Way back in 1939, Mary and Louis Leakey were poking around Olduvai Gorge, where they found evidence that opals had been used as tools, around 4,000 BCE. Talk about old-school! Of course, gems weren’t really their raison d’etre, for being in Africa; so the anthropologists returned to focusing on the bones, and the African opals weren’t thought of again, until the mid-'90s, when they were found at Ethiopia’s Yita Ridge. In 2008, Ethiopian opals really got into the swing of things, when they were found in Ethiopia’s Welo district.
Unlike the opals mined in Australia, which are formed in the sedimentary rock found in dried-out sea beds; Ethiopian opals are a result of volcanic activity and are known as “hydrophane” (Greek for “water-loving”), because they are able to absorb water (which changes their opacity from semi-translucent to transparent) and often, upon drying-out, will change back, again. Also, Ethiopian opals allow for faceting, which is simply not done with Australian opals.
Sometimes referred to as “Chocolate” opals, due to their brown hues (as opposed to “black” or “white”); their plays of color include reds and oranges being common, and greens and blues being rarer (the opposite of their cousins from Down-Under).
More and more often, Ethiopian opals are being utilized by the world’s finest jewelers (as seen above), including Arunashi’s “Petal” ring with its Ethiopian opal in a delicious shade of butterscotch with flashes of lime-green and hot pink; the one-of-a-kind “Cowboy tie” by Denmark’s Shamballa Jewels, featuring Ethiopian opals that look like marbles with fiery hues of orange and yellow; and Pamela Huizenga’s ring with its rare Ethiopian black opal in a verdant shade of green.
Furthermore, France’s venerable Maisons of haute joaillerie have been turning-out red carpet-ready pieces (see above) including Van Cleef & Arpels’ tassel necklace; Cartier’s bracelet from their Étourdissant collection built around a creamy Ethiopian opal of nearly 25cts; and the “Oulan-Bator” cuff, with its figural chimera that transforms into a brooch, from Victoire de Castellane’s Idylle Aux Paradise collection for Dior.
With a nod toward the metaphysical qualities of this cheerful mineral, Ethiopian opals are said to boost creativity and stoke the fires of one’s imagination; while lining up the spiritual, psychic, and astral planes. Also, ancient mystics thought that these fiery stones prepared one for rebirth, by causing one’s past karma to dissipate into the Universe. So, if you fear that, in a past life, you were Pol Pot, and worry about coming back as a banana slug; you could do worse than to drape yourself in some Ethiopian opals!
Get into it!
CREDITS: (clockwise from top left)
Theodoros – “Heaven and Hell” earrings in 18k gold. The Dove features a white Ethiopian opal (3.50cts) and diamonds (5.50cts), with articulated wings and tail. The Bat features a black Ethiopian opal (3.50cts) and black diamonds (5.00cts), with articulated wings – $34,282
Shamballa Jewels – Unique “Cowboy-Tie” featuring a solid faceted brown diamond (24.46cts), faceted gray diamonds (7.10cts), orange Ethiopian opal (14.10cts), pave diamond balls containing 301 G/VS diamonds, and 18k gold Star of Shamballa beads – $74,550
DIOR Joaillerie – Idylle aux Paradis “Oulan-Bator” cuff by Victoire de Castellane, featuring Ethiopian opal (7.56cts), 10 ammolites (35.55cts), emeralds (0.12cts), 883 diamonds (13cts), and lacquer, set in 18k gold, 18k white gold, and silver – $220,000
K Brunini Jewels – Objects Organique claw pendant featuring an Ethiopian opal orb, set in 18k gold with diamonds (0.50cts) – $30,480
Fernando Jorge – OOAK “Snake” ring featuring a yellow Ethiopian opal (10cts), yellow sapphires (4.35cts), and diamonds (2.90cts), set in 18kt gold – $53,505
Theo Fennell – Cufflinks of 18k white gold and black rhodium, each featuring an Ethiopian opal (6.22cts) surrounded by 28 diamonds – $15,600
Cartier - Étourdissant bracelet featuring a creamy colored Ethiopian opal (24.91cts) surrounded by garnets, tsavorites, colored sapphires, and diamonds, set in 18k white gold
Arunashi – “Petal” ring featuring an Ethiopian opal (10.38cts), Conch shell (30.58cts), tsavorite (2.82cts), and diamonds (0.51cts), set in 18k white gold – $44,500
Van Cleef & Arpels – High Jewelry tassel-necklace featuring an Ethiopian opal, set in 18k white gold, with citrine and diamonds, suspended from multiple strands of tsavorite beads
Jewellery Theatre – “Lace” ring featuring a cabochon Ethiopian Welo opal (9.96cts), tsavorites, orange sapphires, and yellow sapphires, set in 18k gold
Syna Jewels – “Kamala” pendant with Ethiopian opal (3.00cts) & diamonds (0.25cts), set in 18k gold, on 18” chain – $3,600
Goshwara – G-One tassel earrings in 18k gold featuring 12 strands of Ethiopian opals (58.26cts) with a cap of diamonds (2.55cts) and onyx – $19,500
Pamela Froman – OOAK “Mini Empress” ring, in 18k ‘crushed’ gold, featuring a pear-shaped faceted Ethiopian opal (2.54cts) surrounded by diamond pave (0.17cts) – $5,940
Pamela Huizenga – OOAK ring featuring a rare Ethiopian black opal (5.22cts), set in 18k gold with a halo of diamonds (0.425cts)
Sutra – Bracelet featuring white Ethiopian opals (28cts), diamonds (19cts), and pink spinels (7.5cts), set in 18k rose gold
Silvia Furmanovich – Butterfly ring in 18k gold, featuring an Ethiopian opal (15.35cts) and diamonds (2.07cts) – $28,800
Louis Vuitton – Chain Attraction ring featuring a mandarin garnet, Ethiopian Welo opals, and diamonds, set in 18k white gold
Lucifer vir Honestus – 18k rose gold earrings featuring pear-shaped Ethiopian opals, with naturally colored diamonds – $7,520