opal birthstone

Opal: The Story Behind One Of October’s Birthstones

For those of you born in October, you’re super lucky because you have two birthstones to choose from – opal and pink tourmaline. But for today, we’re just going to talk about the opal birthstone. Opal is one of those majestic stones that comes in dozens of varieties, each with its own set of bright, reflective colors that have mystified humans for centuries. Opal is so beautiful with its fiery spectrum of brilliant crystalline colors, it can be difficult at times to believe that this is a naturally occurring gemstone.


In fact, its name comes from the Sanskrit, ‘upala,’ meaning “precious gemstone,” although the Greeks called it ‘oppalios,’ meaning “to see a change in color.” And indeed, the opal birthstone is a precious gemstone that never fails to boast an impressively vibrant change of colors. When it comes to opal, the number of variations is seemingly endless, but in this article we’re going to talk a little bit about the 3 basic types of opal, different geographically based varieties, and the different kinds of patterns you can find.


Different Types of Opals

There are several different types of opal, but the 3 basic types are common opal, fire opal and precious opal. Common opal comes in a variety of colors, but it doesn’t exhibit a play of color. They can often display a milky or pearlescent luster, but do not fetch very high prices. That said, the Peruvian blue opal is considered one of the more valuable just because of the rarity of its particular shade of blue. Fire opal, contrary to popular belief also does not exhibit a play of color, and actually gets its name from the solid, warm, fiery colors that it comes in – colors like yellow, orange and red. Precious opal, is the type that most people imagine when they think of the opal birthstone, and precious opal comes in a wide range of base colors, from white to black, with black tending to be the most desired. The play of color tends to stand out much more vividly on darker base colors. In general, the play of color can manifest itself in a multitude of patterns.


Geographic Variations

There are 6 basic types of precious opals that are named after the geographic locations in which they are found. These varieties are known as: Peruvian opal, Louisiana opal, Honduras Black opal, Lightning Ridge opal, Cooper Pedy opal and Andamooka opal. The majority of the world’s opals are found in Australia, and the latter 3 are all regions of the great down under that produce some of the finest opals known to man.


Different Types of Patterns

There are 4 basic types of patterns that you can find among precious opals: cat’s eye opal, pinfire opal, contra-luz color play and harlequin opal. Each variety has a very distinct pattern that can be recognized quite easily once you know what you’re looking for. Cat’s eye opals display a pattern much like tiger’s eye, but with bright vivid colors that dance across the stone. There is usually a long, thin band of color that shoots across the stone creating a visual effect that is similar to a cat’s eye. Pinfire opal is also known as pinpoint opal and looks much like a stone made by a pointillist painter. It has bright, fiery specks of color that glitter throughout the stone. The colors in a contra-luz color play opal can only be seen in a transparent stone that is lit from behind. Last but certainly not least, the harlequin opal exhibits a wild display of color play like the aurora borealis in Nova Scotia. Beaming in rectangular and diamond-like shapes, these gorgeous wonders can fetch some of the highest prices if their patterns are tight and their colors are bright.

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