Opal- Caring for and Purchasing
Opal is a stone with “fire” inside that catches the light and radiates a spectrum of colors. It is the “eye stone” because it captures one’s attention as it sparkles and radiates a variety of colors. It is also one of the official birthstones for October. It is a gemstone of luck.
Opal’s name derives from opalus which is Latin or from the Sanskrit upala both meaning “precious stone.” The Greek also used opallios which means “to see a change of color.” However the name OPAl came about, it is a true thing of beauty. Each opal is a unique gemstone.
According to the GIA (https://www.gia.edu/opal-history-lore) opals have been valued and written about for millennia. “Many cultures have credited opal with supernatural origins and powers. Arabic legends say it falls from the heavens in flashes of lightening. The ancient Greeks believed opals gave their owners the gift of prophecy and guarded them from disease. Europeans have long considered the gem a symbol of hope, purity, and truth.”
Opals have even been found on the planet Mars!
Colors and forms of opals.
Most all opals (with the exception of common opals, synthetic opals (man made but of the same minerals), or opalite (which is made from glass) emit a fiery display of colors from their core. Opals come in a variety of types and colors. The colors are: blue, purple, green-blue, black-red, salmon, pink, kiwi, and dark-blue (see color chart).
Opals are most often in a cabochon form which has a flat back and a high-rounded dome on top (see chart below). Opals can also sometimes be found in beads or in what are called “doublets” or “triplets.”
A doublet is a thinner slice of an opal that is too thin to be used in jewelry without damaging the stone so a thin black backing is adhered to the back of the stone. The backing is either black industrial glass, plastic, black colorless opal, or even brown ironstone. Most often a fire opal is used in a doublet (see chart).
A triplet is a paper-thin slice of opal to which a black backing is adhered and a clear glass, plastic or quartz caps the dome on top. The opal in in the middle and protected from damage by the backing and the cap on top. Many times a boulder opal is used in a triplet and the opal stones are sliced from the stone to get the most from this precious stone (see chart above).
The types of opal are: (http://geology.com/gemstones/opal/#fire).
There are four basic kinds of opal: Precious opal which comprise only opal material and exhibits a “play-of-color” from within the stone. They can flash many different colors. How expensive a precious opal is determined by the color intensity, diversity of colors it flashes, uniformity, pattern and on how easy it is to see the colors from any angle
Common Opal is for opal that doesn’t have the “play of color” in it. The colors for this stone might be off-white to white, pink, or blue. This kind of opal is not highly valued for precious jewelry but can often be found in beads or cabochons and is relatively affordable.
Fire Opal is a colorful, transparent to translucent gemstone that has a strong “fire-like background color of yellow, orange, or red.” It may or may not have some play of color. Fire opal is simply a stone that has a strong “fire” background color” rather than the flashes of color.
Precious Fire Opal has a strong play of many colors within its “fire colored” background which makes it a precious opal rather than a common opal or just a fire opal. Precious fire opal will exhibit a variety of colors from differing angles or light sources, just as a precious opal does but a fire opal does not do.
Names for opal (according to the opal or other rock content in the gemstone):
Solid opal -- contains only opal material
Boulder opal – contains opal and some of the host rock running through it in patches or seams.
Matrix opal -- has opal and the host rock mixed thoroughly instead of just having parts of the host rock seemed though the opal.
Names for opal (according to color):
White or light opal is a term used to describe the most common body color that is white, yellow or creamy.
Black or Dark Opal is used when the main color in the stone is black, or very dark, dark blue, or green, or gray.
Crystal Opal is used for transparent to translucent opal that has a play of color in it.
Blue Opal is used for common opal that doesn’t have a play of color.
Pink opal is used for common opal in shades of pink to white to lilac in color.
Morado Opal is used for purple opal. It is a common opal with the base color being in shades of purple.
Some types of opals as described above. More details can be found at http://geology.com/gemstones/opal/#black
In Western countries, a white precious opal with a “pinfire” pattern of uniform flashes of lights (see stone on the left), is one of the most common opal people associate as opal and is often miss-labeled “a fire opal.”
Buying with confidence:
Always buy expensive jewelry from reputable dealers and ask for certificate of authenticity if buying an expensive gemstone of any kind, including opal jewelry.
There are synthetic opals on the market which are man-made opals and these stones are made from the same kind of minerals that are in a natural opal. They can be an alternative if you are unable to afford a natural opal. Sometimes a person will buy a synthetic opal to wear on cruises or other places where fear of theft might be an issue. That way, if the jewelry is stolen, one can feel a little better about the loss. [Seee image at right for man-made opals.]
Imitation opals are usually made from glass or other material and do not really fool anyone about their authenticity. These may have some “opalescence” with some inner flashes of lights but are generally fairly clear and can look very blue on a black background. They often go by the name of “Opalite.” They do have a certain beauty to them and are inexpensive. [See the opalites to the right and left.]
Care and cleaning of opals:
Opals are not a hard stone (most are between 5.5 and 6.5 on the MOHS scale of hardness) and can easily be scratched or damaged. Follow the simple rules below to care for you gemstone.
Use warm soapy water and a very soft brush to gently clean the stone. Rinse in warm clear water and dry immediately with a soft cloth.
Never use any chemical cleaners or ultrasonic cleaners. If set in silver that has gotten tarnished, either take it to a jeweler or use a silver cleaning cloth. Do not immerse the entire ring in a harsh silver cleaning chemical.
Do not leave your jewelry on non-stop, e.g., opal stud earrings, as shampoos and other chemicals we use on our bodies (hairspray, perfume, etc.) can damage the gemstone and dull the color.
If the opal is very rare (as in a Tintenbar opal) it needs to be stored in water to keep them from cracking. Buy your gemstones from a reputable dealer who will inform you of the type and nature of the opal and how to care for it.
Most solid opals do not need to be stored in water. It will not enhance it at all. Most oils and water will not penetrate a solid opal but take more care with doublets or triplets.
A Matrix opal is more porous and one must keep it free of water, oils, and other substances.
Never wear your opal rings while gardening as the dirt could scratch it. Avoid other harsh environment like washing dishes with a ring on or being out in too much sunlight for extended periods of time.
Meaning of Opals:
An opal acts as a prism within the aura, bringing a full spectrum of light energy to one’s system, soothing and clearing the emotional body, and boosting the will to live and the joy of one’s earthly existence. It rekindles optimism, enthusiasm and creativity, and allows for the release of inhibitions inspiring love and passion. Opal enhances cosmic consciousness and stimulates flashes of intuition and insight, yet is a protective stone for deep inner work, meditations, and lower world shamanic journeys. Opal is considered a stone of good fortune.
Written and compiled by © Sandra Jeffs