Black Opal from Lightning Ridge AustraliaPicture Guide to Opal

This guide  will help identify the different types and show how to recognize them. We first start with Lightning Ridge Black Opal.

Black Opal when found with a natural black or dark background is called ‘black opal’. This background can range from pitch black to grey giving the stone are darkish appearance and when seen from the top is opaque [Not allowing light to pass through]. It is the dark background which allows the brilliant colors. Black opal can be any color. The specimen pictured has a dominant color of blue. It is approximately 1-1/2 cm in length.[This particular stone has now sold].


crystal opal carving from Lightning ridge
crystal opal carving from Lightning Ridge

Dark Opal Dark opal is found on most fields. It’s background color ranges from grey to near black.. Black opals are in the same family as Dark opals (also opaque- not allowing light to pass through). They are just dark opals with a blacker background. As the background of this stone becomes lighter and grayer it gets closer to light opal and its sometimes difficult to decide whether a dark opal should be categorized as dark or light. It’s often in the eye of the beholder.


The Difference between Lightning Ridge and Boulder black opal

Light and Dark Boulder Opal from Winton Australia
Example of contrasting colors in boulder opal
Black Boulder Opal unset stone
Brilliant red blue green boulder opal

Boulder Opal
A form of black or dark opal although it must be said that there are light colored boulder opals as well as dark and black. Boulder opals are still attached to the mother rock that they were born in. The latest Opal Nomenclature identifies Boulder opal as being black opal as well. The term ‘black opal’ does not identify the origin of the stone but rather its appearance. Boulder opals often have the same dense color as Lightning Ridge stones and hence are placed in the category of Black Opals.  Most (but not all) boulder opals have flat tops and stones from Lightning Ridge are often high domed. However Boulders often have more denseness and brilliance than gems from Lightning Ridge at a more competitive price. Boulder gems often have ironstone inclusions in the foreground which reduces their price but in the opinion of many, add to the personality of the stone. Video of high grade black boulder opal

Boulder Opal specimen from Winton Australia
Boulder Opal specimen

Boulder Opal Specimen

From the Quilpie opal fields in western Queensland. Often these specimens are left exactly as they have been found in the ground and are used for display purposes in people’s gemstone collections. Because Boulder opal, as far as we know, i only found in one place on the planet, that is Queensland, Australia, you can imagine that specimens like this are in high demand


Boulder Opal split face specimens
Five chunks of boulder opal split from one large piece

Split faced boulder As the title indicates, this is a boulder opal that has been split along the vein of color, resulting in two identical pieces, one concave and one convex. This amazing natural appearance results in an identical pair that can be used as earrings if they are small enough or for specimen collectors. This pair comes into the second category as they would be a bit much to wear on the ears.

Boulder opal abstract picture stone from Australia
Interesting lines of color in boulder opal

Boulder opal Abstracts
(this is our terminology and is not an official description) but we feel that it best       describes the endless varieties of these unusual opals often call ‘fun stones’, an expression that really doesn’t tell you anything about what they are. Take a look here at our gallery of picture stones, if you have not already done so.

White Opal Koala Carving from Coober Pedy
Koala carving from solid white opal
Indian chief opal carving from boulder opal
boulder opal Indian chief
Boulder Opal Turtle carving from Quilpie, Australia
Boulder opal Turtle

Opal Carvings
As the term suggests, opal, both boulder ironstone and white or black opal is often used to carve figurines

Boulder opal collectors item-pair of sheep
Opal ‘pair of sheep’
Boulder Opal specimen-Giraffe skin
Giraffe skin
Opal Picture stone collection - the prawn
“The Shrimp”
Opal specimen bird of paradise
Opal ‘bird’
Opal Picture stone specimen
‘the Slipper’
Black Opal picture stone drop
Rainbow drop
Boulder Opal picture stone cascade
Opal Cascades

Picture Stones
have received this name because from time to time as an opal is opened up from inside a boulder opal (particularly) or a black opal, something comes out that amazingly looks like a an item from nature, such as an animal, a rainbow, a bird, a fish, etc. the variety is endless.

