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Opal

Fireworks. Jellyfish. Galaxies. Lightning. Opal’s shifting play of kaleidoscopic colors is unlike any other gem.

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Cabochon

Most opals are cut as cabochons; this one from Ethiopia weighs 20.86 ct.

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Unique Beauty

The play-of-color displays the entire spectrum over a light gray background.

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Pattern

Bright flashes of color skip across this stone’s surface.

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Hidden Beauty

Opal forms as irregular nodules or seams in volcanic or sedimentary rocks.

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Rare Phenomena

Play-of-color results when light interacts with orderly stacks of spheres.

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Treasure

This opal nodule displays the promise of intense play-of-color.

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Tools

Overview

About Opal

Because opal has the colors of other gems, the Romans thought it was the most precious and powerful of all. The Bedouins believed that opals contained lightning and fell from the sky during thunderstorms. When Australia’s mines began to produce opals commercially in the 1890s, it quickly became the world’s primary source for this October birthstone.

Opal Description Opal History and Lore

Birthstones & Anniversaries

Opal is an October birthstone.

0.2 Microns

Grids of silica spheres 0.2 microns in size create red play-of-color flashes.


20% Water

Opal contains up to 20% water trapped in its silica structure.
 


1829

The novel “Anne of Geierstein” gave opal a reputation of being unlucky.


Facts

  • Mineral: Hydrated Silica
  • Chemistry: SiO2•nH2O
  • Color: All colors
  • Refractive index: 1.37-1.47
  • Birefringence: None
  • Specific gravity: 2.15 (+0.08, -0.90)
  • Mohs Hardness: 5 to 6.5

Where It's Found

map

Treatments

There are a number of processes used to alter the color, apparent clarity, or improve the durability of gems.

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Synthetics

Some gemstones have synthetic counterparts that have essentially the same chemical, physical, and optical properties, but are grown by man in a laboratory.

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Imitations

Any gem can be imitated—sometimes by manmade materials or by natural materials chosen by man to impersonate a particular gem.

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gem love

Why We Love This Gemstone

1
Formation

When opal formed, silica gel filled crevices in rock. As water evaporates, the silica is deposited in the form of tiny spheres.

2
Interaction with Light

Opal’s flashing play-of-color is caused by diffraction of light by silica spheres stacked like tiny Ping-Pong balls in a box.

3
Unique

Opal’s arrays of silica spheres form a fantastic variety of patterns and colors. No two opals are exactly alike.

Quality Factors

Play-of-color, intensity, and pattern are important value factors.

Color

quality factors

Opal’s spectacular play-of-color can display all the colors of the rainbow.

Clarity

quality factors

Experts expect different levels of clarity for different types of opals.

Cut

quality factors

Fine opals are often cut into irregular shapes that keep as much play-of-color as possible.

Carat Weight

quality factors

Opal has relatively low density so even larger sizes can be comfortable to wear.

Opal Quality Factors: The Comprehensive Guide

Research

Explore sources, gemological research, and the role of gems in history.

Play-of-Color Opal from Wegel Tena, Wollo Province, Ethiopia

Benjamin Rondeau, Emmanuel Fritsch, Francesco Mazzero, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Bénédicte Cenki-Tok, Eyassu Bekele, and Eloïse Gaillou , Oct 3, 2010 Read Article

Update on Mexifire Synthetic Fire Opal

Rajneesh Bhandari and Gagan Choudhary Read Article

Dyed Purple Hydrophane Opal

Nathan Renfro and Shane F. McClure , Sep 19, 2011 Read Article

Queensland Boulder Opal

Richard W. Wise , Mar 1, 1993 Read Article