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What to look for when buying opals

What to look for when buying opals

what to look for when buying opals
The beauty of opal – the ultimate gift

As there are many aspects to consider when buying opals, a guide can be useful. Having been associated with opal mining, cutting and processing for jewellery for over 40 years, I, Peter Brusaschi, am well qualified to show you what to look for when choosing and purchasing opals to suit your needs.

How to tell a good quality opal. What to look for when buying opals? The value of opal per carat or by piece is probably the first thing to know, and the price is significantly influenced by the opal’s presentation, type, brightness, color play, pattern, and lack of imperfections.

Opal stone meaning: Collins dictionary

I have outlined below a comprehensive analysis of not just what to look for when buying opals but what the different types of opals look like and which one will best suit your budget and your personality.

Value and size (opal stone price)

The first thing to keep in mind is that opal stone values relate very much to:

a. whether the stone is a solid opal, a doublet, a triplet, or matrix

b. whether it is a white, crystal, boulder, or black opal

c. the brightness of the stone, the amount of color, the pattern and the lack of imperfections.

As suggested below scroll down to where the article discusses the difference between these stones under the heading and take a look at this article I have written on the subject

Size is established usually by the internationally accepted decimal system of millimeters. The length of the stone being listed first followed by the width (i.e. 10×8 mm) 10 mm is approx. 3/8″ conversion chart here for USA readers.

Weight is recorded in Carets using a special scale. A 10×8 mm opal weighs between 1 to 1.75 carats depending on the height of the stone.

Opal Stone Price is generally measured against the value of black opal. Low-grade black opal can be around $50 per carat. Good quality blue opal from around $500 per carat. Green opal to green – orange up to $1000 per carat and more.

Stones with dominant red are the rarest opals, combined with blues, greens, yellows and many variations can be priced from $5000 to $20,000 per carat depending on the brilliance of the stone and its background darkness. Fire opal prices are not discussed because the term is generally applied to mexican opals which are often just one color without a play of opalescence.

Opal prices per gram are limited to rough opal which is also sold in parcels without weight.

Presentation of Opals (how to tell a good quality opal)

First, a dictionary definition of the stone itself. An opal color chart has been developed but this can be very confusing and the subtle differences in background shades and brilliance is often in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion its best to study the picture carefully and decide whether you personally like it or not and communicate with the seller personally. OPAL

The following information will give you a very comprehensive summary of the whole opal industry, If you like you can skip down to the ‘what to look for’ section but if you do have some time and considering that you might be making a decision to spend a considerable amount of money, the following details will give you a better background to help you make the right decision.

Finding information about opals is much easier nowadays than it was even 20 years ago, before the age of the internet. The first posting on the internet from was in 1996 and since that year many changes have been made to the site and of course, Google has evolved into the amazing source of information that we have today (2019)

Unlike the old days, today it’s not so difficult to find information on that most amazing of gemstones, opal. Often opals are associated with a country, namely, AUSTRALIA which although from a European point of view is only a young country, being around 200 years old since immigrants from that area migrated.

But from a geological point of view, it is very ancient and these fascinating gems lay dormant in the Australian desert for a very long time.

Of course, aboriginals, the first inhabitants have been here for thousands of years, but they were most interested in the things in life that really matter. Namely, finding somewhere comfortable to live with plenty of water and food. They were not so interested in trinkets and probably would not have seen the sense in digging in the ground looking for pieces of rock.

In fact, the opal mining town of Coober Pedy was named by the aboriginals and means ‘white man in a hole’ and it mustn’t have made much sense to those early inhabitants that people would bother to dig in the Australian outback heat.

Particularly considering that the tools they had in those early days did not consist of bulldozers, backhoes, and excavators. It was just a pick and shovel episode.

Backtracking a bit to the topic of ‘what to look for in buying opals’ its pretty obvious that if you are going to buy anything it’s a good idea to consult with someone who has hands-on involvement in the item being considered.

In this case Opal. But before we go further into that, let’s take a look at the types of opals that are offered in various countries of the world, because Australia is not the only source.

Opal Sources and history

The history of opal goes a long way back into history. In fact, to the time of the ancient Romans, some of whom appreciated the stone very much. The source of these stones of antiquity was Europe. To be specific It was modern day Slovakia. These opals in the past have been known as Hungarian but that was at a time when Slovakia was a part of the Hungarian world power, which is not the case today.

Most of the opals from this area have been mined out. There are opals from Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, to name a few, and many of them are very beautiful gems. However, opal manufacturers and dealers know that Australian opal is the most reliable because it has had a long existence in the very dry areas of this continent and is more secure than most other opals, many of which, being hydrophane, are able to soak up a lot of moisture and are very porous. Ethiopean opal price per carat is not listed on this site becaue we do not sell them and as stated we do not encourage their use in jewelry.

The color can disappear when soaked in water which is OK if the color comes back. But usually to get the color to return it has to be dried out either in the sun or under a hot which can be risky for this type of opal which can easily craze or crack.

What to know and look for when buying opals online

Internet buying of opal as with a lot of products is very convenient. Particularly if you live in New York or London or some other country a long way away from Australia. Buying direct off the internet means its easier to compare and you can avoid the high costs involved in going to a retail store where overheads are much more expensive than running a shop online.

