Louisiana opal

I’ve been splurging on myself a bit since I got the raise at work, but I figure I’m allowed after more than a year of being unemployed. (I like to say I was self-employed, because I was selling the occasional print or vintage camera through my Etsy shop, but who am I kidding, that wasn’t enough to live on.)

louisiana opal

This is a Louisiana opal pendant that I bought last night from an Etsy seller who lives up in Leesville. I found out about Louisiana opals a couple of years ago and have been wanting one ever since. Wire wrapping is how most of them are set; I chose this one because I like the unusual shape of the cabochon, the fact that the wires don’t cover much of the surface area of the stone, and the bottom twists that remind me of a letter S.

Louisiana opals occur when the opal matrix forms inside of quartz sandstone. They are considerably harder and less brittle than fire opals or black opals, and so can be cut in large cabochons and set without a protective backing. They are less gaudy than other kinds of opals, appearing to be merely a piece of polished beige-grey sandstone–until you turn them, and green, blue, purple, teal, gold, and aqua flashes out at you. There was only ever one commercial mine for them, the Hidden Fire Opal Mine in Vernon Parish. It was operated on land owned by Boise Cascade, which shut it down after just four years because they figured the timber was worth more than the opals.

So Louisiana opals are quite rare and most existing ones are today in the hands of private gem collectors. But because they aren’t as colorful as other kinds of opals they’re seen as not as desirable and thus are pretty affordable. This is a 24-carat opal (!!), but even set it was under $200. Because they’re so large, set opals are usually sold as necklace pendants or pins, rather than rings. I might eventually also get an unset stone and see what a local jeweler can do with it, but that will probably be expensive so for now I’m content with this one piece.

I just really love these opals. In addition to being a literal piece of the state that is both my ancestral home and the place I’ve chosen to live, I appreciate the subtlety of the stone. I like regular opals, too–I wear an opal ring that my (biological) father gave to my mother almost every day, but they show their colors without prompting. There’s something special about the hidden fire of a Louisiana opal.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. S
    Dec 25, 2016 @ 10:11:32

    Thank you for the history you shared about Louisiana opals. My daughter gave me earrings that are La opals. I have never heard of them and I live in Louisiana. Like you the subtlety of the fire makes them mysterious just like the state.

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