Original paper

Opal, a beautiful gem between myth and reality

Caucia, Franca; Ghisoli, Christian; Marinoni, Luigi; Bordoni, Valentina

Abstract

Throughout the ages, opal's fascinating play of color phenomenon has inspired the fantasies of artists and the passion of connoisseurs. The term opal is derived from the ancient Greek and underwent several modifications over time, so that several synonyms appear in mineralogy and gemology texts. The opal is frequently mentioned in historical sources of Roman Age (especially in those of Pliny), and in those of the Renaissance, while is much less present in the works of the Middle Ages. In the Roman Age, the opal gem was very much appreciated, considered as a sacred stone and reached very high prices. This appreciation is confirmed by several anecdotes, such as those relating Octavius and Mark Anthony. At different times, original description and interpretations of the beauty of this gem were provided by authors like Pliny, Marbodius, Albertus Magnus, Camillo Leonardi, Pietro Caliari, Pio Naldi, Giovanni Antonio Scopoli and others. Throughout history this stone was seen, on and off, as a bearer of good or bad luck and different healing properties were assigned, such as that of treating eyesight problems, to make the person invisible, to make the birth easier. This led to different assessments of its commercial value. Beside its decorative uses, opal also assumed roles in short-lived fashions: for instance was associated with the month of October and was used in the so-called “sentimental jewels“. The opal is frequently present in the literary works of many classical authors such as William Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gabriele d'Annunzio. In particular it is well known as, in modern times, the fame of bad luck attributed to the opal is due to an approximate reading of the beautiful novel by Walter Scott “Anne of Geierstein“ In historical times opals came almost exclusively from the deposits of Cernowitz, in the actual Slovakia. Later, other deposits were discovered in various locations around the world and, currently, almost all of the opals on the market derive from Australia.

Keywords

opalgemstonehistorylegendplay of colorfashionmyths