Throughout the ages, gemstones have acquired distinctive mythologies and legends. These vary region by region and culture by culture, but many are still well known to this day. Amethyst gems, for instance, were once believed to maintain sobriety, while rubies could inspire courage and passion, and emeralds were said to soothe the soul.
One stone, however, has perhaps gotten an unfair reputation in comparison to other gemstone varieties. Throughout history, the common opal has had many types of lore attached to it - and not all of them were negative. In ancient times, the opal was thought to encourage fidelity. The ancient Greeks also believed that the opal bestowed powers of foresight and prophecy upon its owner.
Due to their kaleidoscopic color, Julius Caesar thought that opals were a combination of all the most beautiful gemstones in one precious stone. Precious opal stones were thus one of the most valuable gems to the ancient Romans, second only to emeralds. And in the middle ages, blonde maidens wore opal jewelry under the impression that they would prevent their golden hair from fading!
Yet, over time, these beliefs about the opal faded and were gradually replaced by a deepset fear of the stone. While there might be superstitions around jewelry made of opal, they are still highly prized as a precious stone. So, are opals bad luck? Let's take a look at where the opal's bad reputation originated.
The superstitions are believed to have begun with one man, Sir Walter Scott, and his best-selling novel, Anne of Geuerstein, written in 1829. The story follows the life of Lady Hermione, who is falsely accused of being a demoness and dies shortly after a drop of holy water accidentally falls on her opal and destroys its color, fire, and sparkle. Furthermore, when Lady Hermione wore an enchanted opal in her hair, it gave off fiery red flashes when she was angry, and it sparkled beautifully when she was happy. Because of this story, the common opal gained a wide reputation for bad luck.
In addition, in the days before jewelers understood how to handle and work opals properly, the jewels would often dry out and break while being cut, polished or mounted. Naturally, this was considered bad luck. So, bench jewelers often stopped buying the beautiful gemstone altogether. Thanks to Sir Walter Scott and jewelers' superstition, the European opal market was destroyed for almost 50 years without any real merit. Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France, refused to wear the stones, as did many others, regardless of whether they had read Sir Scott's story.
Thankfully, nearly half a century later in 1877, an amazing black opal was found in South Wales in Australia. Absolutely gorgeous and incredibly fiery, these black opals took the world by storm, and the opal market was finally revived. The discovery of these beautiful opal gems solidified Australia as the principal source of both black and white opal jewelry.
Today, these precious stones are no longer associated with curious lore or superstition. As October's birthstone, these beautiful opal pieces are worn and loved by people everywhere. We own some of the most antique opal rings, including black and white opal jewels from the famous Lightning Ridge mines in Australia. Because of all the potential colors and patterns, no two precious stones are ever exactly alike. They are like small paintings with varying patterns and colors. Whether you are looking for a stunning opal ring or a diamond and opal necklace, M.S. Rau offers a number of stunning opal pieces.
So as we close out the month of October, for which opal is the birthstone, it’s time to truly embrace the beauty and uniqueness of this gemstone. Shop our jewelry made with fine opals and diamonds through our online selection today.