How to Buy Opal Gemstone and Jewelry: A Complete Guide

Opals are different from most gemstones because they don’t have a regular pattern inside. This special structure makes them shine in many colors. In some cultures, it’s believed that opals hold the power of volcanoes, rainbows, and thunderstorms.

What is Opal?

Opal is a unique and mesmerizing gemstone known for its radiant display of color changes, called “play-of-color“. Unlike many gemstones, opals are not crystals; instead, they’re made of tiny spheres of silica that stack in a grid, trapping and refracting light to produce vibrant rainbows.

Their colors can span a broad spectrum, from fiery reds and oranges to cool blues and greens. The value of an opal is determined by its type, color range, and pattern. Originating from the Greek word “opallios,” meaning “to see a change of color,” opals have been cherished throughout history, with cultures attributing them with magical properties and the power to heal. They’re primarily mined in Australia, though other sources exist globally.

Types of Opal

black opal ring with red green and blue flash opal rings
Different opal flash rings. See them here.

There are many types of opal that you will need to know about before you decide to buy. Here’s a list of precious opals and their characteristics.

TypeFactsBefore you buy
Black Opal • Contains a dark background color
• Flashes of colors are maximized because of the contrast with the dark body
White or Milky Opal• Has an opaque milky appearance. Does not have any flashes of color.
• Very common
• The background colors are white, grey or brown with yellow, blue, red and green pinfire
Very affordable
Crystal Opal• Very beautiful variety
• Has a range of flashing colors
• Generally transparent or very translucent
• A dark backing may be attached to make the natural colors more visible
Colors are very subtle
Boulder Opal• Contains piece of host rock attached to the back of the precious opalLess valuable than black opal but can be mistaken for it.

These opals contain gorgeous play of colors when rotated and they may also have beautiful patterns. Remember that the more intense and brighter the colors, the more expensive the opal will be. While blue and violet opals are more commonly found, red is rare and costs more. The opal you choose will largely depends on how much you are willing to spend.

Types of Opal Jewelry

Opal is a versatile gemstone that can be crafted into various types of jewelry, each showcasing its unique play-of-color. Here’s a look at some of the most popular types of opal jewelry:

1. Opal Rings

dainty opal ring on the middle finger
Dainty opal stackable ring. See it here.

Opals are increasingly popular as central stones in engagement rings, often surrounded by diamonds or other gemstones. Large opals can be set into rings that are designed to draw attention and admiration. Smaller opal accents can be incorporated into delicate bands that can be stacked together.

2. Opal Earrings

opal halo diamond earrings
Opal halo diamond earrings. See them here.

Opal stud earrings are simple and elegant, great for everyday wear. Drop earrings have opals that hang a bit, sometimes with other stones or pretty metal designs. Dangle earrings are even longer, moving freely and often showing off opals in fancier styles.

3. Opal Necklaces and Pendants

graduated opal pendant necklace in white gold setting
Graduated opal pendant necklace. See it here.

Solitaire pendants have just one opal hanging on a chain, usually in a rounded shape. Opal lockets are special necklaces where you can keep photos or tiny keepsakes, with opal on the front to make it pretty. Statement necklaces use big opals or many of them in detailed designs, sometimes mixed with other stones.

4. Opal Bracelets

white opal oval charm bracelet
White opal oval charm bracelet. See it here.

Tennis bracelets have opals lined up in a row. Bangle bracelets are round and solid, with opals either set into them or hanging as little charms. Cuff bracelets are open at the ends and can have opals on the tips or all over them.

Is an Opal Engagement Ring a Good Idea?

opal and diamond ring in white gold setting
Opal and diamond ring. See it here.

An opal engagement ring is undeniably unique and stunning, offering a mesmerizing play-of-color that few other gemstones can rival. For individuals desiring a ring that reflects a distinct personality and taste, opals are an enchanting choice. They historically symbolize hope, fidelity, and purity, adding layers of sentimentality. However, their beauty comes with considerations.

Opals are softer than many gemstones, making them susceptible to scratches and damage, especially with daily wear. They can also be affected by moisture and rapid temperature changes, potentially leading to cracks or cloudiness.

Therefore, while they’re a captivating choice, they require careful handling and maintenance. An opal engagement ring is perfect for those willing to provide the care it needs, but those seeking a low-maintenance option might prefer a more durable stone.

Opal Body Color and Tone

blue opal tennis bracelet
Blue opal tennis bracelet. See it here.

The body color and tone of opal are important factors that affect its beauty and value. The darker the tone of the opal, the more valuable it is.

This is why dark body tone opals like this black opal ring generally cost much more than a white or milky opal like this one.