A rose carved from a chunk of opaque white opal from Coober Pedy
the Opal Rose

White Opal  A solid opal with an opaque [non see-through] light background. White opal is often called milk opal because of its light appearance. Crystal opal is of the same family but it is more translucent and sometimes transparent whereas the color of white opal is on the surface. This type of opal can appear in all fields but Coober Pedy is famous for it. Some people prefer the more delicate, less dramatic appearance of the white opal.  Crystal opal holds a certain fascination because they eye is able to look deep into the stone and gaze at its internal mysteries.

Opal crystal from Coober Pedy
Opal crystal
Opal Jelly crystal from Lightning Ridge
Jelly crystal

Light Opal crystal This type of opal does not have a dark or black background and hence has a more delicate less dramatic appearance because the surface is not opaque and the light is able to shine right through the stone.




Dark Opal from Coober Pedy
Dark Opal
Dark Opal from Coober Pedy opal fields
Large slab of Dark Opal

   Dark Opal Crystal    This is when the crystal opal has a darker appearance within it’s body. Dark opal describes the in-between status of the stone. Its not white opal and its not black opal, its a progression between the two types. This illustrates the marvelous complexity of the opal stone and the difficulty we have in arriving at accurate definitions. When its all boiled down, opal is at the mercy of the beholder. What appeals to one person will not be as appealing to another. But isn’t that what life is all about? We are open to choices.


Opal specimen from Coober Pedy opal fields
Andamooka “Painted Lady”

Andamooka Painted Lady This stone is what could be called the South Australian ‘boulder opal’. Not because it is boulder ironstone but because it comes in large chunks like boulder and is often split out of the ground along the lines of color. It is pale in appearance but sometimes has some dark potch in the background of the color which gives it an attractive feature and is another example of a type of black opal because any opal with a black background is in this category.


Opal Mosaic Turtle
Opal Mosaic turtle brooch
Opal Mosaic calibrations
18×13 mm mosaics

Mosaic Opal
The previously described opals are all naturally formed. Mosaic opal is created by a skilled artist who assembles the small pieces of natural opal into a mosaic pattern. These Slivers of genuine opal are assembled into an irregular tiled pattern with rivers of black potch framing each unique opal tile. Mosaic opals make stunning stones for all types of jewelry and allow the jeweler to include a wide range of colors within an affordable piece. This assembly of small opal pieces is not to be confused with the Harlequin opal which features squarish spangles of color appearing naturally in the opal face. It is the rarest and most expensive opal.

Boulder Opal matrix from Yowah
Yowah matrix
yowah matrix unset opal
Yowah Matrix
Yowah nut unset opal
‘eye’ of opal
green boulder matrix from Winton, Australia
green opal matrix
Pair of boulder opals for earrings
Boulder pair
Yowah matrix pair
matrix specimens

Matrix Opal This type of opal comes in two categories namely:


Boulder opal fish carving
Fish carving

Boulder Matrix which is a completely natural stone made up of boulder ironstone with flecks of precious opal showing throughout the stone. These come in endless varieties from Winton to Yowah and Koroit. Usually found in association with boulder opal which tends to have larger faces of opal found in veins, whereas the matrix opal color is scattered throughout the body of the mother ironstone. These amazing opals come in such variety and are much sought after by opal collectors.


andamooka matrix opal -South Australia
Large Andamooka Matrix Specimen

Andamooka Matrix is a natural stone that, when it comes out of the ground is quite pale in appearance. By impregnating it with a black carbon process, the stone turns dark and when cut and polished, takes on the appearance of black opal. However, keep in mind that even though the stone is natural, there is a man made treatment involved which has to be stated at point of sale.

Opal Doublet parcel from Coober Pedy
Doublet parcel
Red free-form doublet parcel -  Coober Pedy
Red doublets
opal triplets calibrated
calibrated triplets

Composite Opals
Are natural opals that have been assembled with a dark or black background that is cemented in place so that the stone takes on the appearance of black opal. Opal is one of the only stones that can cater both for someone who can afford a large amount of money or someone who only has a few dollars. Composite opals such as doublets, triplets, and mosaics are still real opals and can be stated as such with the qualification that they have been assisted by man with the installation of a dark backing, or in the case of triplets, with a crystal protective cap as well.