Some background information about opal in contrast to other gems first. Unlike most gemstones, opal can be cut and polished in different ways with different presentations. Using a diamond, a sapphire, or a ruby for an example, these stones are either real or synthetic. There are no other variations except for sapphires which sometimes have been presented as doublets (in two pieces)

Either your diamond is a real diamond or a synthetic. Your emerald or sapphire is either genuine or grown in a laboratory such as the procedure developed by Pierre Gilson In recent times other laboratory gemstones have been produced which are very difficult for the novice to identify.

Opal, for example, is now being produced in a laboratory and although based on a plastic process, present a very convincing look-alike that is almost impossible to detect.

To make things even worse, it is noted that even so-called respectable online sites, sell these lab opals as real. Some are more crafty by reporting that they are laboratory-produced but the explanation is often hidden in a barrage of information that is not easily noticed.

In reporting this, it is not our intention to denigrate the beauty of some of the synthetic gems. There is a place for all types of trinkets and stones including fashion jewelry and for those who cannot afford the real things, it’s an excellent alternative. As long as you are not buying something that does not live up to your expectations.

This is why it’s important to deal with an opal company with an excellent reputation earned over many years of time.

How True are online pictures of opals?

Pictures are important in knowing what to look for in buying opals. Opal is one of the most difficult items to photograph. Particularly crystal or white opal. If you put white opal in a white background it looks really sick and sometimes the color nearly disappears as you will notice with some of the dreadful pictures online.

But if you put it on a black background, the stone becomes too stark and washed out. Here the photographer must learn how to get just the right amount of light in a macro lens so that the subtle colors will show.

It’s much easier with black and boulder opal either against a black or white background. But to keep it consistent some sites including use black velvet backgrounds to keep the presentation consistent.

You will notice that a lot of blue opals show a flash of purple that does not exist in the opal itself. Very few cameras are capable of photographing blue opals accurately. Its necessary to try to correct this as much as possible by the seller but just keep in mind that if you are buying a blue on black opal and there is red in it that has not been explained by the seller, be sure to ask if it really is a red stone or you could be disappointed.

We have noticed that smartphone internet search tends to exaggerate the color of not just opal but all graphics. It’s a good idea if you are spending considerable money to, by all means do the search on your smartphone from wherever you are located but try to take a final look and make the order from a desktop if its possible where you will get a more accurate idea of what you are buying and it will be easier to fill in the order details.

The different ways opal is presented

As mentioned earlier, most gemstones are usually solid pieces of rough material cut and either faceted or fashioned into a dome. The only thing to determine apart from making sure you are not buying a synthetic or man-made gem, is the various qualities of the stone that makes the difference in price.

However, opal can be presented as solids, doublets, triplets or Andamooka Matrix, and its good to know how to identify them. Here is a clear description of what this means:

Solid Opal:

As the name implies, solid opal is just what it says. A solid piece of rough opal that has been cut, shaped, and polished. Usually with a dome and rarely as facets. In the case of opal, round-topped or cabochon (French word for ‘head’) shapes are more practical because they are not so susceptible to breaking.

Doublet Opal:

When a piece of rough opal is not thick enough to cut and polish as a solid, it can be set onto a dark or black background using black opal potch or brown boulder ironstone.

Calibrated doublets are often set on microscope slides. So, one reason for making doublets is to make the best use of expensive rough opal by giving background support to thinner stones.

A second reason is to make the color of the opal more impressive and dynamic because the thinner and opal is on a dark background, often the brighter and more brilliant it becomes, and this is very appealing to the wearer.

Opal Doublets

Doublets are a way to provide opal for folks who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on solid black or boulder opals. Doublets are still genuine, non-synthetic opals at an affordable price.

Triplet Opal.

The same principle applies to triplet opals except that the opal is usually thinner and often even brighter. The word triplet gets its name from the word triple which implies something in three sections.

Opal triplets are capped with a clear crystal top which protects the stone from wear and also makes it easier to set, particularly when the choice of setting is by claws. Its very difficult cot close claws on a doublet opal without chipping it. Much easier with a triplet.

Opal Value Guide: How to tell if an opal is solid, doublet, or triplet

Of course, reputable dealers will tell you that anyway but if you are looking at a stone offline, the best way is to take a picture of the edge of the stone, load it into your computer and enlarge it so that you can see the join line if it’s a doublet or triplet.

The enlargement will show the cement that holds the two or three pieces together

If the stone is already set into a pendant or a ring, there is really no way of telling unless you pull the item to bits, so in this case, you have to rely on the honesty of the supplier, which emphasizes the need to always deal with a reputable experienced supplier.


The different types of Australian Opal

Boulder opal with a large sheet of color

Boulder Opal

The first opals found in Australia according to the best historical sources that we know of were discovered in the outback areas of Queensland in the northeast of the continent. Boulder opal was the original opal stone found in this continent around the middle of the nineteenth century

To be specific, ‘out west’ as its termed in Australia, near the towns of Winton to the north, Blackall towards the south, Quilpie further down, Yowah and Koroit towards the NSW border.

