The opal is enjoying a renaissance, with jewellers pairing the enigmatic gem with other coloured stones to amplify its natural beauty.
Opals are surrounded by mystery and contradictions. Romans hailed them as the most powerful of the gems, containing all the colours of the spectrum. Queen Victoria handed them out as royal gifts. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel that tied them to bad luck, and Australia produces examples so exquisite that European jewellers of the 19th century did not believe they were real.
No matter the fashion, however, we always seem to come back to the unique play of colour and light offered by the opal. This ever-changing beauty is due to its high water content (up to 21 per cent) that also makes it one of the softer and most fragile mineral gems.
The rainbow stone
“The opal is a very poetic stone,” said Victoire de Castellane, artistic director of Dior Joaillerie, upon the release of the Dior et d’Opales high-jewellery collection. “When I look at an opal, I feel like I’m seeing the Earth from afar: the oceans, the archipelagos and the reflections of stars on ocean waves.”
The 21st-century rise of the opal sees standout stones combined with coloured gems, each one enhancing the natural rainbow within, as in Alessio Boschi’s statement necklace. Australian opals, particularly black opals, remain among the most prized gemstones, while Mexican ‘fire’ and milky-blue Ethiopian Welo opals are used to dramatic effect.
Exquisite in Australia
Australia’s national gemstone is perhaps most deftly brought to life by Margot McKinney. Each bold, freeform opal is amplified by other stones – sapphires, tsavorites, diamonds – reflecting just some of the colours within. Opal Minded similarly uses the gemstones of Jundah, Queensland, to tell a story of the landscape.
Around the world
Arpita Navlakha of Sutra Jewels sees her country’s native peacock in the opal’s blue and green, while Hong Kong- based British designer Tayma Page Allies uses opals to represent the Great Barrier Reef in her ‘Floating Islands’ collection, each one ringed by a beach of white diamonds.
This article appeared in volume 29 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.