As early as the 14th century, Mayan and Aztec Indians sought and gathered Mexican fire opal, calling it “quetzalitzlipyollitli.” Today, this national gemstone of Mexico is also referred to as fire opal, sun opal, cherry opal, and the Spanish word for sunflower – girasol. The Mayans and Aztecs used this gem in mosaics and rituals, while today it decorates beautiful pieces of jewelry. After the passing of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, knowledge and appreciation for fire opal disappeared. It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when an emergence of mining for fire opal and a renewed appreciation for its beauty appeared.
Mexican Fire Opal is formed when silica and water deposits are left in the voids left behind by volcanic gas bubbles and rock fractures. The silica does not crystallize, but rather solidifies, forming a gel that is filled with microscopic water bubbles. When light makes contact with this gem, it passes through the microscopic water bubbles and creates a spectrum of color – essentially creating a rainbow. The most significant deposits of fire opal are found near the extinct volcanoes in Queretaro and Jalisco, Mexico.
To create our Mexican fire opal jewelry, artisans produce opal resin by crushing natural Mexican fire opal, and then mixing it with a specially developed resin. This allows for the mineral to be cut, shaped, and set into the jewelry.
Mexican Fire Opal has a low tolerance to heat and is easily broken by sharp objects. If it is left in direct sunlight, or hot enclosed spaces, it can crack. Maintaining the water content of the opal is extremely important to the durability of the stone. Over time, opal can become dehydrated and brittle. To avoid dehydration, it should be stored away from high temperatures and frequently rubbed with light oil.
Check out some of our favorite Mexican fire opal designs for autumn:
Leon Nussbaum’s Mexican Fire Opal Leaf Earrings
Leon Nussbaum’s Mexican Fire Opal Tree Pendant Necklace
Leon Nussbaum’s Mexican Fire Opal Fox Brooch