These amazing gems are found as veins of rainbow colors in brown ironstone boulders which can range in size from meters in the northern fields to the size of pebbles in the Yowah and Koroit areas. Many of the fields share sizes of boulders. Koroit for example also mines similar boulders to Quilpie and Winton.

In the aforementioned opal mines, there are different categories of opal that are presented as follows:

  1. Clean faced boulder opal which can have a slight dome or a flat surface. These boulders are also cut with an undulating surface as the result of the opal cutters dental equipment following the various ups and downs of the veins being exposed.
  2. These stones are top quality gems which are often sold in carats as well as in sizes. Valuation-wise, they can often be compared with the black opals of Lightning Ridge which we will discuss later.
  3. Boulder opal ‘fun stones’

    Boulder Opal with natural inclusions

    A term assigned to them for the want of some way to describe them. These stones are cut and polished leaving some of the mother ironstone in the foreground giving an interesting contrast been the chocolate ironstone and the opal color.

  4. These stones can be very interesting, the ironstone establishing for all to see that the stone is a natural gem, not in any way synthetic.
  5. They often come with amazing pictures and abstract patterns that individualize them and give them personality. This type of opal particularly appeals to folks who want to steer away from tradition and display something earthier and more unique.
  6. Another appeal is that they are usually a lot cheaper than the clean-faced stones. But of course, this depends on the color and pattern of the aforesaid.
  7. Boulder Opal Matrix is another variation to boulder opal. The term ‘matrix’ actually comes from the word ‘mother’ or ‘womb’ In this case the small splashes of opal color peep out from between the ironstone.
  8. The ironstone becomes the mother to the opal. The color often shows throughout the face of the stone. Both the ironstone and the opal are polished with diamond tools together so that it gives a brown effect with multi-colored highlights.

Opal Value Guide:

What to be careful of when buying Boulder Opal

It is possible to present a boulder opal that is made to look like a solid opal but is, in fact, a doublet. Keep in mind that, like black opals, boulder opal color is only on the surface of the stone, not right throughout. The material that makes up the whole stone is the ironstone ‘mother’ which is left naturally on the back of the opal.

Usually to identify a doublet, that is an opal made by cementing a thin slice of opal onto a dark background, you look at the edge of the stone and when you see a straight line joining the opal top to the background, you can see easily that it’s a doublet unless the stone is already in a setting.

But the opal cutter, by mixing some powdered ironstone with epoxy resin, can fill the area in the middle with a mixture that looks like ironstone and leave the edge of the stone uneven. This looks for the world like a solid boulder opal but it is, in fact, a doublet.

This is fine of course if the seller identifies it as such, but some unscrupulous dealers may not reveal this and you could be paying the price of a solid boulder opal and in fact be getting a doublet which may be worth as little as a quarter of the price.

Take a look in the section below which describes how to identify the different ways opal is presented to learn more about solids, doublets, and triplets.

If you need help in identifying a stone like this, don’t hesitate to click the HELP button at the bottom of this page, or leave a question in the blog and Peter will do what he can to assist. Opal stone benefits if it is australian is that it is a secure item that will not lose its color.

Crystal Opal

Crystal Opal

The term ‘crystal’ is not a technically accurate way of describing light-colored, translucent, or jelly-like opal because opal is not a crystalline stone. The term was first used by the old miners who needed a way of describing a stone that was not opaque but was more see-through and I guess the first thing that came to their mind was perhaps a crystal vase or glass.

When developing the opal nomenclature a few years ago, the committee was tempted to drop this word and replace it with something more accurate, but they decided to retain the terminology because it had been in use for so long and was an integral part of the vocabulary of opal dealers and jewellers.

White or pale Opal

Traditionally and historically most opals were in the crystal category. Other terms such as white opal and milk opal have been used. If we focus on the Australian Crystal opals, they were first found in White Cliffs a town on the New South Wales side of the South Australian border, not far from the famous iron town of Broken Hill.

At one time this opal field was the largest in the world but when the opal ran out, it was replaced with Coober Pedy, Andamooka and other surrounding fields like Mintabee and Lamina, all in South Australia but existing further north towards the center of Australia, Alice Springs.

Medium grade opal crystal is used to manufacture the very popular opal triplets and a very large industry has been built up around that stone based in the supply from Coober Pedy and processing often done in the capital city Adelaide to the south.

What to be careful of when buying Crystal Opal

Crystal opal found in various parts of the world as well as in some parts of Australia where its location is closer to the coast and other damp areas is notorious for cracking or crazing because of its high-water content.

Areas such as Tintenbar near the NSW coast produces a really beautiful crystal as well as black crystal opal but if used for jewelry purposes in most cases, at least in the experience of the author, crack in time and are best avoided.

Other fields in Australia have the same reputation and experienced dealers are conscious of this and avoid dealing in them.

The problem is that if you are buying off the net, there is no way of telling unless it is declared in the sales description in which case they are best avoided. You need to deal only with experienced opal distributors with a reputation for guaranteeing products and replacing them should there be a problem.

In recent years a lot of opal has come out of Africa, specifically named ‘Wello’ opal. These gems are really beautiful but can lose color if they come in contact with water and even though it is often stated that they are not cracky again, in my experience, this is not the case.