This is because when the body tone is darker, the flashes of color are more pronounced. What you’re really paying for is the sharper and more intense colors emanating from the stone.

Opal Brightness

silver opal pendant necklace on the neck
Silver opal pendant necklace. See it here.

All opals have a brightness grading scale. This categorizes opals based on how intense the reflection of color is when penetrated by light. The grades are Dull/Subdued, Bright and Brilliant.

As you may have already guessed, Brilliant grade opals are the brightest and contain eye-catching flashes of color, which make them the most expensive.

Dull or subdued opals are the least valuable, appear milky and have hardly any shine. Bright opals are average in terms of brightness.

What are Dead Spots and Opal Patterns?

The more expensive opals, like precious opals and black opals, display a range of gorgeous patterns caused by the deflection of colors. The larger the pattern, the more valuable the stone becomes.

ribbon pattern opal
A rare ribbon pattern opal. See it here.

However, there can be dead spots in patterns so watch out for this when you are buying your opal. Dead spots occur when the play of colors is absent from sections of the stone and can devalue the opal. If your opal appears dull and static in sections, check with the retailer about dead spots.

PatternsFactsBefore you buy
Harlequin (mosaic)These are hard to come by due to scarcity
The pattern looks like a mosaic – made up of square patches
Can be very expensive
Buy from a trusted seller
Ask for a certificate
RibbonMade up of strips of color running parallel like ribbons lying side by sideCheck to see if the strips contain different colors. This increases the value of the stone.
Chinese writingThe pattern looks like Chinese characters.
It has strips of single colours overlapping like characters
Scarce pattern
Very popular and sought after
Very valuable
PicturesThe pattern looks like a picture
May resemble an object, face or animal
StrawContains thin lines of color arranged haphazardlyIf the pattern has more red in it, it will be more expensive

Is Carat Weight Important?

emerald cut opal with diamonds ring
Emerald cut opal ring. See it here.

Unlike a gemstone like a diamond, there is no rule that a large opal will be more valuable. The main things to watch out for is the quality of the color and body tone and the quantity of precious opal the stone has (more on this below).

How Do I Check for Clarity?

Just like other gemstones, an opal’s clarity can be affected by a number of factors. There can be flaws or inclusions that reduce the overall value of the stone. Look out for crazing (minor cracks) which can be found on the surface of the opal.

Also check if there are any inclusions such as sand or rock that can be embedded within the opal. If these are large or visible to the naked eye, you might want to rethink buying the opal because not only will they impact the beauty of the stone, but they will also decrease its value.

Synthetic and Hand-Made Opals

Hand-made opals are usually less valuable than natural opals. You’ll be paying less for an opal that could look exactly like the real thing. Here is what you need to look for:

Synthetic Opals

minimalist synthetic opal bracelet
Minimalist synthetic opal bracelet. See it here.

Like synthetic diamonds, synthetic opals are lab-created gemstones with the same chemical formula as natural opals. However, these opals tend to show different patterns and densities. Something to look out for is a snake-skin pattern. Needless to say, synthetic opals are inexpensive and much less valuable than natural opals.  

Doublet Opals

doublet opal ring
A beautiful doublet opal ring. See it here.

When a thin slice of precious opal is attached to a dark backing, it can look like a solid opal. It’s very difficult to distinguish a doublet opal from a solid one. Sometimes, the seam where the two pieces are attached can be a give-away, but this is very difficult to see with the naked eye and once mounted into a jewelry setting, even this seam is hard to notice.

Doublet opals are a great alternative to buying a solid opal if it’s beyond your budget. However, ask your retailer if the opal you are buying is a doublet opal. You should not be paying as much as a solid opal for this.

Triplet Opal

triplet opal earrings
Triplet opal earrings. See them here.

As with the doublet opal, triplet opals consist of thin slices of precious opal sandwiched between a black backing and a slice of glass or quartz. This too can be identified by viewing the opal from the side and looking for the seams but like the doublet, is impossible to notice once mounted in a setting.

While synthetic opals are quite durable, doublets and triplets can fade over time and become foggy due to the glue used to sandwich the pieces together.

Pros and Cons of Opal Jewelry

opal cabochon with diamond accents ring
Opal cabochon ring. See it here.

Opal jewelry, with its mesmerizing play-of-color, has been highly coveted for centuries. However, like all gemstones, opals come with their set of pros and cons that potential buyers should consider.

