October – opal
The story of Lady Hermione’s enchanted gem in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Anne of Geierstein,” describes how the opal that she wore in her hair sparkled when she was happy and reflected ominous flashes of red fire when she was angry. The magic spell was dissolved with a few drops of holy water – but the legend remains.
The flashes of colour in an opal are caused by the tiny spheres of the silica each containing water. The refraction of light on each of these bubbles creates the fabulous colours and iridescence that is unique to this gemstone – but whilst it most beautiful of gemstones it is also one of the most delicate.
Opals come in many colours. Milky white is the most common, but fire opals from Mexico are brilliant orange and display flashes of green and blue fire; water opals which are almost transparent; and black opals from Australia have a dramatic black or grey base colour lit with flashes of green, blue, red and orange. The Flame Queen, a black opal found at Lightening Ridge in New South Wales, Australia, originated in an ancient mine and weighed 253 carats. Opals are still mined in the area.
Opals have been imitated from the days of Pliny, using polished domes of quartz or glass. For Pliny, the opal was also important as a talisman and the legendary “Opal of Nonius” – a stone as large as a hazelnut – was the chosen gem of Anthony as he led the Roman legions to safety.
Opals: Photography Paul Hartley, Hartley Studios: www.hartleystudios.com