Cultural Integrity - The Lineage of Mexican Fire Opals

Cultural Integrity - The Lineage of Mexican Fire Opals

Every gemstone has a story - Here’s the story of MFO.


We source many gemstones from around the world. By doing this, we connect with a wide range of different communities and are fortunate enough to learn how gemstones are a part of those cultures. This includes Fire Opal, one of the wonderous gems we source from Mexico. Here at Columbia Gem House, we refer to this material as Mexican Fire Opal, or MFO for short. MFO is a gorgeous fiery color that reflects its beautiful country, heritage, and cultural significance.


Mexico is considered the land of the sun and is widely known for its Fire Opal in the gem world. MFO can be found in a variety of locations, a few known to be include the states of Queretaro and Hidalgo, among others, and then the gems you will find at Columbia Gem House being from the state of Jalisco in Mexico. The Queretaro mines are one of the most historically significant and have been a known source for Fire Opal since 1835. 


Between the thirteenth and fifteenth century, Aztec and Mayan Indians were the first to discover Fire Opal. These glowing fiery gems were called “quetzalitzlipyollitli”, also known as the “the stone of the bird of paradise”. During the period of the Aztec Empire, these gems were used in the jewelry adorned by their people, but also in other art forms like mosaics, sculptures and even rituals. This gemstone was even linked to their temples, which were built to honor the fiery orb that rules our days, the sun. When the Aztec Empire disappeared, so did most of the appreciation for Fire Opal. It was not until sometime in the 1800’s when interest in the material was reinvigorated.


So, what makes Mexican Fire Opal so unique? One element is how it is formed. MFO is formed in ancient volcanic geographies. Within the volcanic rock cavities, water gets trapped in silica-rich lava, and under the high volcanic temperatures, that same superheated water-encapsulated lava then transforms into this burning-colored gem.


Since water is a part of the composition of MFO, it sometimes can be instable depending on its specific origin. Because of this, our team at Columbia Gem House takes special precautions in both sourcing and producing to ensure stability of the gems we sell. First, we thoroughly dry all rough before cutting, then again dry the finished cut gems for another period of time to eliminate any possibility of crazing (fine spiderwebbed cracking) or hydrophaning (turning a transparent gem opaque). By taking these additional steps, we can ensure the color and stability of our Opals.


Its fiery color is unique in the gem world for its vivid intensity. Unlike other Opals, most Mexican Fire Opal is faceted to add brilliance. The standard color for MFO is considered orange, but the full spectrum includes colors from red to orange to gold, with an almost dayglo intensity of color. As of today, the Mexican Fire Opal is considered to be the country’s national gemstone.


One of our key Principles at Columbia Gem House is Cultural Integrity. We trace the journey of a gem from Mine to Market®, so that we can guarantee full and complete information is shared. We believe that by keeping the gem closely tied to the story of origin, we are able to preserve the link to its culture. We treasure the unique people, cultures and origins that link to each gem and work with suppliers to ensure those aspects are not lost. We aspire for these stories to be shared all the way through the supply chain, ending with the consumer.


We believe that every gemstone tells a story and holds great meaning from its origin. That story, the cultural identity, and every aspect that has touched a stone, is all held in the beauty of its facets. Mexican Fire Opal is a lovely example of this, and we continually work to keep its lush history and importance to Mexican culture visible in the gems we offer today.


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