This gemstone takes its name from the Sanskrit word upala meaning precious stone, as well as the Greek word opallios, change of color. In ancient Rome it was called opalus.

Containing as much as ten percent water, the opalescence “play of color” is produced by miniscule spheres of silica. Along with the water these tiny spheres create different rates of light diffraction. The more aligned the silica spheres, the more brilliant the stone’s color. This iridescent play of color is also referred to as a stone’s “fire”. If the stone is heated at high temperatures, the water will be lost and along with it the opalescence. The transparency of the stone and its background color also effect the overall depth of color.

Six thousand-year-old artifacts found by Louis Leaky are the earliest known use of opal. Ancient Greeks and Romans prized the use of opal and its value was greater than diamond. The Romans nick-named it “Cupid’s stone” because its color can be evocative of a sensuous complexion. The Aztecs also used and valued Opal. This gemstone was mentioned in the writings of ancient scholar Pliny, and again centuries later by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. In the Middle Ages it was galled ohthalmios meaning “eye stone” because it was thought to preserve one’s eyesight. Also in Medieval Europe, if it was worn by a woman with blonde hair the opal was believed to keep her hair from turning gray.

During the fourteenth century plague years, opal became known as a stone of bad luck. It was said that the stones of those who wore it and died had changed color. It is now thought that the fairly rapid change of temperature in the wearer’s body (from high fever to cold after death) may have been enough to cause an opal to change color. An opal that has a fracture can easily break – a fault that added to this gemstone’s connection with bad luck.

Rulers enjoyed opal. It was used in the emperor’s crown of the Holy Roman Empire and in the French crown jewels. Opals came to the attention of Queen Victoria when new sources were found in Australia. Her liking this gemstone brought it back into popularity during her reign.

Some of opal’s imitators are called opalite and Slocum Stone. Imitators also include glass and plastic.

Opal has been called the “stone of visionaries”. The Greeks believed that it had powers of prophecy. The Romans saw it as a symbol of hope. Opal attracts inspiration, insight, and stimulates a wider vision. Some believe it enhances clairvoyant abilities.

Color(s) - Black opal – dark to gray-black, dark base color

White opal – milky, light gray, white base color

Gray opal – light gray, gray base color

Fire opal – yellow-red, brown-red, red-orange base color

Hyalite – colorless (from the Greek hyalos meaning glass)

Associations - Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius; throat, third-eye and crown chakras; Mercury; yin

Use illumination/insight; personal journey; self-worth; creativity; symbol of hope