Pros of Opal Jewelry:

  1. Unique Beauty: Every opal is distinct, ensuring a piece of jewelry that’s truly one-of-a-kind. Its play-of-color can display a dazzling array of hues, catching the eye and making a statement.
  2. Versatility: Opals can be paired with various metals and gemstones, suiting different styles, from vintage to contemporary.
  3. Symbolism: Opals have been considered symbols of hope, purity, and truth. Some cultures also believe they possess protective qualities and healing powers.
  4. Variety: Opals come in different types, such as white, black, fire, and boulder opals, each with its unique charm.
opal twist pendant necklace in rose gold setting
Opal twist pendant necklace. See it here.

Cons of Opal Jewelry:

  1. Delicacy: Opals rank 5.5–6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, making them relatively soft. They can be easily scratched, so they require gentle handling.
  2. Sensitivity to Temperature Changes: Opals can be damaged by rapid temperature fluctuations, which might cause them to crack.
  3. Water Content: Opals contain a significant amount of water. If they dry out, they may lose their iridescence or even crack. This makes prolonged exposure to dry or hot environments risky.
  4. Maintenance: They need regular care to maintain their luster. It’s advisable to avoid contact with chemicals, including household cleaning agents and even certain cosmetics.
  5. Cost: High-quality opals, especially black and boulder opals, can be quite pricey. The rarity and demand for these stones often dictate their market value.

Meaning and Symbolism of Opal

ethiopian opal row hoop earrings
Ethiopian opal hoop earrings. See them here.

Opal, with its mesmerizing play-of-color, has long been imbued with deep symbolism and meaning. Historically, its shimmering hues have made it a beacon of hope and an emblem of purity. Many ancient cultures revered the opal for its supposed protective powers, believing it could shield its wearer from illness or even grant invisibility in perilous situations when combined with a bay leaf. The gem’s vibrant, fiery shades also associate it with burning passion, love, and desire.

The kaleidoscope of colors found in opal is believed to offer emotional clarity and stability, making emotions more palpable. Beyond its emotional resonance, opals have been cherished by artists and writers for their believed ability to enhance creativity. With such rich symbolism, it’s no surprise that this alluring gemstone also stands as the birthstone for October, representing those born under its radiant charm.

Opal Care and Maintenance

white opal with accent diamonds ring
White opal and diamond ring. See it here.

Like pearls, opals are delicate gemstones. They need to be looked after and maintained properly. Over time, opals will have scratches and marks which can cause it to appear dull. If this happens, take the opal back to an opal cutter who will professionally polish the stone for you, reviving its brilliance.

Always use mild detergent and warm water to wash off any grime or build up on an opal. Ultra sonic cleaners, bleach and chemicals are not for this delicate stone.

Also, if you are storing an opal for a long period of time, wrap it in cotton wool with a few drops of water to keep the stone from losing water in low humidity environments.

Where Can I Buy Opal Jewelry?

opal and diamond ring in yellow gold setting
Vintage style opal diamond. See it here.

Navigating the world of online opal shopping can be a treat if you know where to look. Here’s a breakdown of some popular online stores and their offerings related to opals:

1. James Allen

James Allen is renowned for its comprehensive collection of fine jewelry. The platform offers an interactive shopping experience, letting you view opals and other gemstones from various angles. Their collection features high-quality opals set in meticulously designed jewelry pieces. Check them here.

2. Blue Nile

One of the largest online jewelry retailers, Blue Nile offers a vast array of gemstones, including opals. Their intuitive website makes it easy to filter and find the perfect opal piece, whether it’s a ring, necklace, or earrings. Browse Blue Nile’s opal collection here.

3. Angara

Specializing in gemstone jewelry, Angara provides a plethora of opal options. Their focus is on quality and authenticity, ensuring that you get genuine opals in beautifully crafted settings. Check out their collection here.

4. Brilliant Earth

Known for their commitment to ethically sourced gemstones and metals, Brilliant Earth offers a curated collection of opal jewelry. Their pieces are a blend of classic elegance and contemporary design. Check them out here.

5. Etsy

Etsy is a goldmine for artisanal and vintage opal pieces. Here, individual artists and vintage sellers showcase their unique opal creations, ensuring that you’ll find one-of-a-kind pieces that stand out from mainstream designs. Browse Etsy’s vast collection of opal jewelry here.

6. Amazon

While primarily known for its vast range of products, Amazon also houses a diverse selection of opal jewelry. From artisanal to vintage finds, the platform offers opals in various styles and price ranges. Check it out here.

Wrapping Up

Opal jewelry, with its mesmerizing play of colors, stands as a testament to nature’s artistry. Each piece tells a unique story, making it more than just an accessory but a personal statement. Whether vintage or contemporary, artisanal or finely crafted, opals have the power to captivate and enchant. Invest in opals, and you’re not just buying jewelry; you’re owning a piece of nature’s magic.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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