A Study of the Magical Gemstone That Captivated Andy Warhol

Rachael Burrow
·2 mins read
Photo credit: Donaldson Collection - Getty Images
Photo credit: Donaldson Collection - Getty Images

From Veranda

Its name—which comes from ancient Greek and Latin languages—means to "perceive a change in color." The opal, one of October's birthstones, was first discovered in a cave in Kenya around 4000 B.C. Opals were commonly used for amulets and jewelry in ancient times, and many cultures (like ancient Rome) associated the mysterious stone with love and hope.

Photo credit: Universal History Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Universal History Archive - Getty Images

Opals, which have been mined in Hungary and, more recently, Australia, once had a reputation for bringing the wearer bad luck. Empress Eugenie of France refused to wear the stone, but most admirers of the stone (like the ancient Greeks) believed the stone to be lucky and magical because it supposedly bestowed the gifts of prophecy and protection against disease. Arabic legends even went so far as to give the stone supernatural origins—they believed it fell from the heavens among flashes of lightening—and powers. This may be why the opal, with its multitude of colors, was given romantic nicknames like Pandora, Light of the World, and Empress.

Photo credit: Santi Visalli - Getty Images
Photo credit: Santi Visalli - Getty Images

Iconic figures throughout history have sported the stone, including Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and Queen Victoria. Emperor Napoleon gifted a large red opal called the Burning of Troy to Empress Josephine, and it is rumored that one Roman emperor traded one-third of his kingdom for a single magnificent opal.

Andy Warhol, the New York City artist, film director, and leader of the Pop Art movement in the United States, had his own love affair with this effervescent gemstone. He was known for his collection of opals, and in 1977, he included photographs of the gemstone in his exhibition "Opal the Rainbow Gem" at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

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