One of the most beautiful things in the world in a fine opal set into precious metal. The internal play of color and the mesmerizing flashes make it hard to tear your eyes away from its good looks. Historically believed to be a lucky charm fallen from Heaven in flashes of lightning, many people shy away from wearing opals because they believe them to be bad luck. What is this tantalizing gemstone that has inspired so many myths and what is the truth behind its reputed bad luck?
Opal is one of the most coverted gemstones in the world and the birthstone of October. Literally meaning “change of color precious stone”, the name “opal” comes from the Latin word “opalus”, itself derived from the Greek “opallios” meaning “change of color”; and the ancient Sanscrit “upala”, meaning “precious stone”. This is a perfect description because opals are most prized for their unique fiery play of color, called opalescence. It is the fifth most sought after gemstone after the “Big 4” of diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire.
Opals were considered lucky, bringing beauty, success and happiness to its wearer by the ancient Greeks; they were thought to symbolize hope and purity by the Romans; and were thought by the Arabs to provide protection from lightning strikes and shield the wearer from undesirable elements in daily life. With all these good opinions, just how did this glorious gemstone become denounced as the bearer of bad luck?
It all started in 1890, when a new supply of opal was discovered, which was so beautiful, with bedrock and a play of color contained within the gemstone that had never been seen before. Previous supplies of opal into Europe had come from Indian, and the Middle East to some extent but had mostly come from Hungary. The new deposit of opal was so fine with fusions of color plays so striking that it simply outshone other supplies of opal.
As it began making inroads into the European market, the new opals started threatening the established supply lines. To defend their market, the Hungarian opal suppliers claimed the new opals were not genuine. They claimed the beautiful new opals were fakes.
This caused a huge outcry amongst opal lovers, who did not know what to believe. The situation was made worse when Sir Walter Scott fabricated the myth in one of his novels that opals were bad luck for anyone not born in October. This would probably have been the nail in the coffin of the European opal market had Queen Victoria not stepped in. She finally dispelled the myth of opal’s bringing bad luck when she decided to give opal jewelry as gifts at a Royal wedding!