We hope that you have benefited by this picture guide to the opal.


17 Responses to “Opal Picture guide”

  1. D.Webster

    Our opal earrings look like the surface might be a chip of brilliant colours in the sun that at a point looks like a diamond, however the opal is not straight through. I was wondering what kind it is, perhaps it is too expensive to be an opal solid on the other hand maybe it is…?

    Any information would be appreciated.

    Thank you.

    • admin

      Mr or Mrs Webster. Its really difficult to give an opinion without seeing the stone. if you have a digital camera with a macro (close-up) ability, please take a couple of pictures and send it to me. But first list your information through the contacts form here: and i will be able to talk to you direct by email and you can send me a picture and i will do whatever possible to help you identify the opal. Thanks for contributing to the site, and please accept our kind regards from opalmine, Australia, Peter

  2. ali

    i can,t see here any australian fire opal,can u please tell me some of its finest types and picturs.

    • admin

      Hi Ali, the term ‘fire opal’ is often applied to Mexican opal usually, i believe, which is an orangy-red mostly without a play of color. The use of the term ‘fire’ is often applied in Australia to any opal of any color as long as the color is dynamic and not subdued. Of course there are many opinions and termanologies applied to opal but if you look at any of the bright images in this site, they could be said to contain ‘fire’ I have written an article on the new opal nomenclature so if you would like to see it, just let me know and i will email it to you. best wishes Ali, Peter

  3. Grace

    I was wondering if you had anymore specific information on the Black Opal? I was also wondering if any types of opals have been discovered in SPACE? I’m not sure if you are the right person to ask but have there ever been any opals or gems/rocks of any kinds discovered from a meteor? Please get back to me, thanks so much!


    • admin

      Grace, thanks for your interesting question. I will post a new article on the black opal subject on this site. just submit your details in the contacts section so that i will get an email reminder. I heard something about opals being discovered on Mars. Here is an article about it. Just how much you can believe that of course is dubious, but its certainly interesting. Peter

      PS. I just noticed that the link i have installed here just takes you to another section of opalmine regarding black opals and does not link to the Mars article. Site manager checking into this at present.

  4. John

    I found an opal in coober Pedy 20 years ago that is in the shape of a small seashell (similar to a clam). Is it possible that the shell has fossilized w/ opal?…is it rare?’s about an inch wide.

    • admin

      Yes John, there are many opals found in Coober Pedy and some in LIghtning Ridge which are actually fossils of all sorts of sea creatures and other things. Opal shells are getting rarer, depending on the quality. if you like you can submit a picture so that we can see what you have. best wishes, Peter

  5. susan jennings

    my uncle passed away and hes done a lot of opal mineing hes got opals from ligting ridge cooperpeddy hes got other stones look like dimonds and lots of gems so many of them need to get them valued he cut and polish them himself hes got all the tools could you please help who do we get out to value them

    • Peter

      Susan, we have had a few technical problems in the blog of and i am just checking on some comments made. Many apologies for not getting back to you earlier. please comment again if you would like. very best wishes, Peter

  6. merv

    hello i want to know what is needed to make mattrix opal,i have been told a couple ways but its not correct wondering if you can send to my email what i need to bring the coloure out please.they call it cooking of the opal.regards merv.

  7. کیهان

    سنگی به رنگ یشم و نقطه های تیره در آن دیده میشود و در شب نور میدهد. میخواستم بدونم چه سنگیه.

    • Peter

      Saheb, not sure what you would like to know. do you want to buy an opal? peter صاحب، آپ کو جاننا چاہوں گا کہ کیا بات کا یقین نہیں. آپ کو ایک دودیا پتھر خریدنے کے لئے چاہتے ہیں؟ پیٹر

  8. Jillian

    I was given a price of fossilized wood that has these white bubbly formations inside of it. The person qho have it to me said he got it at withlacoochee river. They have a background of red amber and black/blue-ish color. Is it the beginning of an opal formation?

    • admin

      Jillian, i dont know much about fossilized wood as opal is my specialty but it sounds like a nice piece. peter


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