Mexican Opal: The Bird of Paradise Stone
Today’s featured gemstone evokes thoughts of warmth, summer radiance, and fiery passion. It was known to the Aztecs as “the bird of paradise stone”, and is said to enhance confidence in the wearer. We’re talking about Mexican Opal!
How Mexican Fire Opal is Formed
As you may have guessed, volcanoes are key to the formation of Mexican Fire Opal. Silica-rich lava and mineral-rich water seep into the host rock (usually Rhyolite), and form Mexican Fire Opals under pressure.
Like other Opals, they are amorphous, which means they don’t have a specific crystalline structure. Instead, they have microscopic spheres of silica that act as prisms and reflect light beautifully. Because of this, Fire Opals can show more than one color, especially when held in the light.
You might expect the lava in Mexican Opal’s formation to contribute to its signature red-orange hue. But the real color culprit might surprise you. It’s a little chemical compound known as iron oxide.
Is Mexican Opal Always Red-Orange?
Mexican Opals typically range from light yellow all the way to rich red, hence the “Fire Opal” nickname. But when classifying Opals, gemologists like to use the background color in the nomenclature. For example, when we talk about Black Opals, we’re not really talking about an all black gem; we’re referring to Opals with a black “backdrop” that accentuates other colors. Similarly, Mexican Opals have a fire-toned backdrop. Their prism-like structure lends itself to a striking play of color, so they can display all the colors of the rainbow!
Here’s an Amáli example of a Mexican Opal that doesn’t fit what you might imagine as “Fire Opal”. If you look closely, there’s hints of green hidden in the inner yellow portion. Then it’s bordered by a contrasting blue and purple for some real depth. Needless to say, if you love unique gemstones that don’t fit a particular “box”, you need to add Mexican Opal to your jewelry box!
Where to Find Fire Opal
Mexico isn’t the only place to find Fire Opal, and all Mexican Opals aren’t necessarily Fire Opals. But with hundreds of mines, Mexico is by far the largest producer of quality Fire Opal. So the terms Mexican Opal and Fire Opal are often interchanged.
You can also find Fire Opal along the West Coast of the United States, Ethiopia, and in Australia. However, the Australian ones usually take on a lighter, more translucent color. Mexican Fire Opals are beloved for their warm hues that range from yellow to deep red and are usually surrounded by a “pink-sand” host rock. Sometimes you’ll see only the colorful Opal portion carved out, but many jewelers like to highlight the natural beauty of Mexican Opal surrounded by its host.
At Amáli, we carry these unique handcrafted Mexican Opal earrings that display the “fire hue” shining through the middle of a milky exterior. The result is something reminiscent of mystical dragon eggs!
What Does Mexican Opal Represent?
Mexican Opal represents joy, passionate love, and confidence. Have an important presentation coming up? Mexican Opal could give a boost of confidence! Additionally, it is said to promote good fortune in business, so it makes an excellent gift for entrepreneurs.
The Mayan and Aztec peoples have cherished Mexican Opal since ancient times and revered it as “the stone of the bird of paradise”. Some believed it to contain life-giving heavenly waters and it was sometimes buried with the dead.
Today Mexican Opal is still seen as a gemstone of love and passion and is growing in popularity as an engagement ring. While Mexican Opal is suitable for daily wear, we recommend taking extra caution with it. If you plan on wearing your ring 24/7, you may want to opt for a harder, more durable stone. Don’t let this deter you though! If you know you won’t remember to take your ring off, you can choose something like these gorgeous Mexican Opal earrings! They won’t be nearly as exposed to the elements as a ring.
Is Mexican Opal Durable?
Due to the nature of its formation, Mexican Opal contains a high amount of water and is not super durable. Fortunately, there are treatments that make these gorgeous Opals suitable for jewelry. If you buy your Opal from a reputable designer like Amáli, it will already be treated. Most commonly, the pores are filled with resin and heat treated to stabilize the gemstone. If you’ve read our Turquoise blog, this may sound familiar!
Caring for Mexican Opal: Fiery but Fragile!
Even treated, Mexican Opals are delicate and should be treated with the utmost care. With a 5.5-6.5 Mohs score, they are more susceptible to scratching than most other gems. So be mindful of wearing Opal jewelry (Mexican or otherwise) when doing rigorous hands-on activities, and keep it separated from other jewelry pieces.
Like most gemstones, Mexican Opals can be damaged by bleach or other chemicals. So remember to take your jewelry off while cleaning. Also, it may seem ironic for a gemstone that represents fire, but Mexican Opal can be severely damaged by prolonged sunlight. You can (and totally should) wear your Mexican Opal outside! Just don’t forget about it in a hot car. It won’t melt back into lava, but it can fade.
Styling Mexican Opal
The unique thing about Mexican Opal is that it can take on different looks depending on how the gem is cut. For example, we love the solid orange ones for bold, confident looks. Although we’d never restrict jewelry to a season, these types are absolutely stunning in the summer!
Mexican Opals with the milky exterior are still bold, but in an entirely different way. These Opals evoke myth and fantasy. Displaying a wide range of colors, these gems can pair with just about anything in your wardrobe and are sure to get many compliments.
We hope you’re excited to check out Mexican Opals now that you know more about them! They are truly unique gemstones with a lot to offer the wearer.
If you found this blog interesting, you’ll also love our Boulder Opals blog post!