Photographs taken in natural sunlight. An opal doublet is a layer of natural opal adhered to a thin ironstone backing for strength.
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Opal is unique among gems, as it displays an array of very brilliant miniature rainbow iridescent effects, all mixed together. These colors were very highly prized in Roman jewelry.
The play of color comes from opal’s formation process, which is different than many gems. The color comes from the reflection of the scattering of light from the minute, uniformly sized and closely packed silica spheres that make up precious opal. The arrangement of these spheres, which vary in size and pattern, is responsible for the different colors. The more brilliant the color, or fire, the more valuable the gem.
Opal is formed when silica was liquefied and washed down into fissures in the surrounding rock, where it then solidified into a hardened gel. Unlike most other gemstones, opal is therefore not a crystal, but rather an amorphous solid. Opal is found in fossilized shell, wood and bone. Some precious opal forms in gas cavities in volcanic rocks, as in Mexico, and Slovakia, but most Australian deposits occur in sedimentary rocks. 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale.
Opal is the birthstone for the month of October, along with pink tourmaline. It is also the stone given to celebrate the 14th year of marriage. The name opal is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit upala, meaning “precious stone,” and later the Greek derivative “Opallios,” meaning “to see a change of color.”
The opal was also thought to make a person invisible whenever he wished, and for that reason, it was called Patronus forum (patron of thieves). A popular 1829 novel by Sir Walter Scott, Anne of Geuerstein, is the only source of the unfounded association of opals with bad luck.
Among the ancients, opal was a symbol of fidelity and assurance, and in later history it became associated with religious emotional prayer. It was believed to have a strong therapeutic value for diseases of the eye, and when worn as an amulet, it would make the wearer immune from disease as well as increase the powers of the eyes and the mind. Furthermore, many believed that to the extent the colors blue and green were seen, the wearer would also enjoy the therapeutic powers of those stones: the power to protect against mental illness from the sapphire or the power to cure diseases from the emerald.