Through the intensity of heat and the seasonal flash floods in the Outback of Australia, life is taken and reborn in magnificent ways. One stone that has the ability to capture the changing times of a seemingly helpless scenario in a breathtaking manner is the opal.
Housing the blues of sapphire, reds of ruby, greens of emerald and so forth, it is easy to see why the Romans believed it to be the most powerful, precious stone of them all. The Bedouins believed opals fell from the sky during thunderstorms and carried with them trapped fragments of lightening.
Formed deep in the earth of only the driest, roughest terrain, silica, a silicon-oxygen compound, is carried into the rocks and laid to rest. The residual aftermath is that silica deposits become trapped in the layers of sediment as the water evaporates, giving a colorful play of life in the rocks. Roughly 95% of the world’s supply comes from the Australian Outback and the remaining 5% is split between Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, the United States, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Hungary. Burrowed sometimes 5m to 40m below the surface in the middle of the world’s toughest desert, miners created their own caves to protect themselves from the extreme conditions.
Opals are broken into two classes: precious and common. The precious variety is present in an array of color schemes as what we believe to be the traditional ideal of opal. Black opal is transparent to opaque with a colorful display, reminiscent of a shellacked, melted box of crayons. Among the rest are the white, crystal/clear, boulder and fire. Fire opal being ever so slightly the oddball due to it only being found in the deserts of Mexico and emanating a vibrant red background with the silica deposits projecting the playful spectrums, it can be harder to detect than those housed by its cousins.
Common stones are named as such because the deposits of silica did not fragment in the same manner as that of the precious. Carrying slightly more sediment, these stones tend to have a more milky appearance while still portraying play of color with a mild, demure appearance by comparison.
For a stone that is birthed in a chaos of elements, it proves to be one of the most delicate and fragile. On average, both common and precious opals rest at 5-6.5 on the Mohs scale. Fragmenting and chipping more easily than other stones, they need to be looked after with care. Warm, soapy water is by far the best method of cleaning and it is highly encouraged to keep the stones out of intense heat or very dry conditions. Some owners have been known to store their stones in water, though there is not enough evidence to support advising one way or another regarding this type of storage.
While caution is best for longevity of opals, it is not to say that one cannot wear their opals on a regular basis. To ensure a more than reasonable lifespan of your jewelry, select a protective setting – the same as you would for tanzanite.
Bellevue Rare Coins has a great selection of opal jewelry along with a highly knowledgeable staff ready to answer any questions or concerns you may have when purchasing or caring for this mini galaxy. Stop by any of the Greater Seattle Area locations, seven days a week during store hours!