The Art Medium Opals

Celebrated for their extraordinary ‘fire’ and glowing beauty, opals are singular gemstones that have a unique place in the history of gems. Ancient Greeks revered opals and believed they endowed their wearer with the gift of prophecy. Romans celebrated opals above all other stones because they contained the colors of all the other gems. The ancients marveled at the opal’s kaleidoscope array of colors. Precious opals have been featured in jewelry since the ancient era by many cultures and are still among the most prized gems today.

Natural opals are found in a rich variety of colors that can range from milky white to flashing shades of orange, yellow, green, blue, and even red. The iridescent traits of opals occur naturally but are so unlike other gems because of their lively inner fire. Opals are formed with hardened silica gel in sedimentary rocks like basalt or limestone. Since no two opals are exactly alike due to their dazzling interplay of vibrant colors, they are highly sought after by gem lovers and artisans who make jewelry or other precious objects. Opals score a 5.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness which is not especially hard (for instance, diamonds score a 10), but they still hold up well when set in different types of jewelry like rings, necklaces, earrings, etc…

While well over ninety percent of today’s opals come from Australia, these precious stones have also been mined in countries like Peru, Brazil, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Mexico, and even some western states of the U.S. There are various opal types; some of the opals most often featured in jewelry designs are common opals which have a milky white hue with glimmers of blue and green and fire opals which boast a splendid fireworks display of yellow, orange, and red. Black, boulder, and Peruvian opals are extremely popular and featured in celebrated ornaments and jewels. With their other-worldly quality as evidenced by their inner glow, it’s interesting to note that NASA scientists suspect that the planet Mars is loaded with opals.

Since opals worn by ancient people were associated with folkloric beliefs, they were often worn as amulets. People during the Middle Ages thought that opals were lucky and might have worn them in rings as well as amulets. Opals gained immense popularity among artists during the Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Arts and Crafts eras and featured them in exquisite jewels. Some of the most renowned historical jewelry designers like Rene Lalique and Georges Fouquet worked with opal as an art medium. Opals have also been featured in royal jewels such as tiaras, crowns, necklaces, and more. Today opals are still popularly featured in jewelry made by luxury-brand jewelers and regional artisans alike.