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All About Opals

Sources: Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Trade Association

Described by the Ancient Romans as the “Queen of All Gems” opal is a chameleon encompassing the essence of every gemstone in one. Its name means to see a change of color, which this phenomenal gemstone shows in unusual optical effects of shifting spectral hues described as “play of color”.

An October birthstone, opal is favored as gift for the 14th wedding anniversary. Opal is revered as a symbol of hope, fidelity, and purity. A gem of positive transformation, opal reveals the colorful attributes of those who wear it.

Opal occurs in several types; the most common is white opal which may or may not have vibrant pastel flashes. The more play of color or fire the opal has the more valuable the opal is. The black opal has a blue, gray or black body with a most dramatic play of color and tends to be the most exclusive, sought after and valuable. The boulder opal follows as they are black opals naturally found within ironstone in which it occurs. The crystal opal is clear with glints of swimming color and can be spectacular. Value of opals is based upon the rarity and brilliance of the opal, pattern, play of color, as well as size with larger gemstones being more valuable.

Unfortunately, opals, with the exception of fire opals, are commonly enhanced to improve appearance. The most common techniques are smoking the opal to enhance color or injecting color or materials to minimize fissures or cracks in the stone. In addition, some sellers place two sliced opals on top of each other called a “doublet” or even three opal slices called “triplets” to create the appearance of greater fire and color play. Doublets and triplets are not particularly valuable and are often viewed by professionals as fashion jewelry rather than investment quality gemstones.

 

How to Care For Your Opal

To care for an opal, clean with a soft or damp dry cloth. Do not soak your opal, use any type of chemicals or cleaning supplies as it will permanently damage your stone. Avoid hard impact and heat as they both can create fissures or cracks in the stone. On the hardness scale of gemstones and precious stones with diamonds ranking a 10 in hardness, opals rate 5.5-6.5 in hardness.