The joy of opals

Opals are one of the hottest stones of the moment and at the centre of some of the most exciting jewellery designs. See how this mysterious stone is breathing new life into jewellery.

DIOR. Bal d' Ete ring in yellow & white gold with diamonds, fancy yellow diamonds, fancy orange diamonds and golden opal; by Dior Joaillerie. POA

Opals are one of the hottest stones of the moment and at the centre of some of the most exciting jewellery designs. See how this mysterious stone is breathing new life into jewellery. There is something so mysterious about opals. Limpid as water yet shot through with fire they are the enigma of the world captured in a stone. I have a romantic notion that this is how it looked at the dawn of time when earth was created and light and particles were swirling around commanded by a celestial order. Perhaps it is this fascination that has captured our imagination since the days of the Roman Empire. Found only in a region that is now Slovakia they were  just out of the reach of the Romans and so were considered extremely rare and of very high value. Nothing less than a red and white opal graced the Holy Roman Emperor's crown. Since the end of the 19th century the majority of opals come mainly from Australia though Wello opals from Ethiopia and Mexican water opals are also in demand.  A precious opal is one in which the play of colours or fire is clearly distinguished rather than a blur of muted tones. Opals come in a range of colours from white to black but the all important distinguishing feature is that they should have distinct flashes of colour that can range from the effect of lightning searing through a night sky to a dewy alpine dawn. With a high water content and silica as the main mineral, opals can be fragile. But perhaps my favourite fact about opals is that they are the only stone that can be found with a divining rod, adding to the mystic nature of this stone. I will quote from Victoria Finlay's book "Jewels: a secret history". "The water - which may form five to ten per cent of the stone's volume - is what makes the opal such a beautiful, limpid gem, and it is one of the many ingredients contributing to its astonishing play of colour. Water can make opals look like reflections on a lake in summer or it can make them look like red conflagrations." If you love jewels and haven't read Victoria Finlay's book, click on this link and buy a copy immediately as it is the best book I have read on jewels. I think it is out of print, not due to the dozens of copies I have ordered for friends, but because it is such a stonking good read. Victoria is not only a great writer but has done the most fascinating research into the origins and history of gemstones. I am sure you will love it as much I do. I have chosen a selection of  jewels to show the wide range of colours and even cuts of opals that I have seen recently and hope that you fall in love with this enigmatic stone.

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