I recently cut a parcel of this opal for a customer and I could feel that it had a ‘soapy’ feel to it on the grinder and because it had to be cut using water on the diamond grinder, it lost color when the job was complete. I advised the customer to put it in the sun for a while and dry it out.

Hopefully, the color came back but this sort of result is risky. The problem is that you could spend hundreds of dollars on special settings only to have a stone that has either cracked or loses color. Better to use stones like this as specimens for a collection and not for jewelry.

So if you invest in one of these stones, you will need to be confident that you will either get your money back if it cracks or loses color, or be replaced with a secure Australian Opal.

Keep in mind too that if the crystal opal is very translucent, and if it is photographed on a dark or black background, the resultant color will give a wrong impression and will, in fact, look more like a black opal than a crystal because the dark background will influence the color of the face of the stone.

If the item being sold is not presented with a lighter background such as the human hand, it’s probably best to request another picture. This would generally just apply if the stone is quite clear, almost glass like. If the white or crystal opal is more opaque, the background will not affect the foreground as much.

Black Opal stone

Broad pattern black opal

Lightning Ridge and black opal are synonymous. When this stone was first discovered in this western NSW town, again it was a challenge to know what to call it. The color, when found in the rough, was associated with black rather than white or pale potch (unformed opal) By leaving the black potch in the background of the color, as mentioned before in the discussion about boulder opal, the result was a more stunning outstanding gem.

black opal
Black Opal high domed oval

And because it was the black potch in the background that created the effect the decision was to call it black opal. Unfortunately, the term can be very confusing for the novice because it sounds like black opals are black which is anything but the case.

So just to clarify. Black opals are called such because they have a black or dark background. The foreground is full of color which can be any shade of the rainbow.

The term ‘black opal’ can rightly be shared by stones from Lightning Ridge as well as boulder opals from the Queensland field, even though traditionally the name is assigned only to the Ridge.

Reasoning on the subject though, because boulder opal is backed naturally by dark, sometimes black boulder ironstone, the same effect is achieved and so rightly they can be referred to as black opals. Of course, this would only apply if the background is black enough to give the same effect as the Lightning Ridge variety.

Opal Value Guide:

What to be careful of when buying Black Opal

As with all other opals, the main focus of attention with black opal is the quality of the color. A system of grading has been established based on the body tone and brightness of the stone. In the experience of the author, trying to use a system like this online just confuses the buyer.

The variations between one stone on a chart like this is often very subtle and not easy to identify. Computer screens vary in the way color is shown. In our opinion, its best to just look at a stone and if it appeals to your eye it is the right opal for you.

You can always request more pictures and if there is an international guarantee in place you can always return it for a replacement or cash.

The one thing you have to be careful of is if the supplier sells you an unset stone and does a design and manufacture of the stone into a finished piece of jewelry, the piece is probably not returnable because in this case other partner jewellers are involved in the process who would have been paid for their work and it is impossible to return.

So, if this is your concern, make sure the stone is definitely the one you want. Even if you the shipping to inspect it before the job is done, it could be worth the outlay. Of course, if the job that is completed is in itself not up to standard, there would be a correction of the problem without cost.

Matrix Opal

There are two types of matrix opal. We have listed and explained natural boulder opal matrix above so this does not need to be repeated. But the other type is called ‘Andamooka Matrix’ and this is a totally different kind of stone. Although it is also a natural stone, it has been treated with a sugar solution that changes the stone from a pale to a dark color, giving it a black opal appearance.

Again, this method of enhancing the stone is acceptable as long as the dealer tells you what it is so that you can make sure you are not paying expensive black opal prices for something that is not a true black opal.

It can be difficult to tell an Andamooka matrix stone from a black opal if you are a novice but generally speaking, the Andamooka Matrix pattern is nearly always (but not always) a pinfire pattern.

This means that the color is presented in fine pinpricks or dots rather than a broader pattern. If it is a broad pattern, you will notice little feathery lines between the patterns that you don’t get in solid black opal. However, if the online dealer has a good reputation, these details will always be stated. Nowadays Andamooka matrix is not sold very much so usually its not an issue.

What to be careful of when buying Matrix Opal

Andamooka matrix looks similar to black opal but it has been carbon treated

The main thing to be careful of is that you are not paying black opal prices for a treated stone. Very little goes wrong with Andamooka Matrix. There have been no reports about cracking or losing color.

How to establish the size of an opal

This can be a problem online because many images on opal websites are much smaller than they look. Its easy for an image processor to photograph a tiny stone such as something like a 7×5 mm oval (approx.3/16”) and make it look huge online and even if the size is stated, it gets very confusing.

So, look for sellers who include some recognizable object in one of the pictures such as a dime coin or the human hand or finger, or a box of matches in one of the images so that at a glance you can imagine the size of the stone.

Having said that, the official way of describing the size or weight of a stone, it would be stated in millimeters which is a more internationally recognized measurement. However, countries such as the USA and others have retained the fractions system, and this can be confusing.

If you live in the USA and are confused, just look for a live chat help button on the site and ask for more details, if both sizes are not listed.

