How to Buy Opals

How to Buy Opals

Are you considering purchasing an opal or opal jewelry? If so, you’re not alone. Opal is a highly sought-after colored gemstone for adornment.

To assist you in your opal buying decision, this guide will cover everything you need to know about the opal gemstone, including the following questions and more:

  • Can opals be produced in a lab?
  • Describe a triplet opal.
  • How should an opal be stored?

What are Opals?

Opal is a mineraloid, a natural mineral that resembles a crystal but lacks a crystal structure. It is a unique stone that belongs to a group of select gemstones.

Opal is formed when silica-rich water mixes with rock. Silica is a natural mineral that occurs in the earth and is composed of oxygen and silicon. It is commonly found in rock formations.

Opals are created when silica is carried away by water and deposited into the gaps in other rocks. When it dries, it forms silica spheres that bond together to create the structure of an opal.

Overall, opal is a distinctive gemstone that forms through a unique process involving silica-rich water and rock formations.

Should You Buy Opal Jewelry?

When it comes to wearing any type of jewelry, there are benefits and drawbacks to consider, especially since it’s made of natural minerals like gold and gemstones. If you’re thinking about buying opal jewelry, you may be wondering if it’s suitable for everyday wear or how challenging it is to maintain.


Here are some simple pros and cons of purchasing and wearing opal jewelry:


  • Each opal pattern is unique and exquisite
  • Opal comes in a variety of colors
  • No other gemstone has the same appearance as opal


  • Opals can be challenging to care for
  • It can be difficult to distinguish fake opal from real opal
  • Many retailers overcharge for low-quality opal

Are the cons mentioned above deal breakers? That’s for you to decide, and my job is to assist you in doing so. Let’s now explore the world of buying opals online and in stores.

Different Types of Opal Stones

Opals come in various types and can be categorized based on their quality or origin. Common opals and precious opals are distinguished based on their level of quality, while opals like the fiery orange Mexican opal are known for their specific location of origin.

In summary, the different types of opal are defined by their unique characteristics, including color, pattern, and origin. Understanding these distinctions can help in selecting the right type of opal for jewelry or investment purposes.

Whether you’re a collector, enthusiast, or simply looking to purchase an opal for personal use, having a basic knowledge of the different types of opals can be beneficial.

Common Opals

Common opals are the most abundant type of opals. The gemstones often look like regular rocks, making them challenging to identify. The opals are available in various colors, such as gray, white, green, blue, pink, black, yellow, orange, and red. Although some common opals exhibit minor opalescence, it pales in comparison to the opalescence found in precious opals.

Common opals with moderate opalescence are deemed “high-quality common opals” and can cost a few hundred dollars per carat. They are less expensive and less valuable than precious opals. Nonetheless, they are still a popular choice for jewelry due to their affordability and availability in different colors.

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Precious Opals

Precious opals come in a variety of colors, including white, gray, black, and blue. They may also exhibit different hues, such as green, yellow, orange, red, and pink. The play of color can range from a subtle and delicate shimmer to a vibrant and bold display of color.

These gemstones are often used in high-end jewelry, such as opal engagement rings, necklaces, and earrings. They are also popular among collectors due to their rarity and beauty. When considering the purchase of a precious opal, it is important to choose a reputable dealer and to have the stone appraised for quality and authenticity.

They reflect brilliant flashes of colored light, and are considered to be high quality gemstones.

Fire Opals

Fire opals are a unique type of opal that is known for their bright and fiery colors. Their vibrant hues make them a popular choice for jewelry designers looking for an alternative to traditional gemstones. Fire opals are formed in volcanic rock, and their bright colors are due to the presence of iron oxide and other minerals in the rock. These minerals create the intense red, orange, and yellow hues that make fire opals so distinctive.

One of the most interesting aspects of fire opals is their translucency. Unlike other types of opals, which are often opaque, fire opals are prized for their ability to let light pass through them. This property is especially desirable when the opal is faceted, as it allows for a greater range of colors to be visible. When light enters the stone and is refracted, it creates a stunning play of colors that seems to dance across the surface of the stone.

Fire opals are often called Mexican opals because Mexico is one of the largest producers of these gemstones. In fact, the state of Queretaro in central Mexico is known for its high-quality fire opals. However, fire opals can also be found in other countries, including Brazil and the United States. In Brazil, fire opals are known for their deep red color, while the fire opals found in the United States tend to have a more orange or yellow hue.

