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  • Writer's pictureTwo Skies

The Monstrous Opal!

As October is now here, here's a tale about an Opal, which is of course, October's birthstone. The huge gem in the photos was purchased by Adam from a lady called Linda (second from left), who was working with Adam's buddy Avon (third from left), mining for opals in Queensland's outback.

Linda started work on her opal as a bit of a personal project, but due to the formation and different levels of the stone, the gem had to be worked on manually by hand. Linda lost countless hours in the pursuit of polishing this massive Opal to perfection, but in the end, sold it to Adam half-finished.

A mere (!) 5 years later, and Adam has finished the Opal, which now sits in an opulent setting of sand-casted sterling silver and 18ct recycled gold, with 2 carats worth of companion recycled Diamonds and Sri Lankan Sapphires - a real labour of love! You might have also noticed Adam's 'hat' in the first photo - the story goes that he misplaced his own hat and rather than face the searing 45C heat unprotected, decided he'd go 'hat couture' with a handy lampshade. Not sure why it didn't catch on - those dangly tassles helped keep the flies off!

Now for a tale of a Monstrous Opal of another sort!

With Halloween on the way, it's a great time to have a look at the spooky side of Opals! Have you heard that it is bad luck to buy yourself an opal, or that you shouldn't wear one if it isn't your birthstone? There's a lot of superstition surrounding Opal, and you've probably heard at least one negative connotation.

In fact, Opal had actually always been considered a good luck gemstone throughout most of history. The ancient Romans considered Opal one of the luckiest gemstones to own. The word opal derived its name from “opalus”, which means “to see a change in colour”. The Roman scholar Pliny wrote this of opal: “There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald - all shining together in incredible union.”

In the Middle Ages, the Opal was believed to be the 'magician's stone', boasting all of the positive properties associated with all gemstones due to the gem's rainbow colour play. Despite this, there are also some tales and superstitions which associate Opal with bad luck.

One of the reasons Opal may have started to garner an ill reputation may be due to Sir Walter Scott's 1829 novel, 'Anne of Geierstein'. In the story, mysterious princess Hermione wears a dazzling opal in her hair. The opal was observed to change colour with its wearer's moods and emotions. After it is accidentally hit with a few drops of holy water at a christening, the opal loses its colour and Hermione promptly faints. A few hours later, the princess has been reduced to a pile of ashes! She is accused of being a demon due to this series of events, thus relating opals to the forces of darkness. It is actually highly unlikely Scott intended to malign the opal this way, but the novel did allegedly cause the sale of opals to decline by a whopping 50%. Back then, novels came out in parts (a bit like a historical version of Netflix) and it seems many people did not bother to finish the tale - in which it is revealed Hermione was killed by poison, not her opal! Despite the opal falling out of fashion, Queen Victoria did not let this bother her at all – she adored Opal and had a very large and impressive collection. There is a tale (we are not sure if true or rumour!) that at her coronation, she wore a brooch of opal to close her dress, but when her dress came undone in the middle of the ceremony, opals fell from grace yet again!

A more sinister real life tale is a story of a 'cursed' opal ring that King Alfonso XII of Spain received as wedding gift from a supposedly vengeful Comtesse he had previously courted and spurned in favour of his new wife, Mercedes, who he married in 1878. The king's new bride immediately loved the beautiful gold ring and asked to keep it. Unfortunately, the young queen Mercedes suddenly died a few months after her wedding - just two weeks after her eighteenth birthday. The ring was then passed to the king's grandmother - who passed away from pneumonia about 2 months afterwards. The king then passed the ring to Mercedes' sister (who the king was reportedly courting at the time) but yet again, the young lady succumbed to illness and died of tuberculosis at the age of 26 in April of1879. The ring found another owner, Alfonso's sister, the Infanta Maria del Pilar, who died on 5 August 1879 of tuberculous meningitis.

L-R The Comtesse, the King, Queen Mercedes and Queen Cristina and her three children

At this point, the ring was garnering quite the sinister reputation and so King Alfonso decided to keep the ring in storage. With the ring 'out of sight, out of mind', he married his second wife, Maria Cristina of Austria in November 1879, and they had three children: Maria de la Mercedes, Maria Teresa and Alfonso. Six years later in1885, maybe unable to keep the beautiful ring off his mind, or perhaps to disprove the rumours, Alfonso decided to try on the ring for himself. The story goes that within a day he was dead - although he was suffering from tuberculosis and his sudden death was likely caused by an abrupt bout of dysentery.

The widowed consort, Queen Cristina, was not a superstitious lady in the least and took no notice of the rumours about the 'ring with the terrible curse'. However, in order to placate her nervous, deeply superstitious family who were pleading with her to destroy it, she hung the ring round the neck of the Statue of The Virgin of Almudena in the Cathedral of Madrid out of harm's way. So where is this ring now? Nobody knows! The statue was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and the ring has... vanished.

It is somewhere else, wreaking havoc on its new owners? Unlikely - the ring's first 'victim', young Queen Mercedes, was observed to be suffering from typhoid fever immediately after the wedding ceremony. The king's grandmother was 72 years old and already ill when presented with the ring. Tuberculosis and cholera were rife in this period, accounting for deaths on an epidemic scale throughout Spain.

We say the Opal itself is a victim of unfortunate circumstance! These tales and superstitions are said to have been reinforced by Diamond merchants at the turn of the 20th century. Large amounts of Australian Opal had started making their way to markets in the USA, Europe and England, causing then emerging diamond specialists to panic at the prospect of opal becoming more popular than diamonds. To ensure diamonds retained a bigger market share, diamond merchants started various rumours that opals were bad luck and promoted it at every opportunity with glee. Sadly, they were so successful some people today still think opal is a stone of bad luck, an unfortunate belief inherited from grandparents and great-grandparents who bought into both the lie and clever marketing: "Diamonds are forever."

Rumours of opals cracking, or bringing bad luck, were spread with avid gusto by these purveyors of the hardest gemstone in the world. It can't be a coincidence that one of the top 10 'opal superstitions' is that if you must have opal jewellery, setting them with diamonds negates the stone's ability to draw ill fortunate to the wearer, as diamonds are said to overpower over the opal's intent. Funny that!

We love Opal for its unrivalled beauty, which is far more unique per stone than any diamond. Here at Two Skies we say it's time for Opals to shine again!

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