Insiders Guide to Buying Black Opals
Buying Black Opals, a Minefield
Buying Black Opals can be a minefield if you will excuse the pun. To start with, what IS a black opal? Well, it’s not BLACK as you would incorrectly but understandably assume. Well, at least it’s not black in the foreground of the opal. Rather, in the background.
Opal with light background from the Lightning Ridge Field
Before Black Opals, All Opals Were White or Light Colored
Until early in the last century, the only opals that had been found were of the white, or crystal variety. Meaning that the background of the opal was a light shade and not dark. When you get a translucent light colored crystal or jelly opal and put it on a piece of black cardboard, you will find that the foreground color becomes more dense and vibrant. Jewelers would often set the stones in a dark background to achieve this effect.
Black Opals Discovered In Australia This all changed when black opals were discovered in the Western NSW outback town of Lighting Ridge, which, at the time certainly was no town at all. Adventurers in that area discovered the opals lying on top of the ground and it wasn’t long before Opal Miners were digging in the area and a town was created. Later, black opals were discovered in places like Coober Pedy, Mintabie and others, but the main source of supply remains Lightning Ridge.
What To Look For In Buying A Black Opal
First, it’s a good idea to look at a black and a white opal alongside one another or in comparison to other opals. You can do this online at the Opalmine site where there is a special section devoted to picture comparisons and explanations in the opal encyclopaedia. You must first make sure that what you are seeing is REALLY a black opal and not a synthetic as there are some very good imitations around nowadays. This can be quite a difficult assignment if you don’t know what you are doing, so the best advice is to just stick to reputable dealers who have a long history of reliable online service. Buying online is probably the best way of doing it because, particularly on blog sites like Opalmine, you are able to ask questions and compare notes before you commit. Here are some examples of black opal set in jewelry. Keep in mind that some of these settings are crystal and not black opals. The darker ones are either Lightning Ridge Black Opals, or Black Boulder Opals.
Insiders Guide to Buying Black Opals: What color is the best?
Black opals from Lightning Ridge Lighter colored black boulders from Qld fields
Well, the rarest color in opal is Red but stones with this color are often too expensive, and truthfully, the color of opal is very much a preference thing just the same as the color you select for your car. So your color choice might have a lot to do with the color of your eyes, or the color of your favorite outfit, or just the color you prefer. The thing about buying black opals is that you can match the stone to your personality, because, just like people, opals are all unique and this makes them even more attractive as we all like to be our own selves.
How about Opal Patterns?
This is a completely separate issue to the color of the opal. Not only do opals come in multitudes of colors and color combinations, but they also feature different patterns. Some of the names of the patterns, with explanations are as follows:
- Pin fire Opal – As the name suggests, the face of the opal is made up of multitudes of little pins of color looking at you.
- Broad Pattern Opal – As opposed to Pinfire, the pattern is wider and broader
- Broad Flash Opal– The pattern is very wide and broad and flashes to and from across the stone as it is manipulated
Harlequin Pattern Opal – The name is derived from the description of a clown’s outfit which is often made up of squares or mosaics. This opal comes with natural delineations with a squarish feature. There are many opals with different shaped patterns that have features like harlequin. You can do some research about this in the Opalmine encyclopaedia.
Harlequin Black Opals
This Lightning Ridge Black opal has some harlequin features but combines a rolling flash with a very broad pattern on one side of the stone and a mingled pattern on the other
Picture Opal – This phenomenon appears when, as a result of either inclusions, or miracles of nature, certain pictures appear in the stone. Of course, you have to use your imagination a little to see them at times, a bit like looking at the shapes of clouds, but they certainly have a fascination that rarely appears in any other gemstone.
Black boulder picture stone Classic Abstract Opal from Winton L. Ridge. Black opal ‘cartwheel’
- Abstract Opal – This term is of our own originality as far as I know. We have chosen to use it on opal patterns and shapes that are much like abstract modern art, which has no particular pattern or shape but holds a strong appeal to the observer.
Insiders Guide to Buying Black Opals: Many Opal Patterns
There are many other opal patterns but the above will at least give you a guideline. The rest is up to your eye, as the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So basically, you have to make sure that you are buying a black opal first, then just look for a stone that ‘looks at YOU’ instead of YOU having to look at IT, if you can understand what we mean. In other words, look for something bright with strong color that appeals to you as a person, and then check your purse to make sure you don’t overspend, because black opals can be very appealing and the economics of it can get out of hand. (smile)