Black Opals

Black opals are characterized by a dark body tone and vivid play of color, including greens, reds, blues, and other colors. Although they are not always black, they are highly prized for the contrast between the dark background and the play of colors. Black opals are found only in Lightning Ridge, Australia and are the most expensive opals due to their unique and stunning patterns.

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Doublet or Triplet Opals

Doublet or triplet opals should be approached with caution, especially when purchasing from chain jewelry stores. These types of opals are considered by many in the industry to be fake or composite stones.

Just as a ruby composite stone combines a piece of real ruby with glass, a doublet opal involves a thin slice of real opal placed against a dark backing, often a less expensive black gemstone like onyx or obsidian. Meanwhile, a triplet opal involves a clear material like glass or clear quartz sandwiched between the slice of opal and the dark backing.

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While some people may still find doublet or triplet opals appealing due to their lower price point, it is important to be aware of what you are buying. These types of opals lack the natural beauty and uniqueness of solid opals, which are made entirely of genuine opal. Therefore, it is recommended to invest in solid opals, even if they come at a higher cost.

It is important for stores to be transparent about whether the opal being sold is a composite opal, as they are significantly less valuable than solid opals. However, many chain retailers do not educate their staff on the differences between opals or disclose how a piece is made.

To ensure you are getting what you pay for when shopping for opal jewelry online, it is essential to thoroughly read the product descriptions. Look out for words like doublet, triplet, composite, and glass, as these indicate that the opal is not a solid gemstone. Taking these precautions will help you avoid being misled into buying an inferior product.

Matrix Opals

Matrix opals, similar to boulder opals, are typically discovered in host rocks such as sandstone and ironstone. However, they differ from boulder opals in that they form by filling the cracks in the host rock instead of nodules. Due to the extensive veins of opal within the rock, matrix opals have irregular shapes that are influenced by the host rock.

Premium Grade Opal Buying Guide

Opals are known for their unique and mesmerizing play of color, making them a popular choice for jewelry. However, choosing a high-quality opal can be tricky as each stone has its own contributing factors that determine its value. Here are some key factors to consider when buying opals:

Optical Phenomena – Opalescence and Play of Color

One of the most important factors to consider when buying opals is their optical phenomena. Opal gemstones display a unique play of color, which is the result of light diffraction in microscopic silica spheres.

The opalescence is often seen in common white opals, giving them an iridescence or milky sheen. However, it is the play of color that makes precious opals highly sought after. These opals have a translucent body tone and a strong play of color that reflects brilliant flashes of colored light.

Precious opal exhibits a play of colors. The primary determinant of opal quality is the vivid flashes of green, red, yellow, and other hues, which are the most prized in opals.

The opal’s play of color can exhibit an extraordinary pattern, which can be further broken down into various styles. The precious opal displays numerous pattern types, including the commonly observed ones:

  • Harlequin pattern: This pattern involves patches of colors arranged like a checkerboard.
  • Honeycomb pattern: It comprises hexagonal shapes set adjacent to one another, similar to a beehive’s honeycomb.
  • Ribbons pattern: This pattern showcases wavy streaks of color across the surface of the opal.
  • Chinese writing pattern: Despite the need for a more appropriate name, this term is used to describe the thin lines resembling Chinese characters that form the play of color.
  • Broad flash pattern: In this pattern, when light falls on the stone at an angle, a broad flash of rainbow colors is visible.
  • Rolling flash pattern: This pattern is similar to the broad flash, but the flash moves across the opal’s surface in a rolling manner.

Out of all the various opal play of color patterns, the harlequin pattern is the rarest and most valuable. Collectors highly prize large opals displaying a prominent harlequin pattern.

Opal Clarity

Although opal clarity may not be the most significant factor in determining its quality, it is still important. Similar to other gemstones, opals can have various types of inclusions, including natural inclusions resulting from the presence of other gemstones, impurities, and minerals.

When selecting an opal, it is advisable to avoid those with visible inclusions or dark spots that could diminish its brightness. A smooth surface without any bumps or rough patches is preferable.

