Opal beads are a modern phenomenon. But beads themselves? Their history. Their beauty, and what they are made of is truly amazing. How they are made and how Australian opal is fitting in with the modern day ‘multiple stone’ bead phenomenon. Opal Cutter, Peter Brusaschi in Australia tells us all about the modern use of that incredible multi-colored gemstone-opal
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what are opal beads?
Beads have been popular since the beginning of known history. They were being used by the Princess of Ur in Ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), the city of Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews and the Arabs, around 2000 BC. Although, when Woolley uncovered the ziggurat of Ur in 1927 from its 40 feet bed of sand (it was originally found back in 1853 by British Consul J.E. Taylor.) he found, like most ancient cities that it had been ransacked by thieves.
Fortunately, he and his team had the foresight to dig a little further and what they found was probably one of the most significant discoveries of our time. 1800 graves. 16 tombs.
The tomb of the princess of Ur was almost completely intact. The coffin, the mummified figure, lots of artifacts. Ancient carvings. Figurines and what interests us in particular for this article, the beautiful jewelry that was buried with her. Well, not Opal Pandora beads, but certainly beads of many gemstones
They still wear similar pendants around their necks. They still attach stud and drop earrings from their ears. Some still wear headdresses and of course, bead bracelets which bring back memories of events and people.
Beads have been fashioned from just about every known material. The Babylonians from Ur preferred that very ancient dark blue stone, still popular throughout the world today, lapis lazuli. I have seen large parcels of this material offered for sale from Afghanistan in Hong Kong. Because this material comes in large lumps, it’s possible to make very large beads out of it.
But in more recent times, beads have been fashioned out of red and black coral, obsidian, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, garnet, and of course, the pearl which when sorted from its cheaper baroque cousins is already in the shape of a bead. Opal Beads from Australia are now available.
Opal Bead cutting is an art that has been perfected over the years. Much progress has been made since the days when each piece was cut and polished by hand and if you have ever tried to do that, as I have, being an opal cutter, it’s near impossible to get a perfect round. Lapidarists today use two concave tools in the shape of half a bead. The tool is attached to a vibrating machine that, with the help of different grades of carborundum grit, gradually turns a cube into a sphere.
Opal has been cut both smooth rounds and faceted. And you can make beads out of flattish opals as well by cutting them into an oval shape with a hole drilled end to end. These types of beads are called rondelles. Of course, you can make beads from any shape that you can think of. Squares, triangles, rectangles, free-form to name a few.
You can also combine a number of different gemstones into one silver or gold bead as is done with the Opal Pandora beads style of jewelry which screws on to bracelets and necklaces or can be worn in singles or multiples on an existing neck chain.