Opals are the fifth most popular gemstone in the world after diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Still, very few people know what to look for when buying opal jewelry.
When buying diamonds look for the best mix of cut, clarity, color and carat bang for your buck. Rubies and emeralds have natural inclusions, so ensure good color saturation. When buying gold, look for the 10k, 14k, or 18k gold stamping. But what do you look for when buying Opal?
These are beautiful gemstones that flash with fire and color, similar to the rainbow colors on the surface of a soap bubble. This quality is known as iridescence or, more specifically, opalescence in this gemstone. And the degree of opalescence and range of colors determine whether an individual opal is of high quality or not. However, these are not like other gems. Their fiery opalescence is due to natural flaws. How do you recognize top quality?
In fact, the beauty of an opal is very subjective. What one likes, the other might not like. However, with so many fake and artificial stones available for purchase, it is important to know something about this gemstone before making your purchase.
Broadly speaking, there are four types of opals categorized by their host rock. These are white, black, boulder and crystal opals.
White opals are the most common and therefore the most affordable. They have a milky white background for the center bursts of fire. Black opals are the rarest and look like a stormy black sky against which the vibrant colors flash. Boulder opals form along narrow fissures in ironstone and are always cut to enclose part of the host ironstone rock. They are much less valuable than black opals. Crystal opals are translucent. They typically have a sharp clarity and can display some of the most intense colors of any gemstone.
While all types can be highly desirable depending on current fashion trends, Australian Lightning Ridge Black Opals are widely considered to be some of the most beautiful gemstones in the world.
The different types as well as the natural variations in the fire and refractory colors of individual gemstones result in a wide range of colours. The colors contained in the opal are believed to change as it develops. Greens and blues are common. Red and orange flashes are the least common and are therefore appreciated. However, look for a play of colors that flows organically through the gemstone like a flow of water and does not have a geometric pattern. Once you’ve seen the real thing, the color representations on lab-made fakes just don’t look right.
So if you are looking for an opal, buy it from a reputable source. Choose your favorite type. Then you are looking for an intense, flowing play of color that encompasses a range of colors as well as shades of red. And ALWAYS buy naturally mined opals.