Opal is an atypical stone that invites dreams and fantastic stories. As we gaze upon it, we make it our own, imagining a world, a landscape, as the light sublimates it.

The fantastic, ever-changing play of opal reflects the variations in people's emotions and states of mind. To each his own opal, his own mood, his own vision of things. Opals are like human emotions: always different, always new. Philippe Tournaire is particularly fond of this stone of character, which arouses our curiosity and charms us with its enigmatic, unexpected beauty.
In many cases, when we think of "opal", the first thing that springs to mind are the superstitions associated with it, sometimes with pejorative connotations.

In reality, as we shall see in the explanations that follow, opal has been considered a bearer of hope,amour and purity for many peoples since the dawn of time. All that nature has to offer in the way of splendour seems to come together in the lush, varied reflections of a quality opal: fire, rainbow-coloured lightning and the gentle brilliance of the southern seas. The source of many legends and superstitions, this astonishing stone has enjoyed an ever-changing reputation through the ages and across cultures.

Opal: technical data and handling tips

- Age of opal : Scientists believe that most opal deposits formed between 15 and 30 million years ago.

- Opal crystal formula: SiO2, nH2O. Opal is a hydrated silicon dioxide and has no crystalline structure.

- Hardness: 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. For information, the Mohs scale was invented by mineralogist Mohs to measure a gem's hardness, i.e. its ability to resist scratching. The Mohs scale runs from 1 to 10, with diamond having a hardness of 10, and dry soap and talc a hardness of 1.

- Cleaning opal : Gently massage with a slightly damp cloth.

- Precautions: Like all beautiful things, opal needs to be cared for. Sudden changes in temperature can cause opal to crack, as it is composed of water. So beware of sudden changes from hot to cold, as with ultrasonic cleaning.

- Opal derivatives: There are synthetic opals on the market, as well as doublets and triplets, generally composed of a thin layer of opal, synthetic or otherwise. What distinguishes a real opal from a fake is the degree of uniformity of the color reflections. Looking at the stone from the side, if you see columns of abnormally uniform colors, it's a fake opal. Also, when viewed from above, natural opal shows comb-like color reflections, while false opal will show honeycomb-like reflections that are also similar to snakeskin.

Opal, water and the fire of colors

This "stone of riddles", as Philippe Tournaire calls it, was formed by changes in sea level, filling cracks and cavities in the ground with deposits such as silica gel. Opal is composed of between 3% and 30% water, and must therefore be handled with care. It is in fact a hydrated silicate with the particularity of revealing rainbow-colored reflections: like a drop of gasoline on water. That's what makes it so special. When such a play of colors takes place, we speak of noble opal or precious opal. This unique iridescence results from the absorption and reflection of colors by the silica microbeads that make up the opal. The more evenly the beads are distributed, the more intense the play of colors; conversely, when the beads are randomly distributed, there is no play of sparkling colors. This is known as common opal. Hence the singularity and rarity of this stone with its extraordinary reflections. The color play of opals is always very different, depending on the color of the stone and the way the light plays with it. There are several types of reflections, known by names such as "harlequin", "peacock tail", "flash", "small dots"...

The value of an opal

We judge opals according to our own criteria of beauty, our own tastes and what the opal inspires in us. On a more technical level, opals are judged according to 5 very distinct factors: the type of opal, the intensity of its play of colors, its transparency, its clarity and its cut. Pendant trilogy diamonds and opal.

The different faces of opal

Opals can take any shape and are known by many different names. The 4 largest opal varieties are listed below:

Black opal
Black opal can display a beautiful play of intense colors against a dark background. It comes from Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, Australia, the world's leading source of black opal. It is also found in Queensland - northeastern Australia - and South Australia. It is one of the world's rarest and most coveted opals.

Boulder opal
Boulder opal is the opal with the sparkling coloured border between the brown layers that make up the opal's bedrock. This bedrock can be either sandstone or ironstone. The contrast between the bedrock and the opal veins enhances the intensity of its colors. The only place in the world where boulder opals are mined is Winton Shire in Queensland.

