We’re back with our second installment of our spotlight on October’s birthstones, and after getting to know tourmaline, this time we’re focussing on the bewitchingly beautiful opal.

Like tourmaline, opal is renowned for its colourful allure, coming in a range of different hues that ensure each stone is unique and just a little bit magical. Whether you’re offsetting this technicolour gem with some classic gold jewellery, or you’re rocking it on its own, opal is a sure head-turner.

Here’s a look at the background of the opal, and what makes it so special as a birthstone.

A gem by any other name 

The name ‘opal’ comes from the Greek word, ‘opallios’, which referred to a change in colour. The gems are indeed one of the most changeable you are likely to encounter, with examples ranging from a pearly white to a fiery orange red or peacock blue.

The opal owes its flashy appearance to its unique chemical makeup of hydrated silica, formed from the seasonal rainfall that takes place in arid locations such as the Australian Outback, as explained by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). In fact, 95 per cent of the world’s opals are sourced right here in our back yard, according to Tourism Australia. 

What makes the opal stand out is the famed ‘play of colour’ effect which produces rainbow-like flecks within the gem – a result of light waves bouncing off microscopic sphere of silica. 

An illustrious past 

With its enchanting colouring, it’s little surprise that it was much revered in ancient times. The GIA notes how Roman scholar Pliny equated opals to having “the deepest and richest colours of painters”, such as the “flaming fire of burning sulphur and even the bright blaze of burning oil”.

The Ancient Greeks were also thought to value opals for their gift of prophesy and protection against disease, whilst Aboriginal Dreamtime legends describe the opal as the result of a rainbow, and a sign of the Creator’s visit to Earth.

Lastly, it was due to the work of writer Sir Walter Scott that the gem got its reputation as a bearer of bad luck for those who wear opals if their birth month is not October. You’ll be glad to know that this belief is not based on any traditions or old legends, and that the only thing you’ll get from wearing opals are compliments!