Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Opal, one of the most underrated gemstones out there on the market. Stuck in the legends of countless cultures the world over; the most valued gemstone to the indomitable Romans and precieved to the Bedouins as lightning made manifest.
Opal, it's my favourite gemstone in the world. Completely underrated for what it is and I think completely overlooked by todays modern consumer. In this post we are going to talk a little about its legendary past, how it exploaded onto the gemstone scene and even why this stone is over looked by todays average consumer and why you should think twice and most definitely own a piece if not two in your collection.
What is an opal?
Opals are gemstones that are found in mainly arid, desert like areas. Though rain in these areas can be rare in some cases, when it does the opportunity for these beauties to form can be had. Opal is formed in a very unique way; unlike the other gemstones like diamonds, saphires and emeralds, opals don't have a crystal structure, making them amorphous (lacking clearly defined structure). This is due to the fact that when it rains in these arid areas, the water seeps down into the earth carrying particles of sand with it and fills in cavities. When the rain stops and the sun comes out again to heat the area back to its blistering temperatures; the water evaporates leaving the silica particles behind from the sand in little spheres.
The silica spheres that make up opal is what give them their unique play of colour; the spheres stack like ping pong balls in a box and cause the light to diffract between them. The depth of the layers of silica, dictates the different colours that get produced. If we were to get a scale of rarity of colours found in an opal, blue and green are most common and red and orange the rarest.
If you ever get the chance to buy one of these amazing stones or even get a glimpse of one, you will instantly fall in love with it like many have done before. Believed to be the most powerful and valuable of gemstones to the Romans because of how it contained the colours of all gemstones. The Bedouins of the deserts even thought that opal was the physical manifestation of lightning itself and found after lightning storms in the desert. Lucky for them they were half right, as the regions in the deserts that were prone to rainfall make for great places to find such a beautiful stone.
What are the best tips on buying an opal?
This image above just can't do the beauty of opal justice, it truly is a sight to behold in person. As you move in the light; the surface of these stones look like they are ablaze with multi-coloured fire. That's what makes an opal great, it's play of colour so if you are going to purchase one of these stones, do make sure you are getting one that is beautiful and makes the purchase worth while. Of course however, the more play of colour the opal has, the more you are expected to pay but that's not to say you can't get a true beauty without paying an arm and a leg.
There are also a number of varieties of opal, some you may want to avoid and some are the créme de la créme. Not to say it's not worth buying, but chocolate opal is the most avoided of opal from what i've seen. It still has that amazing play of colour that you can expect from an opal It’s called chocolate opal because the stone's background colour ( I guess you could call it ) is brown. The reason it's avoided is because when they were first discovered there was a huge boom for the chocolate opal, however there were some horror stories of how they would easily fracture and break due to some trace elements in the stone.
The two types of opal you are probably going to be purchasing are white opal and black opal ( as seen in the picture above). The white milky opals are the white ones and those with a darker blueish background are called black opal. Black opal is the best of the best and the most desired due to the fact the darker background truly makes the play of colour found in opal really pop. But if you're not in the market for thousands of pounds per carat for spectacular black opal, the white opals might be more in your price range.
Because of how the gemstone is formed and what gives the stone its desired 'look'; you will notice that opal are never faceted (cut) like you would see a diamond or a ruby for example. This is because if an opal was cut like this it would completely ruin the stone and in most cases destroy the play of colour that is dependant on the layers of silicas thickness. For this reason you will always see opals cut as cabachons, so they make great rings and centerpieces to necklaces.
Is opal worth investing in?
I don't plan on talking about investing in gemstones too much here as it's a rather large topic and would need it's own entire post for each indiviudal stone to truly explain the pros and cons of investing for each perticular one. Opal however, long story short is a very good choice of gemstone to invest in, especially if you are buying a black with an amazing play of colour, covering the entire spectrum.
Opal is worth the buy because nothing is like it, opal is opal and I don't believe that will change for a very long time. Unlike the diamond industry where it is all on the brink of collapsing because of how close lab grown diamonds are to the real thing; in some cases stones otherwise worth over 1.5 million can be produced in labs for just under 25,000. Opals I don't believe have this same threat from synthetics and imitations because of how specific the formular is for opals and how hard it is to produce something as good as the original (mother nature truly is a master chef). Where diamonds and saphires can be grown in a lab and are indistinquishable from their natural counterparts, the best I have seen coming out of the opal world was a very plastic looking, flat stone, lacking that three dimensional fire that original opal has.
Is opal really worth investing in, is the price going up? Most definitly, as more and more 'new money' is found in the world and millionaires and influencers are getting younger and younger, the hunger for the next best thing is growing each year. This has allowed otherwise un-noticed beautiful stones like opal and ametrine for example slowly start to take over center stage, as consumers become more and more educated about what's out there on the market.
Opal is my number one most favourite of gemstones and it should be yours too. It has a play of colour like nothing else and is perfect for both day time and night time wear thanks to it's fluorescense. Held in high regard as the most powerful and valued stone in the ancient world amongst the Romans and even amongst the Greeks as they believed it was the manifestation of lightning bolts from Zeus himself.
If you get a chance to see a real black or white opal it's most certainly worth it. If you get the chance to buy an opal of an amazing quality, even better, because this is a timeless classic that could never go out of fashion. Definitly worth the investment of adding to your wardrobe and sitting on; as consumer interest grows and high grade opal is being snatched up left, right and center.