The other more traditional way of measuring a gemstone is in terms of Carats (not to be confused with Karats which is a gold metal measurement) The Carat was originally the seed of a carob tree. The ancients noticed that each of these seeds are almost the same in weight, so it was a convenient way of measuring small things, in this case, gemstones.

The carat system is used with opals in many cases and the carat weight is often listed but it has become more the custom with opal to just show the measurement particularly for boulder opals. Its easier to see what you are getting by the tape measure than by something that is more ambiguous.

Carat weights of stones are often not listed if the item you are buying is a piece of jewelry such as a ring or pendant. Often the stone is set before it is weighed so its impossible to know its carat weight after its set. But anyway, as stated the size tells you more than the weight.

Opal Shapes

There are many shapes such as oval, rectangle, square, triangular, and free form traditionally the most popular is oval but in recent times the free-form shapes have become very popular, particularly in boulder opal. Freeform means that the stone is of no particular shape.

When the opal cutter processes the stone, he bases the shape on the position of the color and rather than waste precious opal but trimming it away and forcing it into a particular shape, he saves this color and just allows the stone to evolve into a shape of its own.

This practice while making it more difficult for the jeweler who has to hand-make rather than cast each piece, individualizes the stone more and offers much more design potential because the free form shape is very creative and inspires the jeweler to come up with original designs.

Having said that, the originality of the opal stone itself is often enough to inspire a wearer and many prefer to have a plain design and allow the gem itself to make a statement.

Opal Color play

The thing that makes opal totally different from most other gemstones is the variations in color that are presented as the stone changes position. ‘Color play’ as its called refers to this change of color phenomenon. Some opals keep full color in various shades from whatever angle you hold the stone.

This feature is what makes the difference between what is termed a ‘gem’ color and just color by itself. Online, look for graphics that show the stone from at least three directions so that you can see what the stone looks like from different angles.

Colors in opal can be any shade of the rainbow. Some opals seem to have all the colors rolled into one. Others feature theme colors such as blue, blue-green (predominantly blue), green-blue (predominantly green),, orange, crimson and red. Color preferences depend on your own personal likes and that is why opal is sometimes called ‘the personality stone’ because it can match your own personality in the matter of fashion.

From a dealer’s point of view, red-themed opals are the most valuable because they are rarer. Then comes orange, orange-green, green, green-blue, blue and blue-green. Combined with the color of opal is the pattern. Again, the rarer the pattern is, the more valuable it becomes.

Recently I was asked by a very rich person to find a harlequin red themed opal that they were willing to pay up to $100,000 for. Unfortunately, the sale did not eventuate because the stone could not be found.

Realistically though, most opals in demand have a broad mixed pattern and red stones in this category can be offered for around $10,000 per carat which makes a stone of three carats around the $30,000 mark.

But the beauty of opal is that there are thousands of variations of stones that can satisfy the average person without spending such a large amount. In fact, at the opalmine site, there are nice little opal triplets with lots of colors for under $50 and they are not synthetic.

Opal Imperfections

When the opal cutter processes the stone from rough to completion, he or she is looking for flaws in the stone that has to be either cut out or sanded down. In the case of crystal and black opal, any potch lines or imperfections are unacceptable unless it is being made a feature of as is the case with boulder opal. But generally speaking, these imperfections must be removed.

Sometimes either a crack or a natural potch line will appear right through the middle of an otherwise perfect stone. This can be very disappointing for the opal cutter and usually, the decision is made to cut the stone in two along the faulty line, making two stones.

Because the two pieces are from the same opal pattern the two pieces can often be made into a pair of matching earrings.

When you are buying opal, you can keep this in mind and make sure you are not buying an inferior product. Sometimes translucent black or boulder opal can show slight marks or lines deep within the stone. Although this may take away from the value of the stone, it is quite acceptable because its part of the stone itself, it’s not a crack.

Of course, if the imperfection is easily seen and is dramatic, this would take away from its value and would normally cause the opal cutter to cut the stone in two along the lines of the imperfection.

Opal Patterns

What are opal patterns? What to look for in buying opals involves getting to know about them. Well, to use a piece of cloth used for making a dress as an example. The cloth might have no pattern at all, just plain cloth, or it could have a floral pattern, an abstract pattern, polka dot, striped, pictorial as in someone’s face or an animal. The list is endless. Opal is similar.

The pattern descriptions in opal are based on things in everyday life. A shape or feature might remind you of a face, an ocean scene, a celestial scene, or anything else you can think of. In the case of the harlequin pattern which is the most valuable.

The name is borrowed from the squarish spangles on the outfit of a circus clown.

Harlequin has squarish defined patterns and is extremely rare. It has become the custom in recent times to include patterns that are not always square in the Harlequin analogy. As long as the patterns have defined edges.

Some stones have partial harlequin features and although cannot be described as pure Harlequin, can be described as having these features.

How to tell if an opal is real or-Synthetic Opal

‘LAB’ (laboratory opal) Man Made opal beads

Also known as ‘LAB’ opal short for Laboratory. The creation of synthetic opal began in the early seventies. Initially, it was easy to spot because even though it had good colors, the patterns gave it away as something not natural.

However, over the years the process has been refined to the point that the average person would not be able to easily tell the difference which has created a major problem, particularly when buying opal online.