Opal Cut Quality

Opal cut quality is different from that of traditional gemstones typically used in engagement rings. The finest quality opals are cut en cabochon, rather than faceted, as they display their play of color best when cut into a rounded shape instead of sharp angles.

Faceted opals may be sold under the name of opal at a higher price point than their actual worth, and are sometimes referred to as crystal opals. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that you are not overpaying for a faceted opal.

Unlike diamond cut quality, there are no standard charts for opal quality. Cut quality is not as crucial for colored gemstones as it is for color. The shape of the opal is the primary consideration when determining its quality for an engagement ring. Opal cabochons are available in various shapes, including round, oval, and cushion shapes.

This opal cabochon has a nice play of color, but the imperfection would lessen the value of the stone.

With the exception of fire opal and black opal, the dome-shaped stone is required to optimally show the vibrant color flashes wanted in high quality opals. These objects have gorgeous facets.

Additionally, it can be challenging to choose an opal when purchasing one online without first seeing the stone. If you buy opals from anybody, be sure they offer a good and simple return policy in case it’s not exactly what you intended.

Opal Carat Weight

Carat weight is commonly used to measure diamonds, and while gemstones may be listed by their dimensions, many jewelers still use carats as it is a more familiar term to customers. However, carat weight does not necessarily correspond to the actual size of the stone.

The distribution of carat weight can vary depending on the shape of the stone during the cutting process. For instance, a 1 carat emerald cut diamond may appear larger than a 1 carat round diamond due to its shape.

When cutting opals, limited styles are used to preserve their carat weight while ensuring the play of color is retained.

Most people believe that a gemstone is better if it is larger. However, the opal you have is of poor quality and weighs a lot of carats. Bigger opals with little to no color play are less valuable than tiny opals with vivid color flashes.

Opal Jewelry Prices

Opals are unique gemstones, and their price varies based on multiple factors. The quality of an opal is determined by its color, pattern, clarity, cut, and carat weight. The highest quality opals, which exhibit a vivid play of color and lack any visible inclusions, can be very expensive.

However, you don’t necessarily need to choose the highest quality opal available, just like when selecting a diamond engagement ring. Finding the right balance between quality and price is crucial.

When purchasing opal jewelry, the cost will depend on various factors. Here are some approximate prices you might expect to pay for opals of different qualities:

  • Opal Necklaces: A medium-quality opal solitaire pendant on a 14K gold chain can cost around $250 from retailers like Blue Nile.


  • Opal Rings: A 1-carat high-quality black opal ring can cost around $2,500, while a lower quality opal ring can be found for under $100.


  • Opal Earrings: A pair of simple opal stud earrings with medium-quality opals can cost around $150, while more intricate designs and higher quality opals can range from $500 to $1,500 or more.


Ultimately, the price of opal jewelry will depend on your personal preference and budget. It’s essential to educate yourself about the various factors that influence opal quality and price, so you can make an informed decision when purchasing opal jewelry.

Opal Jewelry Care and Maintenance Tips

Opal jewelry requires special attention and care to maintain its beauty over the years, particularly if you wear it frequently. While most gemstones can be cleaned using mild soap and water, opals demand extra care to prevent damage.

To clean your opal, avoid using soap and water, and instead, use a damp cloth with mild soap to wipe off any dirt. Opals are porous, and submerging them in water can cause damage, particularly for doublet and triplet opals that can split when submerged for too long.

Opals have a low hardness rating of 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, making them susceptible to scratches. Consequently, many people and jewelers advise against using opals for engagement rings.

To prevent damage to your opal jewelry, keep them away from chemicals, perfumes, and lotions. These substances can cause permanent damage to the stone. Additionally, extreme temperature changes can cause opals to crack, so avoid exposing them to such conditions.

Lastly, avoid storing opals in tight spaces with no air, such as a safety deposit box, as this can also cause them to crack. By following these tips, you can ensure that your opal jewelry remains beautiful and well-maintained for years to come.


In summary, opals are exquisite gemstones that display a remarkable range of colors and characteristics. It is important to exercise caution when purchasing opal jewelry, asking questions and reading the fine print to ensure that you are getting a high-quality, solid opal rather than a synthetic or composite variety.

While opals may not be suitable for everyday wear, with proper care and attention they can retain their stunning beauty for many years to come.

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