By Annabel Davidson
To many Antipodeans, opals are synonymous with bad souvenir shops, sterling-silver kangaroo pendants and tiny gold koalas with little opal eyes - not fine jewellery. Despite Dior's genius jewellery designer Victoire de Castellane declaring it her favourite stone, several beautiful examples of it in the V&A's jewellery gallery and the gemstone's unique range of colour, it wasn't until I saw a display of beautiful, blue, Art Nouveau opal pieces in an antiques shop in Paris that I could put all associations with airport shopping behind me. More recently, this most iridescent of gemstones has been popping up in contemporary collections on a frequent basis, and the latest offerings are just as beautiful as the Art Nouveau works that first won me over.
Take American brand Armenta's placement of deep-blue boulder opals against burnished gold, white diamonds and pale gold filigree, causing the colours to pop. Indian jeweller Amrapali has matched white opals with deep-blue tanzanite cabochons and pearls in one astonishing set with dazzling results, and Carolina Bucci has popped gleaming opal eyes on a pretty little owl in her upcoming Gitane collection. All these opals are the multi-hued, shimmering blues, whites and pinks most associated with the stone, but the gem's colour range runs the gamut from deep orange to inky black and palest, smoothest pink.
Chopard's use of dozens of sweet, pink opal drops in its Red Carpet collection pieces gives the stones an almost edible quality, while the juxtaposition of pale pink opal beads with onyx in Cartier's Cassis collection makes the stones feel elegantly retro - and not a kangaroo in sight.