This information is not intended to denigrate the product which has its own beauty, but rather to make sure that shoppers don’t pay for something that they are not getting.

If you are happy to wear costume jewelry made of glass or other pretty trinkets, that’s fine. Economics often demand control of our buying habits.

Having said that, it is really nice to be able to say that you are wearing a jewelry item that is real, natural, right out of the ground and as mentioned in other parts of this article, there is no need to spend a huge amount of money on an opal if you are limited financially.

You can opt for a nice opal doublet or triplet or an inexpensive white opal and enjoy the brilliance of these stones without having to commit to hundreds of dollars on expensive black and boulder opals.

Since as stated it’s very difficult for the uninitiated to tell the difference, a quick way of knowing is by price. If you are being offered a solid opal as a pendant or ring or something else at a ridiculous price such as $20 or so you can pretty well guarantee that it’s synthetic or another name being ‘lab’ or ‘laboratory’ opal.

Usually, ethical retailers will tell you this but the problem is that the detail is often hidden in a lot of explanation which people don’t bother reading. So checking for synthetics is what to look for in buying opals if you don’t want to be disappointed.

Read the fine print and if you don’t have the time contact the seller and ask them frankly.

This article is helpful to identify synthetics and getting to know more about what to look for when buying opals

Before you buy

Go to the area where the returns policy is stated

Opal stones for sale on this site come with FREE SHIPPING and INERNATIONAL GUARANTEE



Opal Set 9017

opal set

Boulder Opal Matrix set.

Boulder Opal Ring 5400

Boulder Opal Ring

For more information about boulder opals please click on the picture guide mentioned above but basically boulder opals are another kind of black opal. The difference being that the ‘mother’ of this type of opal is chocolate colored ironstone found often in large boulders in the Winton, Quilpie, Yowah, Koroit areas of western Queensland.

This particular stone is a boulder opal matrix from the Winton field. It has an unusually high dome with brilliant splashes of color against the chocolate brown ironstone. “matrix” means that the opal features are held in the matrix or mother ironstone.

These amazing stones are very secure and reliable and of course, this ring comes with an international perpetual guarantee.


Black Opal Mens Jewelry

Black Opal Mens Jewelry

Black Opal Mens Jewelry
black opal in yellow gold
Black Opal Mens Jewelry
black opal in white gold

Black Opal Mens Jewelry comes in many varieties. The term ‘black opal’ is usually associated with Lightning Ridge where the opal comes out of the ground mixed with what is called black “potch” which is actually natural opal without color

Black Opal Mens Jewelry
lightning ridge black opal

When it sits at the back of precious opal color it has a dramatic effect on the presentation of the stone, giving it a darker more dramatic look. Black opal is the rarest of all opals

Black Opal Mens Jewelry using boulder opal

Black Opal Mens Jewelry

Black Opal Mens Jewelry
Boulder opal matrix
Black Opal Mens Jewelry
unique shape boulder

However its close cousin, Boulder Opal is also considered a type of black opal because it has a dark brown background resulting in the same dramatic foreground colors.

Boulder opal is becoming very popular as black opal mens jewelry because it caters for such a wide variety of personalities. Some men like jewelry that is glittery and traditional in presentation.

Black Opal Mens Jewelry with a more rugged style

Black Opal Mens Jewelry
Boulder opal matrix in silver

Others prefer a more ‘rugged’ style that they consider to be more ‘manly.’ Boulder opal fits this perception very well because many boulder opals are a mixture of brown ironstone and color.

At times the ironstone itself is just as interesting as the opal color because it comes in all sorts of patterns and shapes. Sometimes you can perceive pictures in it and if the pictures are obvious enough can be very valuable.

Black Opal Mens Jewelry-Abstract stones

Black Opal Mens Jewelry
opal matrix free-form

You must have a little imagination to see them, sort of like looking at clouds. When there are not clear pictures, just like an oil painting they can be referred to as ‘abstract’ stones. They have interesting patterns that don’t identify with any known natural image.

For more information about Black Opal Mens Jewelry or some advice about sizing and ordering, don’t hesitate to contact Peter by filling in the box on the bottom right-hand corner of each page

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Opal Rings

Opal Rings

Opal Rings
a stunning drop shaped boulder opal in silver

Opal Rings are much different from other types of rings in that there are so many varieties of opals and hence a wide selection of preferences. Like opals, all of us have different personalities. Different likes and dislikes.

Most girls for example just love jewelry but I know some who wouldn’t bother about it at all. That’s the wonderful thing about humans. There is an endless variety of people.

But what is it about opal and hence opal rings that make them unique. Well, the best way to answer that question is to focus on other gemstone rings that are very popular and perhaps better known than opal.

Diamonds, of course, come to mind immediately, and the promoters of this popular stone have done such a good advertising job, with the backing of film stars, movies, and posh magazines that in the minds of many girls, the ultimate piece of jewelry would be a diamond ring.

Opal Rings
Boulder opal free form with diamonds

Hence engagement and wedding commitments are often associated with diamonds. And yet this was not always the case in old times and in modern times. For example, in a relatively modern sense, people like Prince Charles in the United Kingdom gave Princess Diane a large blue sapphire ring surrounded with small diamonds which of course looked stunning.

