Things To Know About Opals Before You Start Shopping For One

 If your birthday is in October you might know that some believe wearing opals during any other month could bring you bad luck. Or, maybe you’re a gemologist and already know that Opals are actually classed as a mineraloid. They are made from a hydrated form of silica, typically semi-transparent and show varying colors against a pale or dark background. And if you have a background in ancient European history; then you’re probably one of the few people who know that Opals were believed to be one of the most precious and powerful of all gemstones by the Romans. But as for the majority of the general public, most people think of an opal as a white stone flecked with greens and blues.  Perhaps that is because this is the most readily available and affordable type of opal.  Once you have seen a spectacular black opal with traces of iron oxide and carbon elements, you’ll fully understand these colorful and dramatic gems actually span a wide spectrum of color, quality, beauty and price. 

 WHAT IS THE BASE COLOR OF THE STONE- When experts assess opal, they start with its body color. This refers to the overall base color of the stone, versus the shifting play of color that makes every opal distinct from another. The most valuable opal is one that displays its color patterns the most dramatically. The darker an opal's body color, the more vivid its play of color. Thus black opal is more costly than the white (also called light) gems, with body color ranging from colorless to medium gray. The next factor to consider is transparency. All opals, regardless of body color, will be transparent, translucent, or opaque. When a stone has lots of transparency with clear, sharp colors, it is called crystal opal. Though transparency increases the value of a white opal, it can decrease a black stone's value. Opaqueness is what will make a black opal's internal colors pop. 

LOOK AT THE SPECIFIC COLORS OF THE STONE- The kind of colors, or hue mixture, an opal exhibits is critical and can send its price soaring or plummeting. Red is the most prized color in opals, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. No matter what its color play, however, an opal must have an overall brilliance to be considered valuable. Red patterns in an otherwise dull gem, for example, will not net the premium of a bright opal with more run-of-the-mill colors like greens and blues.


UNDERSTAND OPAL VARIETIES TO GET GREATEST VALUE- Black, White, Crystal and Boulder varieties all have different values. Learning the differences in opal varieties can really and truly help you purchase the best stone for your purposes:

 Black opal: This variety of opal refers to a stone with a body color from medium gray to black. Unlike other gems that might be mined in various locations throughout the world, black opal is found in Australia and Ethiopia

.Boulder opal: With an appearance much like black opal but considerably less expensive, this variety is considered by some to be the poor man's black opal. Boulder opal, however, is actually a lovely and relatively rare variety in its own right. It gets its name from the boulders of sandstone in which it is found and that cutters leave on as a natural backing.  

 Crystal opal: Another variety is crystal opal, which can have a body color from light to dark. The name refers to the glasslike appearance of the stone, not the structure.

 White opal: Thanks to Australia's rich deposits, white opal can be found in abundance, though only a small portion of it is fine enough for the true connoisseur.  The milky opal with a pale color pattern is ubiquitous and can virtually be had for pennies. Expect to pay a steeper price, however, for fine-quality white opal, with translucency, brilliance, and an interesting color.

 Doublets and Triplets: If you’re budget conscious, Doublets and Triplets can give you a great look. When good-quality opal is too thin to be made into jewelry without becoming damaged, the slivers are bonded to a black backing for support. The resulting opal is called a doublet. If the opal is especially thin, it may also get a colorless top in addition to a backing -- a three-layer arrangement called a triplet. 

 BUY AN UNMOUNTED STONE WHENEVER POSSIBLE- Generally speaking it is best to buy gems before they are mounted -- that way you can really see what you are getting. Mountings, ideally, are designed to enhance the beauty and form of gemstones, but they can also be used to mask flaws or to make a gem look bigger than it actually is.

 AUSTRALIAN & ETHIOPIAN OPALS-  The most sought after opal in the world comes from Australia. However, Opal has recently been discovered in Ethiopia. The first source was discovered in the early 1990s, and several others in 2008 and 2013. This discovery has yielded mostly dark and black opal, along with some white and crystal opal, all creating a new market that is growing quickly.  If you are in the market for gemstones, please remember that gemstone prices are a matter of supply and demand. Buying in the source country is not always a guarantee that you will get the best price.

 GET AN INDEPENDENT APPRAISAL- What a gemstone is worth changes over time and the gemstone market fluctuates up and down. This means that you need to update your gemstone appraisal every few years to make sure you know the current value, and your gemstone is insured at the correct replacement value. If the value is too high, you are paying for insurance you don’t need but if it is too low, you won’t be covered in case of loss. While there are several ways to get a gemstone appraised it is most important that whoever is examining your gemstone is fully qualified and objective.

 OPALS REQUIRE CARE- Some opals have structural weaknesses that make them prone to cracking after prolonged exposure to heat and dryness. - However, with a few precautions, you can enjoy your opal for a lifetime (Boulder opals are an exception. Their NATURAL stone backing gives them exceptional durability.) Once an opal has "crazed" (cracked), it has virtually no value. It’s important not to expose your opal to severe temperatures or dramatic changes in temperature, and don’t store for lengthy periods of time in an unopened safety deposit box. It’s also important to clean your opal regularly with warm soapy water and rinse in clear water. 

 ALWAYS BUY FROM A REPUTABLE DEALER: It’s best to buy from a reputable dealer because opals are not at all standardized. Most gems are extremely small objects, unfamiliar to most, and their colors and details are extraordinarily important in terms of value. Often times your dealer will make sure your new opal has “Cured” meaning it has “sat” for long periods before selling to you. This improves your chances of avoiding any condition issues with your gemstone.