The Secret Life of Opals

Opal was the chapter in Victoria Finlay's Jewels: A Secret History that made me want to write The Secret Life of Gems blog series. Finlay turned my prejudice against opals upside down. I found myself wanting to visit the local gem dealer for a clandestine meeting where he would pull out his most precious opals and reveal their deepest secrets.

Seriously, until reading the chapter on opals in Jewels: A Secret History, I usually snubbed my nose at these gems. I really didn't get them, and I certainly had no appreciation for them. For me, opals were like a challenging food I tasted as a kid and decided never to go there again.

The first surprise was discovering that today most opals are mined in the outback of Australia. That was enough for me to sit up and take notice. Gorgeous landscapes, rough riders, and a burning sun spell adventure and romance to me...I'm hooked, sign me up!

From interesting characters scouring the outback to an ancient Roman senator choosing exile over relinquishing his prized opal, Victoria Finlay paints a picture of curiosity. Who wouldn't be intrigued by buried cat bones turning into rose opals or making glittering stones in glass jars? This chapter made me scratch my head and ponder opals afresh.

One of the most interesting reveals on opals, is the story of how they may have acquired the reputation for being a bad luck stone. In the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott wrote Anne of Geierstein a spooky ghost novel, where a mystery lady called Hermione is magically linked to her favorite opal. After giving birth, a drop of holy water falls on Hermione's mystical opal and changes into lifeless and colorless stone. In the novel, the opal mirrors Hermione's every mood and aptly foretells her demise into a pile of grey ashes. Who'd want to wear opals after reading this scary novel?

Well, of course Anne of Geierstein may have not been the only reason for opal's bad reputation, and I'm still skeptical of all that flashy color, but adventuring through Victoria Finlay's Jewels: A Secret History sure makes me stop and wonder what I've been missing out on by letting my prejudice get the best of my curiosity.


  1. how funny! i am have an october birthday and so for me, opals have always been special... i had heard that they shouldn't be worn by anyone who didn't have the birthstone, but nothing more... like labradorite, they can have a beautiful fire... i don't work with them though, because they are so very soft... have been hinting hard to my kids about this book! thanks for sharing this!

  2. Opals have seemed to be bad luck for my mother. It's her birthstone and she has jewelry that has been handed down with these gorgeous stones. For some reason the stones have popped out of several different pieces. They are beautiful but a bit mischievous if you ask me.

  3. Personally, I love opals. I think it is the mystery of them with the buried fire inside. This series you are doing makes me want to read the book. It's quite fascinating.

  4. Bah Humbug! Boy, I do sound a bit like a Scrooge when it comes to opals. Blessed are the opal lovers and for this I am grateful to know you and hear what they mean to you :)

    Leann, just conjuring up a picture of a stone with a fiery mystery inside has me all excited about looking for opals!

    Leslie, I'm giggling over you seeing them as mischievous :)

    Mary Jane, so interesting this point about they shouldn't be worn by anyone who doesn't have that birthstone. So many superstitions about this stone. I know a shaman who won't wear them because she says she had a experience with an opal. I'll cross my fingers that your kids picked up the "hint" that this book should be in your stocking for Christmas!

  5. Have a love for opals, too. My Mom's engagement ring is an opal - 60+ years old now and still sparking fire. Was mesmerized by the flashes as a kid - heck, still am! This is one incredible book! Have finished it and plan to reread it - too much info for one time through. Look forward to your next post about the next jewel, Beth (:


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