Opals, although majestic, are encircled in an eerie past riddled with myths and speculation. Many people have heard of this idea that opals bear misfortune and bad luck. Those who subscribe to this theory also attribute the superstitious belief to De Beers, the famous company that iconized the diamond as we know it. Are opals bad luck, or is it a sinister plot to diminish their value? How true is the claim that De Beers created the story of opals being bad luck?
Buckle up and get ready for a wild ride through one of the gemstone industry’s most contentious debates. But first, a bit of backstory.
The very first documentation of opals points to Kenya as the first origin of the gems. Discovered by anthropological prodigy, Louis Leakey, the first encounter with opals took place in a Kenyan cave back in 4,000 B.C.
Although they were discovered in Kenya, many researchers and knowledgeable professionals suspect that opals are originally from Ethiopia, which borders Kenya to the north. Later on, black opals were discovered in Australia.
There's a widespread theory surrounding opals and the alleged curse that accompanies the wearer. Well, almost. Opals are not considered bad luck for everybody. It's been said that only people who are born in October can rock opals. While the October birthstone is opal, they aren’t exclusive to this one demographic.
So, what about people who aren’t born in October; can they wear opals? Let’s explore why there’s supposedly an aura of bad luck on opal wearers.
Do you believe opals are bad luck, or is this poppycock? Whether the rumor is true or not, it creates a stigma, and rumors are bad for business. That means someone out there had to fabricate the idea that opals bring bad luck, even if you don’t believe it’s true. Who created the story of opals being bad luck and why did they do it?
Enter: the De Beers Corporation. Now, we’re not right off the bat claiming that the company started the rumor, but we’ll give you the facts and let you make your own decision.
De Beers is a globally recognized diamond corporation. As the sole pioneer of the diamond movement, De Beers is essentially synonymous with the word diamond. After all, they did pen the infamous slogan, “a diamond is forever.” Not only does the company manufacture and distribute diamond-based jewelry to diamond lovers worldwide, but they mine diamonds as well.
De Beers has an unofficial monopoly over the title of number one diamond jewelers. As such, the company is often credited with the story of opals being bad luck charms. When a global corporation endorses something — be it fact or fiction — few people doubt the claim.
For some reason, people don’t often question the validity of large companies being the first to start something. In this case, not many people fact check the possibility of De Beers creating the story of opals being bad luck… But what if we told you that De Beers isn’t actually the author behind this narrative?
That’s right! Contrary to very popular belief, De Beers is not the one to blame. But if they didn’t start the rumor, who did?
Let’s find out!
Back in the earlier half of the 1800s, an author named Sir Walter Scott wrote a book called "Anne of Geierstein." You may be familiar with his work because the author is world-renowned. His reputation aside, his novel was the first introduction to the concept that opals are bad luck charms. Bottom line: the rumor is literary fiction and holds no truth whatsoever.
There aren't any legitimate nonfiction accounts of opals being bad luck. Unfortunately, superstition prevails and when a culture responds to something, it has a way of sticking around. The notion spread like wildfire, and now, many people mistake fiction as fact, despite it being a fabricated story trope in 1829.
After the publication of his book, Sir Walter Scott single-handedly caused a decline in opal sales. Not only did the sales decline rapidly, but jewelers started marking them down with the hope that lower prices would revive the market. Opal jewelers and sellers suffered financially as their businesses dwindled at the hands of a beloved writer’s imaginative tale.
Rather than acknowledging De Beers as the founders of the rumor, Sir Walter Scott is the real architect of this complex story. Except that unlike fiction stories, the opal rumor had real consequences.
So, case closed, right? Well, Sir Walter Scott wasn't the only one to talk about this theory prior to De Beers. Back in December, 1874, another respectable author brushed their pen on the subject.
Famous writer Charles Dickens authored a short story called "The Opal Ring." Incorporating opals as bad luck charms, Charles Dickens explained the ways that opals inflict a lifetime of misfortune to their owners. Can you imagine the damage this second work of literature did to the opal industry? Dickens’ story solidified the idea that opals are undoubtedly bad luck.
At that point, two authors with influence caused their audiences to stay as far away from opals as possible. And that was enough to make the opal industry altogether implode.
It seems awfully harsh that such a majestic and beloved gemstone should fall victim to such damaging rumors, but that’s the history! If it sounds stranger than fiction, you are right. This is one instance in history where fiction dictated reality and, in a turn of events, resulted in a stranger story altogether.
We’ve cleared De Beers as the prime suspect for authoring the rumor, but they shouldn’t get off too easily. After all, the company fanned the flames of this wildfire to keep the rumor alive. In the latter half of the 1800s, miners uncovered opals in rural areas of the Australian outback.
A new rumor swirled: the land yielded fields of beautiful black opals.
A man named Tullie Cornthwaite Wollaston set out to discover these curious gemstones. As a native Australian, he knew the land well. After discovering a plethora of opals, Wollaston carried his treasures to European countries, starting with England.
When he arrived in London, he eventually encountered De Beers Jewellers, and from there, he started doing business with them. Shocked? As we said, the story is quite a perplexing tale!
In short: two authors wrote books claiming opals were bad luck, people got scared and stopped buying opals, then black opals surfaced in Australia, Wollaston sold them to De Beers (despite all the opal controversy) and the rest is history!
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