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Lightning From Heaven: Opals

Posted by Catherine Claus on


Light of the world. The Empress. Pandora. Frozen Flame. For millennia, opals have captured the imagination with their shifting rainbow sparks, and they've been called by as many different names as the colors they display within.

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Amici Pendant With Australian boulder opal

The Bedouins believed opals to be lightning fallen from heaven, and it's easy to see why. Is there any gem more evocative of magic than an opal?

Formed by Ancient Rains

I love the opal for its bright fire-like flashes of color. While many cultures have compared the opal's beautiful sparks to fire and lightning, opals are in actuality created by rainwater seeping into cracks in the dry earth. 

Opals form when water carries sandstone deep into the ground in environments like Australia's desert-like outback, where heavy rains alternate with arid periods. When the water eventually evaporates during the dry season, tiny deposits of silica are left behind. Over time, this silica hardens into the stones we know as opals.

It can take 5 to 6 million years for this natural process to develop a mere one-centimeter opal!

A Prismatic Play of Color

Precious opals are prized among gemstones for their unique ability to reflect a rich rainbow — a characteristic known as "play-of-color."

While an opal is forming, the rain picks up other minerals along its journey through the ground. The minerals mix with the silica to lend opals their astonishingly broad range of base colors. 

These prismatic flashes are created when minuscule spheres of silica form small ordered lattices within the stone, which refract different colors of light depending on their size and arrangement.

Protection and Prophecy

The name opal is generally thought to have originated from the Sanskrit "Upala," which means “precious stone,” and later the Greek and Latin derivatives “Opallios” and "Opalus" which translate as “to see a change of color.”

The Greeks thought they bestowed their wearer with the gift of prophecy and protected them from illness. The ancient Romans considered them to be the most powerful of all gemstones as they contain the colors of all other gems combined, and one Roman emperor was fabled to have traded a third of his kingdom for one single opal.

Ancient Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that opals contain "the living fire of ruby, the glorious purple of the amethyst, the sea-green of the emerald, all glittering together in an incredible mixture of light."

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Hopkin's Australian opal and reclaimed gold Coat of Arms Pendant

A Stone With a 6,000 Year History

People have prized opals for centuries. The earliest known opal artifacts were discovered in Kenya and date back to almost 4000 B.C. These ancient opals most likely originated in Ethiopia.

While historically opals have been found all over the world, Australian opals have ruled the marketplace since their discovery in the latter half of the 1800s due to their unparalleled clarity and brilliant flashing colors.

Ethical, Mine-to-Market Opals

Our opals come from Hopkins Opal, a multi-generational family company in Australia dedicated to ethical mining, integrity, and transparency. A mine-to-market business, Hopkins Opal mines, cuts, and distributes their opals themselves, or buy gems from other local miners with equal standards.

As a member of the Lightning Ridge Miners Association, Hopkins Opal is compliant with all Australian environmental conservation guidelines, which require the land be restored to its original state after mining.

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Solid Hopkins Boulder opal from Yahaw, Australia.

A One-of-a-Kind Statement Stone

I love opals for their unusual and varied appearance. These chameleon gems are uniquely eye-catching and, seeing one wink and flicker in the light, you can understand why so many cultures thought they were imbued with exceptional power.

As no two opals are alike, these are genuinely statement stones. If you're interested in adding one to your jewelry collection, please contact me today. I would love to help you discover the perfect future heirloom.