Gemmologists can distinguish more than 140 varieties of opal, depending on colour, composition and place of origin. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two large groups: noble stones, with a characteristic iridescence, and ordinary ones, without such iridescence.
But regardless of how you divvy up the stones, you would be hard-pressed to find two the same. Each individual opal possesses a unique composition. The brighter and more interesting the opal, the more actively it determines the specific architecture of a piece of jewellery, in some cases dictating its shape and design. Yet, paradoxically, the more unusual an opal, the harder it can be to create a worthy piece of surrounding jewellery! This is precisely the reason why I treat a certain breed of designs – those that are neither excessively simple nor excessively gaudy - with such special reverence.
The play of light is the opal’s most valuable quality. It is for precisely this reason that a stone is often cut into a rounded cabochon, ensuring the entire surface of the stone is even and smooth. Through this kind of processing, the stone can fully reveal its potential and display the true wonder of its possible colour spectrum. In some cases, opals retain an organic and fluid shape that can look especially striking in high jewels. It is the art of the designer to encapsulate these natural forms into a piece that presents a precious opal’s colour to its best advantage.
Opals can be seen in works by Dior, Boucheron, Feng J, Chopard, Louis Vuitton, Boghossian and other world-famous brands. These houses have placed colourful cabochons next to sapphires, rubies, and emeralds and in some cases, even offered them a position of priority over these more traditional stones! Take, for example, the star of Louis Vuitton's Bravery collection (which I should note is dedicated to Louis Vuitton's birthday) - the La Constellation D'Hercule or “The Constellation of Hercules” necklace - composed of 12 opals, 11 tanzanites and 9 tsavorites, studded with diamonds.
More recently, David Morris unveiled the Ribbon necklace at the heart of its Modern Classics High Jewellery collection. The pear-shaped black opal centre stone is from Australia and weighs 41 carats. It’s surrounded by white diamonds, pink and blue spinels, garnets, Paraiba tourmalines and further black opals of around 30 carats. Elsewhere, the Chaumet Ondes et Merveilles High Jewellery collection boasts the Gulf Stream necklace set with a 19.84-carat black Australian opal. Emeralds, sapphires, diamonds and Paraiba tourmalines are its precious co-stars.
And if you’re a fan of fire opal, I recommend a closer look at the Tasaki Atelier Ore necklace from the Radiant Sky High Jewellery collection. It’s set with a rainbow of coloured gems, but all appear to draw the eye to an oval-shaped fire opal cabochon that’s remarkably vibrant.
Below, I have drawn together an array of opal jewellery that showcases the natural beauty of the October birthstone. I invite you to create a dream shopping list for your own private collection…