The history of Australian opals started as late as 1849 at a cattle station called Tarrawilla, near Angaston some 80km outside Adelaide however, Australian opal did not appear on the world market until the 1890s. Prior to the emergence of Australian opal on the market, opal was sourced in Hungary and South America. Consequently, the Hungarian mines promoted the idea that Australian opal was not genuine, probably because gems with such brilliant colour had not been seen before.
Throughout history, opal has been regarded as a stone of good fortune. In ancient times, precious opal was included among the noble gems; it was believed that the gem possessed magical properties.
The Romans established opal as a precious gemstone, obtaining their supplies from traders in the Middle East. They believed the opal was a combination of the beauty of all precious stones. They ranked opal second only to emeralds, and carried opal as a good luck charm or talisman because it was believed that like the rainbow, opal brought its owner good fortune. In the days when Rome spread her legions across Europe and Africa, a Roman Senator by the name of Nonius opted for exile rather than sell his valuable opal to Marc Antony who wanted to give it to his famous lover Cleopatra.
Eastern peoples also dealt very heavily in this precious stone, which was believed to bring luck and to enhance psychic abilities.
Centuries later, Shakespeare referred to opal as "a miracle" and the "Queen of Gems". Elizabethans prized opal as highly as the diamond for its brilliant colours and flashes of fire. Indeed, opal was a lucky stone.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries opal fell out of favour, as it was associated with pestilence, famine and the fall of monarchies.
During the decimation of Europe by the Black Death, it was rumoured that an opal worn by a patient was aflame with colour right up to the point of death, and then lost its brilliance after the wearer died. The superstitious thought the opal had some bearing on the victim's destiny. However, it did not occur to them that the changes in the appearance of the opal was due to the drastic rise and fall of the patient's temperature during their fever and subsequent death.
In a tale of ill luck related to a monarchy, it is told that in the 19th century, King Alfonso XII of Spain had received an opal ring from a vengeful Comtesse he had previously courted. The King presented the ring to his wife, who had greatly admired it, and shortly thereafter she died mysteriously. A succession of wearers in the royal family followed the Queen's untimely end. Finally, the King then placed the opal ring on his own finger and in a little time his life also ended. However, it must be pointed out that during this time cholera was raging throughout Spain-over 100,000 people died of it and it attacked all classes. The reputation of the opal as a charm against cholera must have been known to the King, who used a talisman that acted fatally instead of beneficially.