How did opals get their name?
The word ‘opal’ is adapted from the Latin term opalus, but the origin of this word is a matter of debate. However, most modern references suggest it is adapted from the Sanskrit word úpala.
References to the gem are made by Pliny the Elder. It is suggested to have been adapted from Ops, the wife of Saturn and goddess of fertility. The portion of Saturnalia devoted to Ops was “Opalia”, similar to opalus.
Another common claim that the term is adapted from the Ancient Greek word, opallios. This word has two meanings, one is related to “seeing” and forms the basis of the English words like “opaque”; the other is “other” as in “alias” and “alter”. It is claimed that opalus combined these uses, meaning “to see a change in color”. However, historians have noted the first appearances of opallios do not occur until after the Romans had taken over the Greek states in 180 BC, and they had previously used the term paederos.
However, the argument for the Sanskrit origin is strong. The term first appears in Roman references around 250 BC, at a time when the opal was valued above all other gems. The opals were supplied by traders from the Bosporus, who claimed the gems were being supplied from India. Before this the stone was referred to by a variety of names, but these fell from use after 250 BC.
The radiant warmth and exquisite beauty of Australian opals are a special love affair – once experienced never forgotten. The world’s finest are found throughout Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia and account for up to 95% of all the precious opals in the world. Here the geological, climatic and biological phenomena were perfect for the formation of opals partly due to the fact that what are now desert regions of Australia were once the Great Inland Sea.
Colour, pattern, clarity and weight determine their value. There are many types, forms, grades and sizes within these parameters, each with its own individual beauty.