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Fire opal, the extravagant gem of Mexico

by Julie MIALET 06 Feb 2023

Fire opal is a variety of opal found mainly in Mexico, but also in Brazil, Guatemala, the United States and Australia. 

Remarkable among all opals by its color ranging from yellow to dark orange almost red, its geological formation is however similar to that of noble opals: they are formed either in sedimentary or volcanic environments (the most typical are respectively Australia and Mexico)

A little history 

Originating from a mine in the Magdalena region of Mexico, fire opal is characterized by its color. 

( source :

We know that the ancient populations (pre-Hispanic) of Mexico already knew the fire opal before the arrival of the Spanish on the territory. Indeed, the gem was used in jewelry but also in architectural ornaments or in religious ceremonies. The strong symbolism of this stone was already well integrated.

The Aztecs called it "Quetzalitzlipyollitli" or "stone of the bird of paradise", in reference to the quetzal, a mythical and venerated bird. Since the 850s, this mineral was used to make ornaments, statuettes and handicrafts. Many of these objects were found on burial sites during archaeological excavations.


In the 16th century in South America, the Spanish conquistadors appropriated the resources of the continent. Opal was one of them, it was imported to Europe by the conqueror Hernan Cortes after his Amerindian exploration.

Despite the important pillaging of the mines, there are still opal deposits in Latin America. Mexico is still  the leading producer of fire opal but Guatemala also has significant deposits.


(source : GemFrance)

Characteristics of fire opal 

To avoid damaging the opal during its extraction, it is done manually. The rock is fragmented by blasting and then crushed manually to find the luminous sparkles of the opal.

If its color range is wide in the red-orange tones, its iridescence is less common.

To be called a noble fire opal, it must have a singular iridescence: in which case it will become a highly sought-after gem! It is currently the finest opal stone that Mexico can produce.

(source : GemFrance)

Fire Opal belongs to the mineral family of oxides. It contains silicon dioxide (SiO2), iron oxide (Fe2O3) inlays and about 3-20% water (H2O).

This percentage of water will influence the quality of the gem by giving it a unique play of light and color.

If this gives it an original appearance, it is also its biggest weakness: if the stone dries out, it loses its color and can crack.

Located between 5.5 and 6 on the MOHS scale, it is a relatively fragile stone. It will require special care to maintain it.


Fire opal in jewelry and fine jewelry 

In jewelry, fire opal stands out because of its transparency and color. However, the noble opal is still the most prized.
This gemstone is still used in modern jewelry after having been used in several ancient civilizations! 

Note that in high jewelry, the beautiful red has conquered the hearts.
The house Cartier used it as its main stone for its watch "Haute Joaillerie Dragon Mystérieux" , or on the high jewelry necklace featuring a bird.

( Cartier)


At Van Cleef & Arpels or Tiffany & co, fire opal is featured on earrings.

( Tiffany & Co  )

In France, the gem is used in the creations of Lydia Courteille or Thierry Vendome in pieces of great finesse! 

( Lydia Courteille. Source :


(Source : Thierry Vendome.)

Myths and beliefs 

The properties of fire opal were exploited by the pre-Hispanic populations of Mexico as well as by the Aztecs. If the stone could be presented as a divine gem, it was also used for physical problems.

In lithotherapy, fire opal is said to stimulate blood circulation and treat nervous system problems.
It is considered as the stone of good sleep since it helps to calm down during the night.


If you are interested in opal, do not hesitate to discover what Julie's stones offer you in store...

We are also available for any free expertise of your opal jewelry, for this you can send an email with your photos to

Whether you're interested in buying a piece of jewellery or a stone, a free jewelry appraisal or jewelry resale, Pierres de Julie welcomes you to its Parisian boutique in the Village Suisse, a stone's throw from the Ecole Militaire and the Esplanade des Invalides.

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