Popular Victorian culture was wonderfully sentimental and superstitious, thus perpetuating the idea that being in possession of an Opal causes catastrophic luck. The culprit was Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 “thriller” Anne of Geierstein, in which the lovely Lady Hermione falls to misfortune purportedly by the beautiful Opal hair ornament which is her signature piece. Victoria herself was a lover of Opals, and made a point to wear her Opal jewellery often throughout her long reign, despite her epic mourning over the untimely death of her beloved husband Albert. The 1877 discovery of Black Opals in Australia’s South Wales heralded much excitement for Victoria and the rest of the world, and Opal experienced a resurgence in popularity, paving the way for its Art Nouveau design hey-day, as well as another period of popularity in the 1960s and 70s.
Prior to Sir Walter Scott’s writings, Opal was a highly venerated gem. The ancient Romans especially valued them, the majority of them coming from the famous (and now defunct) mine in what is now Czechoslavokia. Legend has it that when Mark Antony offered to purchase an exquisite Opal from senator Marcus Nonius to no avail, Nonius opted to flee Rome with the Opal in tow instead of trading the stone for Antony’s small fortune. The ancient Arabs believed Opals contained special powers as they were “solid lightening fallen to earth”. Opal artifacts dating to 4,000BC were discovered in Ethiopia by the famous anthropologist, Louis Leaky, solidifying the idea that our ancestors shared our modern day fascination with Opal….
Opal is a silicate with a high water content, primarily found in arid regions such as Australia. It forms as veins or cavities in sedimentary and (sometimes) igneous rocks, sometimes replacing organic matter such as bone, shell or wood. Opalised fossils are highly collectable (and very expensive).
I don’t collect them, but I wish that I could as many of them are absolutely stunning and again, wonderful reminders of life that has lived before. Opal’s characteristic “play-of-color” is caused by light hitting randomly arranged silica spheres and splitting the light into spectral colors–the colors “move” with the light or viewing angle as the light strikes different areas at different angles. Being comprised of up to 30% water, Opals are a receptacle of sorts, containing “life force”–an amazing and magical concept, since a 1999 study by Masaru Emoto suggests that water can absorb moods and feelings! This notion is echoed by the metaphysical properties attributed to Opal–it is receptive and projective. It can be imbued with any type of energy, making it a powerful amplifier for meditation, psychic development, and spell-work. Some even tout Opal as a fantastic aid for astral projection….
Have I mentioned yet that I love Opals? I really, really do. And what many would call my “signature design piece” features a pretty spectacular Opal. I designed this Opal and Sterling Silver pendant for myself in 2004 when I was a student (and subsequently have re-made versions of it as a Custom Order in golds and silver), and soon became addicted to the flood of compliments that I received (and continue to receive) when it’s worn. It’s modern, yet organic and teases the eye with its tactility. It conjures images of deep sea life, alien plants and the fur-rimmed eye of an all-seeing animal. I wanted to design something that really showcased the idea and beauty of Opal, and I think that I was very successful at it!
Opals are a bit finicky as far as designing with them and caring for them goes. Being fairly soft and porous, they are prone to damage. They are ill-suited for rings as they can easily be chipped or ruined by contact with many household cleaners. Opal jewellery should only be cleaned with water and a soft bristled brush–never use any sort of cleaner on them, even if it is jewellery cleaner! Opals are also prone to thermal shock–that is, sudden extreme fluctuations in temperature. Heating or freezing them will most likely result in breakage. They are best incorporated into pendants, brooches and earrings–jewellery that does not come into contact with the daily throes of chores and active living. As tempting as it may be, Opals make especially poor engagement rings. I store my Opal in a velour pouch, which protects it from coming into contact with other jewellery that could scratch or damage it. Sometimes I will give my Opal a little bath in a cup of lukewarm water while I watch a movie–this keeps it clean, hydrated and ready for compliments! (This said, never submerge assembled Opals in water!! This will damage them–Assembled Opals are Opals reinforced with other materials–ask your Gemologist!)
Do check out my other designs and creative work at www.flickr.com/photos/carolinebacher !