Gemstones and Birthstones: Opal — Gem of Myth and Lore

If opal is your birthstone, you may have heard the myth that the stones are either unlucky to wear, or simply unlucky if they are not your birthstone. Both are, shall we say, hogwash. But if you are a collector of myths and superstitions about opals, you are very lucky. Because the changeable colors of this gemstone have contributed to a number of stories about the stone.

ABOVE: This 29.65 carat fire opal cannot be bettered. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy of Pala International.

Opals have been thought to keep the wearer safe from disease, or to embody the spirit of truth, and to bestow the gift or prophesy. Romans believed it was the symbol of hope and purity.

carved opal by artist Glenn Lehrer

This amazing 48.85 carat carving by Glenn Lehrer is cut from a solid opal and shows opal’s chameleon character to perfection. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

George Frederick Kunz, in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, quotes a translation of an older text that was made during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It says this about opal — and looks like my typing without spell check:

“This stone breedeth onely in Inde and is deemed to have as many virtues, as hiewes and colours. Of this Optallius it is said in Lapidario, that this Optallius keepeth and saveth his eyen that beareth it, cleere and sharp and without griefe, and dimmeth other men’s eyen that be about, with a maner clowde, and smiteth them with a maner blindnesse, that is called Amentia, so that they may not see neither take heede what is done before their eyen. Therefore it is said that it is the most sure patron of theeves.”

A novel written by Sir Walter Scott in 1846 is credited with giving opals some of the “bad rep” they have today. Scott’s heroine, Lady Hermione, always wore an enchanted opal that was bound to her life. It sparkled when she was happy, shone red when she was angry, and left only a pile of ashes when she died.

necklace designed by Paula Crovhsay with an oval center opal and amazing Ethiopian opal beads

This Paula Crevoshay neckpiece titled “Queen of Sheba” is set with an oval center opal of 16.81cts, 34 blue zircons with a total weight of 3.25cts, and is suspended from a triple strand of Ethiopian opal beads with a total weight of 600cts. Photo courtesy Paula Crevoshay.

But the power of opals to enchant cannot be denied. Designers such as Paula Crevoshay play on the beauty and the subliminal mystery of opals in their designs. Her “Queen of Sheba” neckpiece, for example, evokes the power implied in the winged breast plates of the Egyptian rulers.

Power, beauty, myth and magic. Opals have it all. What a great birthstone!


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.


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