THE WISH STONE
Opal, one of October’s birthstones, is also Australia’s national gemstone. Australia not only mines 95% of the world’s precious black and white opal but also offers opals of many varieties used in jewelry, including milky opal, jelly opal, boulder opal, crystal opal and some fire opal.
Opals have been used for everything from easing childbirth to bringing strength in battle. Long known as the wish stone, opal is supposed to promote love and romance and grant wishes and personal happiness.
There was a time, in nineteenth century Britain, when opal was considered bad luck for anyone not born in October. However, Queen Victoria, who adored opals, helped to dispel this notion by giving opals to all of her daughters, whether born in October or not. Thus, opal gained a wider popularity than ever, especially when the brighter gem and black opals from Australia became available.
The most common and affordable variety is milky or white opal because it shows a play of color against a white opaque background. Color patches or tiny flashes called ‘pin fire’ are usually light and bright pinks and greens.
Jelly opals and crystal opals are transparent to translucent, with a subtle sheen of color dancing through the gem, rather than color patches. The most valuable opals, known as black or gem opals, feature large, luminescent areas of one or more bright colors against a dark background.
Opals can be quite delicate and should not be exposed to steam cleaning or excess acids. The best cleaning method is with a soft damp or dry cloth.