The name derives from the Greek term opallios for the color change and the term upala in Sanskrit, meaning "precious gemstone". Opal consists of the element Silicon, which was discovered in 1824 in Sweden. Silicon is extremely important in electronics - and Silicon Valley in California is named after the element.
In ancient Greece, the opal was said to be the tears of Zeus. A legend tells that a Roman emperor sold one third of his kingdom for a single opal. The opal is said to bring the most success and happiness of all the gemstones, since its play of color represents all gemstones in the world.
Archaeological finds indicate that the opal was discovered around 10.000 years ago in North America and in Kenya 6.000 years ago. Later discoveries indicate that the Aztecs excavated opals in South and Central America.Today, Australia has the world's largest occurrences of opals.
Opals were discovered in Australia at Lightning Ridge in the late 1880s, but it was first in 1901-02 excavations begun for the fine white opal. The finest black opal is from New South Wales in Australia. Mexico is especially known for the fire opals. Earlier, Hungary was the largest supplier of white opals.
NASA announced that in 2008 instances of opals were found on Mars.
Opal is one of the few non-crystalline gemstones that easily cracks and breaks, when exposed to different temperatures.
Opals are delicate gemstones and highly sensitive to sudden changes. Opal has high water content, and may desiccate and crack if dried. Opal is gemologically classed as a mineraloid, rather than a mineral with a gem-quality form of hydrated amorphous silicon dioxide.
Opal exists in many variations, such as the black, white, light, moos, boulder, matrix and fire opal. They are all quite different in color and not two are alike. The hardness of opal is 5½ - 6½ on Mohs' scale. Some opals only show a color change, when placed in water, but can keep the color change a while after. When heated, the color change disappears completely.The price of opal is determined by “play of color” and fire. Rare opals are the red and black, while the white and greenish are more common.
The common opal is usually opaque, rarely translucent and lacks play of color, but known to exhibit “opalescence”, which is caused by the optical reflection of light and appears as a sheen of light, typically milky-bluish in color. Opals are valued based on the base color, the sparkling fire, the coloring directions, the inclusions and the weight. Opal doublet is where a thin layer of opal is glued on ordinary glass or onyx to form some sort of “gemstone sandwich”.
This positive view was changed drastically by the popular novel of 1829 by Sir Walter Scott “Anne of Geierstein”.In this novel, the Countess of Arnheim wore an opal with great strength – but at some point the inevitable would happen: just the slightest amount of water stroke the gemstone with the effect that it loses its shine and the Countess dies. The novel was so popular, that the same year as it was published, the sale of opal fell in Europa with 50 % and remained at that level for the next 20 years.However Queen Victoria (1819-1901) wore opals in her entire life. For her the opal was the symbol of courage, ingenuity and self-esteem.
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