Individual opals can vary widely in appearance and quality. As diverse as snowflakes or fingerprints, each gem can differ noticeably.
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What To Look For
There are three main aspects of an opal’s quality. Color refers to background color and play-of-color. Pattern is arrangement of play-of-color. Clarity means transparency and quantity of inclusions. Play-of-color might be the most spectacular aspect of an opal’s appearance.
With an opal, clarity is its degree of transparency and freedom from inclusions. An opal’s clarity can range all the way from completely transparent to opaque. Experts prize different levels of clarity for different opal types.
The cutter considers an opal’s color, pattern, and clarity when planning the finished gem. As with many top-quality colored stones, exceptional opals might not be cut to standard sizes and shapes. Domed surfaces give the best play-of-color.
Common sizes for many of the opal cabochons set in jewelry are 6×4, 7×5, and 8×6 mm. Opal however comes in a wide range of sizes.
Opal Quality Factors: The Comprehensive Guide
Tips & Advice
1. Find a jeweler who carries a wide variety of opal.
Commercial-quality white opal is affordable and available in almost any jewelry store. But before you decide what kind of opal you’d like to own, be sure to see some high quality unusual opals with dramatic play-of-color too.
2. Consider a doublet or triplet.
If you prefer the look of black opal or boulder opal but it doesn’t fit your budget, you also have the option of an opal doublet or triplet.
3. Don’t expose an opal to extreme light, heat, or dryness.
Opal has high water content. Although most opal is cured to make sure it won’t crack, it’s never a good idea to subject your opal to very dry or hot conditions.
4. The best pattern is the one you like best.
Buying fine opal is a bit like buying art. Every pattern of play-of-color is different; some bold, others delicate, some symmetrical, others dynamic. There is no wrong or right, so choose what appeals to you.