Even so, unless you are a diamond or colored stone expert, to most folks all diamonds look the same apart from their settings and the metal chosen, whether white or yellow gold. Same applies to sapphires, rubies, emeralds, garnets, and other faceted type gems.

Of course, if a ruby is redder, a sapphire is bluer, or an emerald is greener, you can generally tell the difference but even so, I venture to say that most folks wouldn’t really know the difference.

Opal Rings, however, stand out as different. Not just because they are usually cut with a dome rather than facets, but the variety of them as aforesaid is endless. Here are some examples:

Crystal Opal Rings

Opal Rings
Snake style crystal opal in 18k gold
Opal Rings
a cluster of round crystal opals

Opal Rings were given that name, not because they have a crystalline structure but rather that when they were first discovered the original miners didn’t know what to call them because some of them were completely translucent (see-through) with just flashes of color, and others were slightly translucent.

Still others were opaque. But all of them were lighter in color and like crystal could be “looked into” rather than just surface or opaque. Hence the term ‘crystal opal’ rings. Note the variety. Even in this category, you have three or four distinct subcategories along with an endless selection of colors and patterns

Black Opal Rings

Opal Rings
Black opal in yellow gold with diamond

Opal rings made from black opal are a completely different story. When they were first discovered, again they didn’t know how to describe them but noticing that the opal color appeared naturally with a dark or black base of what is called ‘opal potch’, resulting in the foreground of the stone being darker and more striking than its more delicately featured sister, crystal opal.

The same thing as has already been mentioned applies to black opal. There is an endless variety of colors and patterns and, added to this, variations in depth of color depending on what shade of grey into black is in the background of the stone

Boulder Opal Rings

Opal Rings
Boulder Opal Matrix in silver with ruby and diamond

Opal rings featuring boulder opal open up a completely different ballpark altogether.

Here we have a stone similar to black opal because the color comes from veins resting on solid boulder ironstone instead of black potch, giving the same effect as black opal but (interestingly) often brighter than black opal because the opal surface is generally much thinner and the thinner it is the brighter it often becomes. Boulder opal makes fascinating opal rings.

opal rings
Side view of boulder opal ring showing ironstone and color
opal rings
Boulder opal rectangle with diamonds
opal rings
‘Yowah’ nut boulder opal in gold

Add to this the interesting fact that boulder opal color is often mixed in the surface with all sorts of other patterns from the mother ironstone along with other particles that nature put there that presents fascinating pictures and shapes that just mesmerize you.

Some people prefer to just see the color of the opal itself, but more and more people who focus on getting back to nature, just love the natural look of the boulder and the uniqueness of these pieces.

Doublet and Triplet Opal Rings

Opal Rings
doublet opal with four c.z. crystals
Opal Rings
dominant red opal triplet in silver

Doublets and Triplets are opals that the cutter makes use of thinner pieces of rough by setting them onto either black potch or boulder ironstone, thus creating the same effect as black and boulder opal but often at a far reduced price.

This means that just about anyone can afford to own an opal ring because the stone is still a natural opal that has been manufactured so that it can be set safely with a protective shield, in the case of opal triplets.

Hydrophane Opal

A word of caution in buying opal rings. In recent years quite a lot of this type of opal has been found in wetter areas of the globe and thought the opal can be very beautiful, is very porous and if it comes in contact with water, it will soak up the moisture and take away the color, leaving the stone a murky brown.

This is totally disappointing and even though it is claimed that you can bring the color back by putting it in the sun or a hot light, it’s not worth the risk as sometimes it has to be cleaned with acetone and this is a job for a specialist. It’s best to buy only from Australia because the opals come from a hot and dry climate and the opal is guaranteed not to fade.

Opal rings-cost advice

Opal rings-cost advice

Opal rings-cost advice-First consideration It’s pretty obvious that you have to think about an approximate budget before committing to buy. It’s possible to buy opal rings from under $50 if you look for low grade or synthetic lab opals (‘lab’ is short for ‘laboratory’ which means that they are man-made) Can you afford $100, $500, $1000, more or less. Then it’s easier to focus on the opal rings that you can afford. getting good Opal rings-cost advice is important

What would you expect to pay for a nice opal that suits your pocket?

I remember the time not too long ago when you could buy a troy oz of gold for under $50. But those days are in the past and currently, gold is selling for over $1200 per troy oz and threatening to go much higher.

So if you are looking for a cost of no more than perhaps $500, it would be best to focus on silver rather than gold metal. There are some lightweight gold rings for sale under that amount. This ring has a lot more metal but its silver gold plated.

Opal rings-cost advice
Boulder opal matrix ring in silver

Keep in mind the quality of the opal, not just the cost

Opal rings get a lot more rough treatment than pendants, brooches or bracelets because of the constant movement of the hands. Along with this, many wearers are not very kind with their jewelry and will leave rings on their fingers when working on the car, gardening, or doing the wash-up.

So if you are one of those types (as I am) its better to go for a solid opal rather than a doublet or a triplet which are fine as pendants and earrings, etc, but not recommended for rough work.

When arriving at the cost, double check the freight cost which might be nearly as much as the ring itself. Opal rings-cost advice helps you make the right decision.

