Fire opals are unique in the lush world of the opals. They glow with the fire of the sun: hot yellows, oranges, and reds so bright they look as though they could glow in the dark. Fire opal that displays play of color is rare because volcanic opal forms relatively quickly and the spheres of silica rarely have time to settle into the diffraction grids that create play of color. Fire opal sometimes does have play of color like other opals (precious fire opal) but it does not need this to take a starring role in jewelry. Its juicy color is just the right accent to earth tones or black and also looks great paired with other bright tones.
Unlike most opal, fire opal is often faceted, so you can choose sparkle as well as color. Because it is light as well as bright, fire opal is especially good for earrings, where even small sizes have a big punch of color. With a hardness of between 6 and 6.5 on the Mohs scale, however, the fire opal is among the somewhat sensitive gemstones which require a protective setting, especially when worn as a ring stone. Be especially careful with the points of marquise and pear shapes. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.
Fire Opal was born in fire, in the ancient volcanoes of Mexico. Fire opal forms when water seeps into silica-rich lava, filling seams and hollows. Under heat and pressure, the silica forms a solid gel, trapping the remaining water within its structure. Small pebbles of fire opal are found embedded in lava flows.
It is in Mexico that the most significant fire opal deposits in the world lie. Rock strata containing opals run through the Mexican highlands, with their many extinct volcanoes. With a few exceptions, the gemstone, which lies hidden in cavities and crevices, is extracted in open-cast mines, the work giving rise to impressive canyons with walls up to 60 metres high and labyrinthine passages which wind their way through the mining areas. Fire opal is mined in the Mexican states of Queretaro, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Michoacan, Julisio, Chihuahua and San Luis Potosi. The most important mines in Queretaro were discovered in 1835 and are still producing today. Fire opal can also be found in Brazil and in Oregon and British Columbia in smaller quantities.
Sometimes, these orange-red gemstones are also found in other countries, in Honduras or Guatemala, in the USA, Canada, Australia, Ethiopia and Turkey, but these are mostly sites of little or no economic significance. With Brazil it is a different matter. Several years ago, in an agate mine near Campos Borges in the South Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul, fire opals coloured yellow to orange were discovered. They distinguish themselves by their beautiful colour, often with slight clouding, but without play of color. Their warm, expressive orange comes in all varieties from yellow to light red, sometimes with a brownish undertone. What is particularly remarkable is the sheer size of the raw stones. Some of them are as big as a man's fist, which opens up completely new possibilities in the way they can be worked. Today, these Brazilian fire opals are setting new trends in the fascinating world of gemstones.
Fire opal, like all opal, has a high water content. As a result, it should be protected from heat and prolonged exposure to strong light, which could dry it out. Dealers cure fire opal by drying it before cutting to make sure that any instability can be eliminated The tolerance of the fire opal to extreme heat is just as poor as its resistance to acids, alkaline solutions and sharp objects. Very unfavourable conditions compel the opal to surrender its moisture, which can make it cloudy and cracked. Like all opals, it should not be exposed to intense light over long periods. However, it loves to be worn a lot, since this enables it to maintain its water balance, using the moisture of the wearer's skin and that of the air. Having said that, it should be protected against contact with cosmetics. Fire opals which have become dull through being worn a great deal can be repolished.
In gemstone therapy, opals are generally regarded as gems which people choose intuitively when they are working on a particular aspect of their personality. Seen like this, the fire opal is a good means of helping to make feelings flow and resolve blockages. Connoisseurs say that fire opals bestow courage, stamina, will-power and energy on the wearer. Thanks to their force they disperse old, long outdated ways of thinking and make room for new ones. The warm, fiery orange-red has a positive effect on the psyche and conveys a profound sensation of warmth, peace and harmony. The fire opal is the lucky stone of those born under the sign Aries.
Play of colour, body colour and transparency are the three criteria which determine the price of a fire opal. The more transparency and 'fire' it has, and the more intense the deep red of its body colour, the more valuable it will be. The rarest, and thus the most highly esteemed, is the intense red-orange fire opal from Mexico with its strong play of colour. A higher value is placed on fine cabochons with the much loved typical play of colour of the opals than on good, faceted fire opals. These gems, which glow from orange to red, are treasures which appeal most of all to active people with a positive approach to life. Their warm, fiery colour gives us vigour, fills us with the joys of life and opens our senses to the beauty of Nature. After all, fire opals are themselves a piece of Nature in its most beautiful form.
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