Sunday, October 17, 2010


I'm in love.
This week, I have been showing a lot of opals, talking about opals, falling in love with opals.  The store where I am gainfully employed has been having its annual Opal Lovers Event.  We become, for a week or two in October, the center of the opal universe, at least in southern Oregon.  Australian white opals, Lightning Ridge blacks, Mexican fires, Peruvian blues, yowah nuts from Queensland, dendritic common opal from Turkey--well, you get my drift.  An incredible diversity of beautiful opal that many people didn't even know existed, have never seen.  It creates a lot of excitement.

And yet, there is something I've observed about the opal mystique.  No matter how admired opals are, we still hear customers raise the "cursed opal" theme.  The persistent idea is that opals are bad luck if "they're not your birthstone" or if "they're not a gift from someone who loves you".  Seriously, these beliefs actually hold people back from buying one.  It's not the money, or the lack of desire, or anything like that.  They look wistfully in the case, they have the deep breath intake that people have when they see a beautiful gem that speaks to them, and... they shake their heads and say, " are bad luck.  It's beautiful, but I would never own it."  

An often repeated explanation as to why people believe opals are bad luck points to Sir Walter Scott's novel, Ann of Geierstein.  Oh really?  A novel published in 1829, concerning a heroine who has supernatural gifts in the midst of the Burgundian conflict, and who owns an opal that dulls when sprinkled with holy water?  That story is going to have created such a powerful meme that  nearly 200 years later, people are still shying away from wearing a gemstone as beautiful as opal?   Puhlleeeeze.   

Do you remember your first love?  When you loved with complete abandon, your whole heart and soul?  You just jumped right in, with no regard for consequences, and nothing else mattered but the object of your desire?  Opals, I believe, are symbolic of this kind of natural and vulnerable human passion.

Opals have such an incredible variety that even professional jewelers, over a career of 30 or 40 years, will not have seen every type, or every configuration of fire or pattern within the types.  There are truly no two opals alike.  Most people won't give it this kind of introspection, but symbolic knowledge runs deep within us.  Every opal is unique; our experiences of love are unique.   Even if we've loved and been loved many times, we know that each love is different.  This week, I heard people say several times: "Wow, I've never seen an opal like that before!"..and they desire it.   Lovers say, "I've never loved like this before." 

Did you know that you can boil diamonds in hot acid?  Did you know that with a diamond, a jeweler can subject them to steam, put them under a torch hot enough to liquify metals, run a steel file right on its surface and not make the slightest mark?   Did you know that the wearer of a diamond can garden in it, play basketball, wash the dog and likely do that every day for 50 years without a scratch?   But could you do that with opal?  No.  NO!  It's fragile, it's soft, it doesn't like extremes of temperature, it doesn't like knocks, it doesn't like dryness, and it sure doesn't like thoughtless abuse of any kind.

If diamond is our symbol for indestructible and enduring love, then opal has to be our symbol for all that is ephemeral in love, for love that might be broken through our own carelessness, or fate, or death.    Love an opal, and part of the experience might be mourning its loss.  

It's a devastating feeling to look down at a piece of jewelry that is meaningful to you, and see that your stone (any stone) is gone, broken, damaged.   That pain is very personal.   "It's my fault.  I don't deserve something this nice."  "Stupid stone.  I should never have loved it.  They always break."  Love, and your heart could be broken.  These are the real unspoken reasons, I think, that people still carry around the "curse of opal."

But let's not leave it here quite yet..not with loss.  I'm not done with the subject of opal. Transformation ahead!


  1. I am waiting eagerly for the next installment!

  2. I seem to remember seeing an opal that was chocolate in color. What was that?

  3. That was probably an Ethiopian opal. They are noted for their chocolate body colors.