Bijoux Extraordinaire, your engagement rings experts. Bijoux Home Page Jewelry and Gemstone Galleries What's New at Bijoux Jewelry and Gemstone Articles

Lightning Strikes Once!

By  Judith Anderson  GG, CGA

A fiery opal ring! Opal,  since early Roman times,  was regarded as one of the most treasured gems until the 19th century,  when Sir Walter Scott's novel "Ann of Geierstein" associated this fiery stone with an unfortunate heroine.  The story's heroine,  accused of being a demon,  died shortly after her opal lost all its color when sprinkled with holy water.  As the book became more popular,  superstition also increased and opal became associated with bad luck.

But this was just superstition and not fact!  Queen Victoria helped dispel the curse on opal by giving opal jewelry to relatives as wedding gifts.  Also,  in 1877 a remarkable find of Black Opal in an area of New South Wales (Australia) called Lightning Ridge,  revived the opal market.  These Australian opal literally took the world by storm!  Even today,  there are no other sources producing opals as fine as those from Lightning Ridge.

Opal - a rainbow frozen in stone. Since Black Opal is far rarer than White Opal,  it commands much higher prices.  These two varieties of opal (white and black) are found in different rock formations;  Black opal is typically found in nodules,  whereas White Opal is found in seams.  Two mines in Australia,  "Coober Pedy"  and  "Andamooka"  account for 75% of the world's supply of white opal.

But what makes an opal black or white?  Black Opal is so called by virtue of its dark background color - black, gray, blue or green - with vivid flashes of pure spectral hues.  White Opal has a light background with flashes of colors that are more pastel.

There are some basics to opal beauty.  First and foremost is the base color, also known as the  "potch".  The darker the potch,  the more intense the play of color,  a direct result of contrast between the color play and background.  A second factor to consider is Hue Mixture.  The purity,  distribution,  and number of different hues displayed in an opal greatly affect value.  Naturally,  the more varied and pure the colors,  the more lively the stone and hence the more valuable.

Finally,  connoisseurs consider Color Pattern.  One of the most favored patterns,  called Harlequin or Mosaic,  features well-defined geometric patches of color in both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs.  Other distinguished patterns include Flash Opal which displays broad well-defined flashes of color that change as the stone moves,  much like the prisms seen in a turning Kaleidoscope.  If the colors in a Flash Opal are predominantly red,  orange and yellow,  then the stone is referred to as a Flame Opal.

Pinfire Opal is a term used to describe stones with pointillistic dots of color.  As the dots get smaller and less vivid,  the value decreases.  Peacock Opal is a name reserved for opals displaying predominantly blue,  green and violet flashes of color.  What causes these magnificent patterns of color in opal?

A striking opal and diamond ring.
Opal is composed primarily of silica and some water molecules.  The phenomenon Play-of-Color is the result of light diffraction on these silica and water spheres.  The size and number of these molecules as well as the ratio of silica to water determine the intensity,  number and distribution of colors portrayed.

Since opals contain water  (5% to 20% of the chemical composition),  they can dehydrate and develop crazing or hairline cracks.  Crazing will devalue the stone and is not repairable.  Therefore,  it is important to treat opals with care and respect.  Harsh detergents and chemicals will not only strip the stone's luster,  but will also dry it out.

It is thus recommended that opals not be worn when doing dishes and laundry nor when swimming.  Opals are also quite soft and,  if worn daily,  are better protected in pendants and earrings.  They can be worn regularly in rings if the stones are set low and well protected with metal,  however do avoid wearing opals during rigorous work or play.

18Kt gold and opal earrings

|  Reading Room   |  Jewelry Galleries   |  What's New!  |

|  Bijoux Home Page   |  About Us   |  Services We Offer   |  Site Map  |

If you have any questions,  suggestions or comments,  please give us a call
(603 624-8672) or  send us an email.

Or,  if you prefer snail mail,  our postal address is:

Bijoux Extraordinaire, Ltd.
P.O. Box 1424
Manchester, New Hampshire

© Copyright Bijoux Extraordinaire,  Ltd.
1998 - 2000 All Rights Reserved