As early as the 14th century, Mayan and Aztec Indians gathered Mexican fire opals. They called it “quetzalitzlipyollitli,” but this national gemstone of Mexico is also more easily pronounced and referred to as fire opal, sun opal, cherry opal, and the Spanish word for sunflower - girasol. The Mayans and Aztecs used this gem in mosaics and for ritualistic purposes while today it decorates jewelry pieces such as necklaces, brooches, earrings, cufflinks, and bracelets. After the passing of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, the knowledge and appreciation for fire opals disappeared. The early 1800’s saw the emergence of mining for fire opals and a renewed appreciation for their beauty in jewelry.
Mexican fire opal is a mineral which is formed when silica and water deposits are left in the voids created by volcanic gas bubbles and rock fractures. The silica does not crystallize, but rather solidifies to form a gel filled with microscopic bubbles which trap the water. When light makes contact with this gem, the light passes through the microscopic water bubbles and creates a spectrum of color – essentially creating a rainbow. The most significant deposits of fire opals are found near the extinct volcanoes in Queretaro and Jalisco, Mexico.
The derivation of opal is from both Greek and ancient Sanskirt. The Greek word opalliostranslates to “sees a change in color” while the word upalatranslates to “precious stone.” Mexican fire opals are characterized with the following attributes: warmth, intense love, good health, courage, stamina, will power, energy and foresight. Opal is the October birthstone and can be worn in necklaces, brooches, earrings, cufflinks, and bracelets. In gemstone therapy, fire opals are believed to diminish blockages and to free feelings. Many people experience a feeling of warmth when they see and wear fire opal jewelry. For this reason jewelry which incorporates fire opals appeals most to those with active lifestyles and positive approaches to life.
Mexican fire opals have a low tolerance to heat and are easily broken by sharp objects. Opals which are left in direct sunlight or hot, enclosed spaces can crack. Maintaining the water content of the opal is extremely important to the durability of the stone. Over time opal can become dehydrated and brittle. To avoid this dehydration, opals should be stored away from high temperatures and rubbed with light oil.