If you love opal stones, chances are your birth month is October. Or, you’ve developed an appreciation for the unique and colorful radiance of opals.
What makes opals so special? Well, just one opal stone can encompass a spectrum of colors, all shining in an eye-catching, opalescent glow that’s entirely unique to opals.
You might be wondering why opals are so colorful and exactly what color they are. There are several factors that contribute to the unique rainbow of colors that an opal stone emits. However, to fully explain this natural wonder we first need to define some scientific terms.
Don’t worry, we won’t get too technical, but we will include just enough information to help you fully grasp what processes cause opals to have such colorful diversity.
An opal is an amorphous, or shapeless, stone made up of silica. The structure inside an opal stone contains tiny organized spheres, each lined in a consistent and organized arrangement. When light directly passes through these spheres and comes into contact with the silica, the light bends and emits a variety of colors.
Opals are the birthstone of October, and signify hope, purity and good fortune. These stunning stones are famous for their “play of color,” because they can quickly shift from light, incandescent colors to intense and bright fiery colors.
By definition, the word “opal” means to see a change in color. Below we’ll outline the science and terminology explaining why opal stones change colors so much.
When light breaks into a series of bands, they can either emit light, dark or colored bands. With opals, diffraction creates a broad spectrum of vivid colors ranging from pale grays to intense blues and fiery reds.
When light passes through an object and bends, it changes course from a direct or straight line. Deflection influences the visible light spectrum, allowing our eyes to see the complex array of opalescent colors radiating from an opal stone.
Few stones have a dedicated term to describe their unique appearance. Part of what makes opals so special is their opalescence. In short, opalescence relates to the optical effect garnered from the unique arrangement of features an opal has: gleam, color, sheen, glow and iridescence. The terms opalescence and iridescence are used interchangeably, however the former is directly attributed to the opal stone.
The size of the spheres inside the structure of an opal stone will influence which colors are visible to us. The light passing through an opal stone is first deflected, or bent, then diffracted, or broken up, and finally colors are emitted from the light rays in the stone. The reason opal appears iridescent and multi-colored is because when the stone is moved, light will hit different spheres at different angles within the stone, radiating a variety of unique colors. In this way, opals appear to be constantly changing and shifting their coloring.
Due to this factor, calling an opal one singular color is not necessarily easy as they contain multiple colors. No matter which way you tilt or shift an opal stone, it’ll reflect different colors each time. This is why opals make such attractive jewelry stones. While single color stones might pair well with a selection of colors, opals pull colors from every space in the rainbow, making them great statement pieces.
Just as the different angles you hold an opal will reveal different colors, the size of the stone will also dictate the color. That’s why it’s so difficult to define opal as a singular color. However, there are some rules of thumb.
As you’ve gathered by now, pinpointing one color to describe the vast array of colors within an opal stone is a difficult task. However, there are common categories of opals. Here’s a look at some of the popular and unique opal stones available:
Raw opal stones make unique decorations that are perfect for jewelry. Opals make beautiful necklace pendants, ring center stones and accent stones, necklaces and earrings. The wonderful thing about opals is that they come in a variety of shapes and colors, meaning you can customize your jewelry and have a wide range of styles to choose from.
Opals are often cut into unique shapes including hearts, triangles, rectangles and even the shape of animals like dolphins and turtles. Jewelers will even splice opals with other stones like lapis lazuli and labradorite to create a unique, colorful piece.
Whether worn as a matching earring set, a unique gemstone pendant or sparkling ring, opals are one of nature’s most eclectic and unique gifts. If you want to encapsulate the vivid spectrum of the rainbow into one stone, opals are the perfect choice.
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