Tell Me About Opals

Posted by Lisa Ramos on

Tell Me About Opals Article - Opal Pendant with Diamonds
Although I design jewelry for a living, opals are the one gemstone I haven't worked with yet. An opals fragility has steered me away from designing with them, but their striking beauty is greatly admired. I started thinking more about opals when I recently came across an elegant opal pendant necklace I adored as a child. Over 40 years ago, my father had gifted my mother a one of a kind opal jewelry piece. The large oval opal pendant set in 18k gold with diamonds looked unbelievable for its age (pictured above). Its beauty and longevity were all results of my mother properly caring for her jewelry piece.

Seeing the pendant necklace after so many years brought many emotions. I couldn't resist touching the gem, looking at all of its colors and trying it on. As I wore the opal necklace I pondered about its history, unique beauty, its meaning and the many wonders about this incredible gem. The experience inspired me to write this blog and reconsider designing with opals.

If you are curious about opals such as where they come from, opal types, the meaning of an opal, the birthstone month for an opal and how to care for opal jewelry the questions and answers below are great place to start. In this "Tell Me About Opals" article I walk through some of the most common questions opal enthusiasts may ask or wonder about. 
Opal Gemstone

Where Do Opals Come From?

Opals can be found from around the world. Australia produces about 95% of the opals and its their official nation gemstone. Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and the Western US are other areas where opals come from. Miners find opals in sedimentary rocks or in sandstone. Opals are tiny silica spheres and their formation occurs when silica rich water gets into deep cracks and voids into the earths crust.

What is the meanings behind an Opal Gemstone?

Opals are believed to represent hope, innocence and purity. Also, they are associated with happiness, confidence, faithfulness and loyalty. 

What Colors Do Opals Come in?

Opals come in a variety of beautiful colors - white, colorless, orange, yellow, and various red hues, yellowish brown, greenish, blue, gray, black, and violet.

How Strong are Opals?

Opals may appear to look as hard as a rock, but don't be fooled. Opals are the most delicate gemstone used to make jewelry. On thMohs Scale  they are between a 5.5-6.5. The Mohs scale measures the hardness of various minerals from 1 through 10 - one being the softest and ten the hardest. Opals scratch easily, therefore wearing opal rings aren't as ideal as an opal pendant or earrings. 

What is the Least Expensive and Most Expensive Opal Type? 

Opals that tend to be the least expensive are white opals with a light body tone. A black opal is the most expensive opal type and difficult to find. Black opals have a dark background displaying a body of colors.

What is the most expensive Opal in the World?

The most expensive opal is the Virgin Rainbow, worth over $1 million dollars. It was discovered in 2003 by miner John Dunstan in Coober Pedy, Australia - South Australia’s mid north (the region produces 90% of opals). The Virgin Rainbow opal is dark colored displaying a fluorescence rainbow of colors. The opal is 6 centimeters long and weight 22 carats.

What is the largest opal in the world? 

The Olympic Australis opal is the largest opal in the world. The opal was founded in 1956 at the 8 mile opal field in Coober Pedy, Australia. The opal weights is 7.5 pounds and is 17,000 carats. 

What are Gem Grade Opals vs Common Opals?

An opal is defined as precious or noble opal if its spheres are uniform in size and shaped, neatly stacked diffracting light. Opals that fall under common opals display spheres that are random in shape, size and arrangement. An example of a common opal are ones that are glassy or opaque looking with a waxy luster. 

What is the Difference Between a Doublet and Triplet Opal?

A doublet opal is when a gemstone cutter takes thin pieces of opal and assembles them into doublets - thin opal layer glued to a black base. A triplet opal is when a transparent quartz cap is added to the opal, helping it from scratching.

What type of environments should I avoid wearing my opal pieces in?

Avoid wearing your opal jewelry pieces in areas that have harsh environments such as extreme cold weather and heat. If you do find yourself in extreme cold or hot weather, cover the jewelry piece with your clothing to protect it. 

What birthstone month is an Opal?

Opals gemstones are the birthstone month for October. There is a superstition that says wearing an opal that isn’t your birthstone is bad luck and misfortune can come your way.

How Do I  Store Opal Jewelry?

Store your opal jewelry in a safe place and separate it from other jewelry pieces. Opals can develop cracks and lose their play of colors if their water evaporates, therefore storing opal pieces in a moist soft cotton cloth may prolong their life. If an opal shatters or cracks it can beyond repair. 

How Do I Clean Opal Jewelry?

Opals require special care when cleaning. Jewelry designed with solid opal pieces - gently use mild soap with warm water and a soft cloth or soft brush (not a toothbrush). Always avoid, steam cleaners, ultrasonics, boiling, bleach, chemicals and cleaners. Jewelry designed with doublets and triplet opals may be wiped with a damp soft cloth and mild soap don’t soak or immerse the gemstone. Before purchasing a piece of opal jewelry get the jewelry care details from your jeweler.

Other Jewelry Care Tips

  • Remove your jewelry when performing tasks that may cause physical damage. 
  • Keep jewelry away from harsh chemicals such as bleach, ammonia, and chlorine. 
  • Remove jewelry when applying lotions and other beauty products.
  • Remove jewelry when swimming, showering or taking a bath.

    "Jewelry is always in style."

    Handbag & Jewelry Designer, Lisa Ramos
    This blog post is written by California Jewelry Designer, Lisa Ramos.

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