Long plagued by superstition, the charm of opals has transcended centuries. During recent years, its spectacular rise to fame has also resulted in one of the decade’s most prominent jewellery trends. On top of established jewellery maisons, many fashion-forward jewellers have also fallen in love with opals.
Although available in varying grades, the rarest opals are highly regarded by jewellery maisons for their uniqueness and mystique. While nearly 90 per cent of the world’s finest opals originate from Australian mines, a small percentage of highly sought-after stones come from Ethiopia and Mexico.
In 2016, Louis Vuitton’s Acte V The Escape high jewellery collection featured a necklace set with a triangular Australian black opal weighing 87.92 carats, making it one of the heftiest opals ever used in contemporary high jewellery.
Due to its unique crystal structure, no two opals are the same. Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior Joaillerie, is well-known for her love of opals, and has included opals in nearly every collection she has created over the past two decades. In 2017, she even dedicated an entire high jewellery collection, Dior et d’Opales, to her favourite gemstone.
She describes the opal as a “very poetic stone,” noting that “it’s like an invitation to enter a fairy tale, to experience magic. When I look at an opal, I feel like I’m seeing the earth from afar, the oceans, the archipelagos, and the reflections of stars on ocean waves… I see it as nature’s gemstone par excellence, a stone that’s so intertwined with femininity, its connection becomes organic.”
In Dior’s latest high jewellery collection, Dior et Moi, de Castellane works her magic yet again by pairing black opals with contrasting colours from emeralds, red spinels and green lacquer.
Enthralling as they are, opals are also extremely difficult to work with because of their fragility. With a high water content, opals are significantly softer than other gemstones, and thus unable to take on faceted shapes like diamonds and sapphires. Jewellers often present opals as cabochons or leave them in their organic form.
Black opals in particular, are often used by jewellers to depict the night sky or the mysterious galaxy. In Chaumet’s Les Ciels de Chaumet high jewellery collection, the Bague Planetes ring paired diamond-set star shapes against a vivid black opal, mimicking glistening planets along the milky way.
In both last year’s Magnitude and this year’s SurNaturel high jewellery collections, Cartier also chose to work with opals. One of the highlights of this year’s collection would be the Hemis necklace, which features more than 20 irregularly shaped, violet-hued opals, juxtaposed with a 71.08-carat kunzite and white diamonds. An organic feast for the eyes.
An early adopter of opals in high jewellery, Chopard’s Red Carpet collection this year also includes creations set with opals, including a whimsical Swan ring adorned with a 9.1-carat Mexican opal cabochon, as well as a pair of dramatic earrings set with a medley of black opals and other blue-hued stones.
If you’re one fashionista who likes to defy conventions and seek out one-of-a-kind gemstones beyond the usual suspects, opals are definitely a worthy investment.