Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Birthstone: Opal

October's birthstone treats the eye to an explosion of shimmering colors, much like those of a magnificent rainbow following a summer rain.  The opal is prized for its unique ability to refract & reflect specific wavelengths of light and derives its name from the Latin word 'opalus' meaning precious jewel.  One legendary explanation for this gemstone's origin is that it fell from heaven in a flash of fiery lightning. 

Ancient monarchs treasured opals, both for their beauty and for their presumed protective powers.  They were set into crowns and worn in necklaces to ward off evil and to protect the eyesight.  These gemstones were ground up & ingested for their healing properties and to ward off nightmares.  They are said to help recall past lives.

Most of the world's opal deposits are found in Southern Australia and are 50-65 million years old, dating back to the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Other sources of this gemstone are Brazil, Mexico, Czechoslovakia and Nevada. 

This gemstone actually contains up to 30% water, so it must be protected from heat or harsh chemicals, both of which will cause drying and may lead to cracking and loss of iridescence.  Opal must also be guarded from blows, since it is relatively soft and breaks easily.  Quality opals are very expensive, made more so by the caution that must be exercised in cutting, polishing and setting it into jewelry.

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