkens back so long ago, since opal was discovered centuries back.
The amorphous silica mineral appears as a phenomenal (play of color) version, called precious opal. Without its iconic phenomenon, it is called common opal. But common opal’s attractive tints make it anything but common to opal lovers.
Long before Australia became synonymous with opal, the stone turned up 2,000 years earlier in Slovakia’s ancient mountains. It gained widespread acceptance as a collectible gem during its discovery in 1869 in Australia. This colorful jewel soon earned the name Queen of Gems, and it’s been gathering devotees ever since.
Have you noticed an uptick in opal’s popularity lately? It’s not your imagination playing tricks on you. Recently Australia’s Jeweller Magazine explored opal’s dynamic resurgence on the international market. Could it have anything to do with the re-opening of global trade fairs after hibernation during the pandemic they wonder? Consumers want to buy and they’re given the option of being reintroduced to opal, dealers explain. And they love what they see. One of Australia’s top opal dealers, Peter Sherman of Sherman Opals gave his take on the trend. “Australian opal is very big on the world stage right now. After a long period of COVID lockdowns, many people have quite rightfully decided that Aussie opals are the most beautiful natural gemstone.”
Not Always a Fan
The stone is no newcomer, of course. Having been around since antiquity, opal enjoyed favor through countless epochs. Yet opal also had a reputation to be avoided for a period of time.
During the Medieval era, Europeans dreaded the opal and nicknamed it the “Evil Eye.” Legends recounted its superficial likeness to the eyes of cats, toads, snakes, and other superstition-prone animals associated with evil. Thankfully that negative mindset took a powder. When England’s Queen Victoria developed a fancy and began collecting opal, others quickly followed suit.
Our 21st century has uncovered a definite upsurge in opal’s desirability. Jewelry pundits think that in our current climate of global uncertainty, opal offers a jazzy option that lifts the mood. This versatile stone has been placed in everything from trendy fashion accessories to royal tiaras, and lately, in engagement rings.
Collectors Love Variety
Consumers are becoming acquainted with exotic varieties of opal and discovering it offers something for every taste and budget. If you love demantoid garnet for instance, you’re a green lover through and through. So adding more demantoid garnets means collecting more green stones to your jewelry wardrobe. That’s fine, unless you think variety is the spice of life.
Lesser known opal has opened up more possibilities for collectors who find opals offer countless color options. Precious opal yields a dazzling phenomenon, ‘play-of-color’ that hypnotizes opal fans. Within that niche, opals may exhibit a white ground, blue, red or even black – all lending exciting nuances for jewelry consumers.
But when dealers from far flung regions began bringing exotic opal to market, collectors saw a wider array of colors to collect. This allows shoppers to fill their entire jewelry wardrobe with opal – with each new piece looking nothing like the last.
Exotics for Everyone
Mexican opal delivers that Latin punch – fiery and exciting with its hot orange hues. Besides the more known fire (common) opal, Mexico also produces Morado opal displaying its sophisticated purple tones.
Peru also yields stunning common opal shades like pastel pink and baby blue, even a pastel green that fans adore.
The nature of most opal causes it to fluoresce somewhat. But here’s an interesting tidbit that we may not have known. A specific area of common opal recovered from Virgin Valley, Nevada yields specimens displaying strong fluorescence. Many specimens from this distinct area glow with a spectacular green fluorescence.
When offering any opal type whether it’s precious or common opal to your clients, it’s vital to underscore the fact that opals are an all natural gemstone. According to Boulder Opal Mines Australia, owner, John Doyle, “One important thing to understand is that opals are not enhanced in any way to improve their colors, they are just naturally gorgeous.”