|Lydia Courteille Seahorses Necklace has more than 20 grams of blue Australian opals with white diamonds, black diamonds, fancy sapphires, amethysts, sapphires all set in 18k gold|
Opal, unlike most gemstones, doesn’t sparkle and glitter. What it does is display every color of the rainbow in a limitless palette of combinations. In some cases, it even has a phosphorescent quality. When jewelry designers are added, the possibilities expand even further.
For example, there’s Lydia Courteille. I asked her at the recently concluded Couture Show in Las Vegas where she gets her design ideas. The Parisian jeweler gave me a look of confusion, almost pity, and said, “From my head.”
That’s some head that thought of then executed the Seahorses necklace at the top of this story. The elaborate jewelry piece that displays an active, underwater scene with gem encrusted seahorses and a crab, and gems shaped as a coral. There is a lot precious material that went into this necklace, including white and black diamonds, fancy colored sapphires and amethysts.
However, taking center stage in this sculptural piece are two oval shaped blue Australian opals, each making up the body of the seahorses. This necklace embodies not only the design and craftsmanship skills of Courteille, but also the variety of designs and even mystical connections that people have with opal.
|Sutra Jewels bracelet with 28 carats of white Ethiopian opals with diamonds and pink spinels set in 18k rose gold|
This year’s Couture Show provided strong evidence that there is resurgence in opal jewelry. Sweta Jain, founder and head designer of colored gemstone company Goshwara, noticed this, adding that opal jewelry seems to go through stages of being fashionable.
“Although opals have always been around and somewhat popular, they are really trending past few years, especially in fine jewelry,” she says. “Their usage has been quite significant in statement jewelry as well.”
|Goshwara opal bead 12 strand tassel earrings in 18k with diamonds and onyx|
Jewelry designer Erica Courtney, well-known for her colored-gemstone based jewelry, is equally intrigued by opal’s history, mystery and use in contemporary jewelry design.
“I can imagine why it was the choice of kings and queens because of the magical powers opals seem to possess,” she says. “The play of color in opals is so gorgeous they sometimes don't even seem real and yet they are. Opals are hypnotizing, romantic, and I think, one of the greatest most beautiful phenomena in nature.”
|Erica Courtney Cupcake Ring features a 7.41-carat Brazilian crystal opal with a diamond surround set in 18k gold|
Gurhan Orhan, better known simply as Gurhan, is well-known throughout the world for his hand-crafted 24k gold jewelry. But he is also a collector and admirer of gemstones that he combines with his gold pieces. His latest collections presented at the Couture Show include a large bib-necklace that uses 62 mixed sized oval cabochon opals.
“Opals have a shimmering luminescence. Whether it’s a soft silky glow or fiery highlights there is a mysterious quality about this stone that is extraordinarily intriguing,” he says. “I usually check opals under magnification before using them in my pieces, and get lost in the colorful world inside. I can easily say that it is one of my favorite stones to work with.”
|Gurhan Paradiso Necklace with 62 mixed sized oval cabochon opals and 39 rose cut white diamonds set in 24k gold|
Like Courtney, Gurhan is fascinated by its mystical qualities. Historically, it is believed to have healing powers and its color combinations are said to reflect the changing emotions and moods of individuals.
“The jewelry I make with opals gives me some extra pleasure. I take them as magical and I believe the wearers are feeling the same,” Gurhan says. “As you look at an opal stone from different angles, you can see totally different sparkles in different colors. This makes me believe that opal is the stone for diversity, change, adventure, which fits my nature.”
|Lisa Nik asymmetric opal and diamond earrings in 18k rose gold with diamonds|
When combined with other materials the opportunity to showcase more colors expands, says jewelry designer Nikfarjam of the Lisa Nik jewelry brand.
“They pick up the color of whatever metal and other stones they are placed next to,” she says. “I love the way that rose gold picks up the pinkish tones and white gold makes them look more white and dramatic. When I wear opal earrings with my signature green quartz necklace, the opals look more greenish in tone.”
|Katherine Jetter Marquis ring with a 26.41ct boulder opal, orange and red sapphires set in 20k yellow gold|
Most of the world’s opal comes from Australia, but there are other sources, including South America, Africa and the US.
Katherine Jetter—a native Australian who now lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico—works exclusively with Australian opals, creating contemporary jewelry with the historically significant gem.
“As an Australian and as a designer I wanted to pay tribute to my country’s national gemstone and bring opals into the 21st century—both in terms of recognition and design,” she says. “It’s been my life’s work to elevate these stones within the international jewelry community and help spark the resurgence they are seeing now.”
|Le Vian 18k "Honey Gold" ring with a 42.19 "Spumoni" opal|
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