Hardness and toughness
Gem and mineral hardness is measured on the Mohs scale. The numbers are based on the relative ease or difficulty with which one mineral can be scratched by another. But the Mohs scale is deceptive. The steps between the minerals are not evenly spaced. For example, diamond is only one number away, but it’s many times harder than gems in the corundum family.
Opal hardness is variable depending on its exact composition and formation conditions, and ranges from 5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. Its toughness is very poor to fair, making opal a gem that is suitable for jewelry but requires care when wearing so as to not scratch or break the stone.
Opal is generally stable, but heat from intense light can cause fracture lines called “crazing.” High heat or sudden temperature changes can also cause opal to fracture. Opal is attacked by hydrofluoric acid and caustic alkaline solutions.
Opals can be treated by impregnation with oil, wax, or plastic, and by surface modifications called sugar treatment and smoke treatment.
The only safe way to clean opal is with warm, soapy water.