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Beauty, mystery and legends of opals
An English Rose in Georgia
Lesley Francis - SBF
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. - photo by File photo

Recently, my lovely husband took me to Australia for a couple of weeks. I loved the fact that many things in that great country reminded me of the good ol’ USA, but others had a distinctly British feel about them.  

In the coming months, I will tell you more about this fantastic country, from the Great Barrier Reef to marsupials.

I’d like to start by talking about opals. Before I left the USA for my vacation, a geologist friend became very excited about my visit and asked me to obtain an Australian opal for her. She equipped me with useful facts and a jeweler’s loop to better examine the quality of the stone. Anything to do with jewelery or retail therapy is of huge interest to me, so I was more than happy to take up this challenge.

Her expertise and additional information gleaned from several opal stores in Sydney taught me a great deal. Most opals — 95 percent — come from Australia because of the extensive dry and remote outback deserts in the center of the country from which they are mined. The remaining 5 percent are mined in Mexico, Brazil, Idaho and Nevada. There also have been recent unexpected finds in Ethiopia and the West African country of Mali. The best and most-expensive opals are the black opals from Lightning Ridge Fields in Eastern Australia and the dark-grey opal from Mintable, a little town in the middle of Australia.

Numerous legends and tales surround this colorful gemstone, the origins of which begin in the time of the indigenous Australian Aborigines. Their legends say that the creator came down to Earth on a rainbow to bring the message of peace to all humans. Where his foot touched the ground, the stones became alive and started sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow, which — you guessed it — became the first opals.

On a more scientific note, millions of years ago, when parts of Australia were covered by a vast inland sea, stone sediment was deposited along its shoreline. When the water eventually receded, flushed water containing silica pushed into the resulting cavities and niches in sedimentary rocks. Slowly, the silica stone transformed into opal, which basically is a combination of silica, water, pressure and time.

Up to the first half of the 19th century, opals were quite rare, but they became more fashionable at this time. Their popularity peaked during the art-deco period, when opal jewelery combined with enamel became the height of popular taste.  

I was briefed to look for solid and natural opals with good color play and a bit of sparkle in them, and that “treated” opals are not as desirable because they are heated to enhance the color or fill a crack.

I also learned about the many varied superstitions that surround these beautiful stones. Here are a few:

• Opals have healing powers, especially in curing depression.

• Opals apparently can help wearers find true love.

• White opals are unlucky unless worn by someone born in October or with diamonds. On the other hand, black opals are lucky.

• Opals should never be used in an engagement ring — more bad luck.

• Opals will lose their shine if the owner dies but will help blondes keep their hair color longer.

• Opals will turn pale if in the presence of poison but are useless as a charm to someone who is selfish.

• If used for good, they supposedly give the wearer the power of prophecy.

One final superstition is that opals are supposed to further enhance the positive characteristics for people born under the zodiac sign of Cancer. Black opal is recommended to those born under Scorpio, and boulder opal is the lucky stone for Aries. Well, I am not very superstitious and, despite being a Taurus, I was more than happy to receive my early birthday gift of an opal necklace of the “crystal transparent” variety while vacationing in Oz.

I leave you with a great quote about opals from our old friend Anonymous: “Mysterious opals contain the wonders of the skies — sparkling rainbows, fireworks and lightning, shifting and moving in their depths.” Next time you are in a jewelry store, ask to have a look at the opals, and you’ll see why I find them so fascinating.

God bless America!

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