Ethiopian Opal (Welo opal)

Ethiopian Opal was a gift from the gods

Ethiopian opal rough

Ancient people believed that opal was a gift from the gods. Allegedly, it came down to us from the sky. There is some truth in this since NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered opal deposits on Mars. Yet, ethereal opals are born in the bowels of the earth. If you're looking for an astounding mineral for your jewelry, Ethiopian Opal is exactly the right thing.

The History of Ethiopian Opal

Opals have been known since the dawn of civilization. Writers compared them to volcanoes, galaxies, and fireworks. Admirers and connoisseurs gave the stone poetic names – Pandora, Light of the World, Empress, etc. In ancient Rome, the gem symbolized love and hope. It was the Romans who dubbed the gem ‘opalus’ which meant ‘precious stone’.

While opals have been around for millennia, Ethiopian varieties have been in the limelight only since the late 20th century. For the first time, gemstones from Ethiopia entered the international market in 1993 when Mezezo deposits in the Shewa region were discovered. These stones were part of stratified volcanic rock. Featuring orange and reddish-brown body colors, they are known as fire opals. In 2008, the Welo Province near Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, acquired worldwide fame when the first batches of milky white and almost translucent stones were brought to light. 2013 marked the opening of the Stayish mine in the same province. The mine became a source of rare black opals.

The very first Welo opals were of mediocre quality since they had a tendency to crack. However, as the mines deepened, the quality of Ethiopian gemstones increased significantly. Today, Welo opal is considered the most stable among other Ethiopian counterparts.

Ethiopian opal, gemstone crystal

The Meaning of Ethiopian Opal

Despite the fact that the Ethiopian opal mining industry is relatively young, early men discovered the gems centuries ago. Because the deposits lie close to the surface in some places, they were easy to mine for trade and collecting. Dr. Leakey discovered opal artifacts in Kenya, and this means that the opal trade took place far beyond Ethiopia.

Ethiopian opal history

Historians speculate that Ethiopian opals were part of the jewelry collection of the Queen of Sheba. Traveling to Jerusalem, she presented some of her opals to King Solomon. A particularly impressive opal was the cause of contention between Mark Antony and Senator Nonius. The emperor wanted to purchase a magnificent opal as a gift to Cleopatra but the senator did not want to part with his precious asset. Then Mark Antony ordered to kill the senator. Rumor has it that the stone helped Nonius escape death. Since then, people have come to believe in the mystical properties of opal, especially in its power to bring good luck.

Two Types of Opal

Opals are formed as a result of volcanic activity, thermal springs, and erosion. All opals available today are of either sedimentary or hydrothermal origin. Sedimentary opals occur when water seeps through the ground and captures dissolved silicates. Once in a cavity, water leaves and silicates form microscopic spheres, which later harden and become gemstones. Deposits of sedimentary opals are found in Australia.

Ethiopian opals are of hydrothermal origin. They are born in igneous rocks through post-volcanic and hydrothermal processes. Their unique structure is the result of cracks and chips that are filled with mineral inclusions. Thanks to these markings, opals display a mesmerizing play of colors.

Ethiopian gemstones are otherwise known as hydrophane opals. These opals are microporous, i.e. they can absorb water and other fluids. Opals react unpredictably after being introduced to water. Some stones can get cloudy, another become completely translucent, and others may lose their opalescence. Normally, the stones regain their original features after drying. Still, if it is dried incorrectly (very quickly or at high temperature) Ethiopian opal might get cracks. Overall, the water content in opals is ranging between 13 and 30%.

Ethiopian opal healing properties

Healing Properties of Ethiopian Opal

Like all natural stones, Ethiopian opals have a number of magical properties that can impact a person’s health and wellbeing.

Shamans suggest wearing opal jewelry to facilitate a search for love. According to mediums, these stones help open the chakras and have a beneficial effect on the mood. On top of that, they make it easier to find a soul mate and bring happiness to life.

Ethiopian opals are capable of improving health in both men and women. At least, this is what lithotherapy, healing practices using stones, claims. Besides that, opals promote the correct operation of the nervous system, increase stress resistance, and improve concentration. When it comes to psychological health, experts say that opals relieve anxiety and drive away depression.

Ethiopian opal healing properties

As for astrology, Ethiopian opals are the best choice for people born under the Libra sign. The gemstones are supposed to give them confidence and strength to solve all problems. As a result, they help find success in business matters and love life.

Opal is also known as the October birthstone. Some people think that those born in other months shouldn’t wear opal jewelry. This superstition stems from ‘Anna Geerstein’ novel by Walter Scott. In fact, opals are compatible with everybody. These stones are like lucky charms. It is easy to start believing in their magical powers when observing these electrifying flashes of colors.

Precious Opal

Gemologists, gem experts, have long been disputing whether opals are precious or not. Noble opals, i.e. stones that display vibrant pure colors, the richness of shades, and iridescence, are highly valued among jewelers and jewelry enthusiasts. The value of some stones can reach thousands of dollars, and the unique 360 ct. Royal Opal was estimated at $3 million. From this standpoint, jewelry-grade opals are precious stones.

Common opals, i.e. those devoid of opalescence and translucent colors, rarely become part of jewelry. Their price is negligible compared to their noble counterparts. These opals are not precious. Overall, the right approach to sizing up opals is to consider them semi-precious.

Ethiopian Opals in Jewelry

Opals are fairly fragile stones. If you drop a piece of jewelry embellished with opals, there is a high risk of chipping or cracking. When it comes to settings, the best options are silver and gold. Milky white and almost clear crystal opals will look great in a silver setting. The pale metal is able to highlight and enhance their sublime beauty. Gold is an excellent companion for fire opals showcasing yellow and orange hues. Some believe that gold can enhance the magical properties of the stone.

Ethiopian opal is called Welo opal

Ethiopian Opal Cabochon

The most popular opal cuts are cabochons of various shapes and sizes - round (beads), oval, teardrop, pear, etc. Their smooth polished surface is able to accurately convey the distinctive play of color. Faceted cuts are less common due to the softness and tendency to crack inherent in Ethiopian opal. However, faceted with a high degree of craftsmanship, these stones will be a worthy addition to your jewelry making supply.

Kenkengems offers a wide range of Ethiopian opal for sale in stands and loose stone batches. Hand-picked from reputable suppliers and processed with the utmost care, they carry cabochon, round (beads), and faceted cuts. No matter which type you choose, we guarantee superlative quality.

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