White opal
White opal is transparent. It is the most familiar to the general public, as it is much more common and easier to find than high-end opals such as black opal, whose brilliance is often brighter. It is found in Mintabie, Coober Pedy and Andamooka in South Australia, as well as in White Cliffs in New South Wales.

Fire opal
Fire opal is a bright orange opal that does not necessarily show a play of colors. It can be faceted, whereas opals with color play are often cabochon-cut, or even retain their original shape for maximum effect. It is mainly found in Mexico, in the states of Querétaro and Sonora, as well as in Mexico City. Around 90% of opals come from Australia. This country produces the majority of black, white and boulder opals. Over the years, opals have never ceased to fascinate cultures the world over. And every country has its own special relationship with this bewitching stone. It's the journey of opals through the ages and continents that makes up its extraordinary history. Pendant with 3 opals

Opal through the ages

The origin of the term opal comes from the Sanskrit "Upala" meaning "precious stone". Later, the Greeks named it "Opallios", meaning "to see a change of color". Opals have always been honored by Orientals, who called them the "Anchor of Hope". In ancient Greece, opals were as highly prized as diamonds. And it was said to have the gift of foretelling the future. In Ancient Rome, it was called "the queen of gems" because it had all the colors of the other gems. For them, opal was the symbol of hope, purity andamour. They ranked it 2nd only to emeralds in terms of value.
In the Middle Ages, opals were used to treat eye diseases, and later blond women were wont to wear hair accessories with inlaid opals, believing that these magical stones would prevent their beautiful hair from turning grey. The Holy Roman Emperor's crown contained a breathtaking opal, called "Orphanus". It was said to preserve the honor of the Empire. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, opal was also part of the crown jewels in France and Hungary. Napoleon presented Empress Josephine with the "Fire of Troy", a magnificent opal with luminous red reflections.

Opals from the Hofburg treasure trove in Austria are also renowned: among them is the great collection of Princess Stephanie of Belgium: opal belts, bracelets, earrings, pins and necklaces. Queen Victoria's collection is no less famous. As sovereign of Australia, home of the most remarkable black opals, the Queen had access to the most prestigious stones. She wore them throughout her reign, and gave them as gifts to friends, daughters and granddaughters, symbolizing theamour and purity suggested by opal. Opals became highly sought-after, as the Royal Court of England was considered to be the model of fashion throughout the world.

In the 19th century, although opals were considered to be good luck charms by the Queen, they gained a completely different reputation on the French side. There are several theories to explain this phenomenon.
The most plausible is that 19th-century lapidaries and setters were penalized if they damaged the stones when setting them. As this had happened to them on several occasions when handling opal, they believed the gem to be a bad omen and therefore synonymous with bad luck. However, opal's popularity was gradually rehabilitated, thanks in part to prominent figures such as Queen Victoria, and the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who wore sumptuous opals when she played Cleopatra in 1890. Fortunately, a 1902 discovery in New South Wales, Australia, eclipsed this gloomy view of opal. At Lightning Ridge, miners unearthed a brand-new form of precious opal: black opal. The opal market took off again. A few years later, opals enjoyed their golden age during the Art Deco period (from 1920 to 1939): artists designing models gave them preference over many other stones, due to their discreet charm.

Since the dawn of time and still today, opals have been a stone of enigmas, never to be forgotten. For many, it evokes a stone in its own right, with countless virtues. Legend or reality, everyone is free to believe it. Whatever the case, the various legends relating to opal and its virtues reinforce the fact that this enigmatic stone will always be present in the minds of those who admire it. For the past 40 years, Philippe Tournaire has been using opal in timeless jewelry creations that bring this exceptional stone to light.

The Tournaire team offers opal discovery workshops during which sublime opals are presented and can be used to create personalized jewelry.

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