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Opal Jewelry 101: Meaning, History, and How to Wear

Opal Jewelry 101: Meaning, History, and How to Wear

Opals are a popular stone in jewelry for many reasons: they provide a holographic, chrome effect, come in a variety of different tones and colors, and are relatively affordable in comparison to other gemstones. Large opals make a showstopping piece, while small opals can provide just a little bit of interest in smaller pieces of jewelry.

Let’s take a closer look at this gorgeous stone, its history, what they symbolize, and some of our favorite ways to wear them. 

A Short History of the Opal Stone

Opals have been around for over 10,000 years and have been found in various areas worldwide, including Africa (mainly Ethiopia), the Americas, Australia, and Europe. Opals were mined similarly to other precious stones like hdiamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Currently precious opals are now mainly mined in Australia, which provides over 90% of the world’s opal supply and where opals are the official stone of the country. 

The word “opal” is thought to be derived from a Sanskrit word meaning “jewel.” While there are two types of opal, common and precious, we mainly think of precious opal when we think of the stone, as only precious opal has the holographic effects that we know and love.

Historical Meaning

Opals have held meaning for many different cultures throughout history due to their presence in many different areas of the world. Opals were prized by royalty along with other precious stones and were used to adorn crowns, jewelry, costumes, and more.

  • Ancient Greece: Opals were a universal symbol of luck and were thought to protect the wearer from disease. Rumor has it that Caesar even presented his wives with opals as a romantic gesture to bring them luck.
  • Arabic Legend: This legend has it that opals fall from the heavens during flashes of lightning and were literally an otherworldly substance.
  • Ancient Europe: During the Middle Ages, 14k opal ring was also considered to be a lucky stone as it contained the properties of all other gemstones that were reflected in it (including ruby, sapphire, emerald, and more.) 
  • France: In France, people believed that opal would make the wearer invisible and, therefore, able to steal without being seen. Opal did pick up some connotations of bad luck throughout its history, which may have originated from this belief.

 Opal Properties and Modern Symbolism] 

As mentioned, opals are known for their iridescent effect, but they also come in a wide range of colors that appeal to many different people with unique tastes. While the exact science behind the opal’s famous iridescence is complex, the general idea effect happens because of the internal structure of the stone, which diffracts light. Opal’s holographic, rainbow effects (also called “play of light”) have been compared to fireworks, volcanoes, galaxies, and other beautiful displays. 

While some opal colors are synthetic, we only use genuine opals at Emily Amey. There are many varieties of natural opal colors, including:

  • Black Opal: Considered the most sought-after opal, this kind of opal is mainly found in Australia. This opal is not totally black but rather has a darker tone than a typical opal and is, therefore, very unique in appearance.
  • Fire Opal: Mainly found in Mexico, this opal ranges in tone from orange to deep red. It typically does not diffract other colors but occasionally can show flashes of green.
  • Peruvian or Blue Opal: This opal has a stunning blue/teal color and is often recreated in synthetic form due to its popularity.
  • Boulder Opal: This type of opal is known more for the “cracks” in its appearance than a specific color. It can be darker or lighter in appearance and have a variety of hues.
  • Honey Opal: Found in various places, this opal is typically a deep yellow color and may or may not show the play of light.
  • Welo Opal: Found in Ethiopia, this opal typically has a more transparent background but a vivid play of light, which makes it very eye-catching and popular.

Opal’s Healing Properties

Today, people choose to buy and wear opals not only for their beauty but also for their symbolism and the healing properties they bring to the wearer. Some of their purported metaphysical healing properties include:

  • Promotes physical health: Opal is thought to promote wellbeing and health, capturing the wonder of the world and delivering that purpose and will to live and thrive to the wearer. Because of its water content, it’s also said to be good to balance the body’s water content and for those who work in and with water.
  • Emotional benefits: Opal is still thought to promote good energy (or good luck) and protect the wearer from absorbing too much energy and emotion from other people. Thought to enhance creativity and desire, opal is hailed for its many benefits for the wearer.

 How To Shop For And Care For Your Opal]

Opals are one of the softer gemstones out there, making them vulnerable to scratches from hard surfaces and even other australian opal jewelry you may wear. Although more delicate than other stones, there is truly no substitute for the beauty and magic of an opal. They should be cleaned delicately with warm water, gentle soap, and a microfiber jewelry cloth. 

With so many options in size, color, and shape in opal jewelry, as well as beneficial properties, this stone is a perfect option for almost anyone. Emily Amey sources opals from various parts of the world, including Australia and Indonesia. Our opal jewelry collection includes necklaces, earrings, and bracelets and is set alongside high-quality 14k gold, precious stone accents, and more.  Shop our full collection online, or reach out to discuss creating a one-of-a-kind piece with the color size, setting options, and design you envision for your next piece. 

Emily Amey is a New York local artist who works with both diamonds and gemstones to create unique, unforgettable pieces. She works with small-operation minors from around the world to source the best gemstones responsibly.