In fact when considering this charge, look for a website that includes the cost of freight in the price so you know where you stand at a glance. Here is an example of an online shop which does that very thing.

The only exception to this is if you have a very short deadline to keep for a gift, in which case often a special courier has to be called and this cost can add up to $100 or so.

This can be quite difficult because some folks have fingers that get swollen knuckles and yet the area on

Finally, keep this important aspect in mind. You will be sorry if you forget it

Don’t just take a look at the design of the ring itself but check the FINGER SIZE. You will need to find out finger size of the person the ring is going to, whether it’s yourself, a wife, a husband, or a friend. Take a close look at the item online and check the finger size. In the USA the sizes are in figures.

For example, 7, 8, or 9 etc. In the UK its letters. (M, N, O etc) In Europe, it’s different again. For a full explanation of all these sizes, along with suggestions of how to find your size using the inside diameter of the ring.

John, one of the thousands of online opal ring buyers reported here

I have purchased a couple of products and am hugely satisfied with them, I think they are wonderful. They are gifts for my wife and I am sure she will be just as delighted as I am. The service was superb and I cannot find even the smallest criticism of the whole operation. Many thanks, John Allison


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Boulder opal matrix ring 5463

Boulder opal matrix ring

Very large heavy sterling silver opal ring featuring a free form boulder opal matrix stone from the Koroit fields

boulder opal ring information

go here to check about the different types of opal including boulder

opal pendant 4251

Opal Pendant

Stunning opal pendant with radiant blues and greens emanating from a dark chocolate boulder opal background set in gold with natural ruby- FREE SHIPPING

Boulder Opal from the Winton mines, Western Qld, Australia

Boulder Opal Pendant Description: Boulder opals hold a fascination rarely seen in other gemstones.

This one has a strip of precious opal in the middle surrounded by its ‘mother’ the natural boulder opal ironstone from which this type of opal jewelry gets its name.

This one comes dressed in a lovely black velvet gem box. The price includes international registered mail to your door or post office box.

Style of pendant

Fascinating blue green solid boulder opal matrix set with an accompanying natural ruby in gold. This boulder opal is a mixture of ironstone and precious opal that sometimes is described as the effects of a galaxy at night with the opal ‘stars’ shining through.

Explanation of Boulder opal

Contrary to common belief, black boulder opals are not black. They were given this name many years ago when the first prospectors who found them were astounded to see the dark brilliant colors coming from an opal that traditionally was considered a light colored stone.

The Europeans had long known the value of precious opal from the Hungarian mines which as far as we know where all pale or light colored stones.

Then, when opal was found in White Cliffs, and Coober Pedy, most of the stones were pale. Black Boulder Opal was one of the first stones found in Australian opal history.

It’s the dark in the background of the opal that causes the color to throw forward and have denseness and dynamic that the more delicate pale opal does not have.

The recent opal nomenclature (official naming) has identified boulder opals, if they have the same very dark background as Lightning Ridge, as Black opals. So properly they can be termed black boulder opal.


opal pendant 4234

Opal pendant Abstract Boulder

Fascinating contrasts between boulder ironstone and opal color in this genuine Australian solid boulder opal pendant. FREE SHIPPING

opal Pendant Description:

Consisting of an amazing boulder opal matrix stone with a remarkable circular shapes and patterns, one being a cylindrical area in the middle of the stone. A natural gemstone right from the earth without synthetic inclusions.

Type: Genuine Australian Solid Boulder Opal Stone Origin: Western QLD mines, Australia

Free Extras that come with this boulder opal pendant:

International registered airmail to your door or post office, and the boulder opal pendant comes dressed in a lovely black gift box or gem pouch, ready to be either gifted or stored in your jewelry collection. There is no more to pay.

Another free service: Keep in mind that we have a free ‘late gift’ service just in case you need it.

Please ask about it in the blog below if you are buying this item for a gift and you have left it a little late to get to you on time.

We can email the card to you for printing. Just give us the first names of the giver and receiver.

Reputation: 40 years reliable service in opal industry. Please take a look at the comments of just a few of the hundreds, actually thousands of customers we have served over the past 40 years. Our international guarantee does not last just a year. It goes on indefinitely.


Opal Unset 1093

Boulder Opal Unset ready for setting

A mixture of natural ironstone boulder and precious opal color. This lovely piece is free form in shape and has blotches of green with some orange.
Genuine Australian solid boulder opal matrix with lots of green with some blue and orange against dark ironstone.

Please feel free to make some comments in the blog below


Shipping: Included in price which means that after you make the order you don’t get any nasty surprises about extra costs associated with your purchase. We cover the freight and guarantee.

Another free service: Keep in mind that we have a free ‘late gift’ service just in case you need it.

Please ask about it in the blog below if you are buying this item for a gift and you have left it a little late to get to you on time.

We can email the card to you for printing. Just give us the first names of the giver and receiver.

Reputation: 40 years reliable service in opal industry. Our international guarantee does not last just a year. It goes on indefinitely.

Contact: Please inquire in opalmine live chat if you have any questions without obligation to buy anything. This is a service based site.
You Tube Video of unset black opal