Opals, with their captivating play of colors and unique charm, have been cherished gemstones for centuries. Their iridescence and mystique make them a favorite among jewelry enthusiasts and collectors; however, as with any precious gem, the world of opals is not without its share of imposters. This blog aims to explore the history of opals, how they are formed, and, most importantly, how to differentiate between genuine opals and their synthetic or treated counterparts.

History of Opals

The history of opals is as rich and colorful as the gemstones themselves. The word "opal" is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word "upala," meaning "precious stone." Opals have been cherished by various cultures throughout history. The ancient Romans associated opals with hope and purity, while the ancient Greeks believed that opals granted the power of foresight and prophecy.

Australia is often regarded as the opal capital of the world, producing 95% of the world's opal supply. The famous Lightning Ridge in New South Wales and Coober Pedy in South Australia are renowned for their opal mines.

How Are Opals Formed?

Opal Beads are unique gemstones formed deep within the Earth's crust. They are created when silica-rich water seeps into crevices and cavities in rocks, gradually depositing microscopic silica spheres. Over time, these spheres stack together, forming a three-dimensional grid-like structure. The play of colors, known as Opalescence, occurs due to the diffraction and interference of light within this structure.

How Do You Spot a Synthetic Opal?

Synthetic opals, also known as lab-grown or man-made opals, have gained popularity in recent years due to their affordability. While they can exhibit some beautiful colors, they lack the natural charm and rarity of genuine opals. Here are some ways to spot synthetic opals:

  • Uniformity of Color: Synthetic opals often have a uniform and regular play of colors, lacking the natural variation seen in genuine opals.
  • Pattern Consistency: Genuine opals may have irregular patterns and inclusions, whereas synthetic opals often display a repeating pattern.
  • Lack of Imperfections: Synthetic opals are typically free from natural inclusions or imperfections found in genuine opals.

Identifying Genuine Opals

To determine whether you have a genuine opal, consider the following characteristics:

  • Play of Colors: Genuine opals exhibit a captivating play of colors that shift as the gem is rotated, displaying a unique, unpredictable pattern.
  • Inclusions: Authentic opals may contain tiny, irregular inclusions or cracks within the gem, which are often absent in synthetic opals.
  • Fluorescence: Some genuine opals fluoresce under ultraviolet light, emitting a distinctive glow, whereas synthetic opals may not display this property.

Real Opal vs. Fake Opal

Real opals are treasured for their rarity and natural beauty, whereas fake opals, while more affordable, lack the inherent qualities that make genuine opals so enchanting. If you're seeking an opal for its uniqueness and value, always choose a real opal over a synthetic one.

What About Treated Opals?

Treated opals are genuine opals that have undergone enhancement processes to improve their appearance. Common treatments include impregnating the gem with a colorless resin to enhance its play of colors or stabilizing opals to reduce the risk of cracking. Treated opals are still considered genuine but should be disclosed as such when buying or selling them. Be sure to ask for a Gemstone Beads certificate to verify any treatments.

Real Opal vs. Lab-Created Opal

Opals, with their enchanting play of colors, have captivated gem enthusiasts for centuries. When it comes to opals, there are two primary categories to consider: real opals and lab-created opals. While both have their merits, they possess distinct characteristics that set them apart.

How to Tell If an Opal Is Real?

Distinguishing between real and lab-created opals requires a keen eye and some knowledge of their unique features. Here are some ways to tell if an opal is genuine:

  • Play of Colors: Genuine opals exhibit a mesmerizing play of colors, which is their most distinctive feature. These colors shift and dance as the opal is moved, displaying a captivating, dynamic pattern. Lab-created opals may have colorful flashes, but they often lack the complexity and depth of real opals.
  • Inclusions: Real opals can contain tiny, irregular inclusions or internal fractures that are visible under magnification. These inclusions are evidence of the opal's natural formation and are typically absent in lab-created opals, which are grown in controlled environments.
  • Temperature Sensitivity: Genuine opals may change color or transparency in response to temperature changes. This phenomenon, known as "play-of-color response," is a strong indicator of a real opal.
  • Weight: Real opals are denser than lab-created ones, so two opals of the same size will often have different weights. However, this method is less reliable for small opals, as variations in density can be subtle.
  • Certification: To be certain, consider purchasing opals with certification from reputable gemological laboratories. These certificates verify the authenticity of the opal and any treatments it may have undergone.

What Does an Opal Look Like?

Opals come in a variety of colors and patterns, making each one unique. Some common types of opals include:

  • White Opals: These opals have a light or white body color with colorful flashes that range from blue and green to red and orange.
  • Black Opals: Black opals have a dark body color, which intensifies the play of colors. They are highly sought after and considered the most valuable type of opal.
  • Crystal Opals: These opals are transparent or semi-transparent, allowing the play of colors to be particularly vibrant and eye-catching.
  • Boulder Opals: Boulder opals are found with their host rock still attached. They often have a dark ironstone matrix with veins of colorful opal running through them.
  • Fire Opals: These opals are known for their vivid orange, yellow, or reddish body color and are often used in jewelry for their striking appearance.

Are Opals Worth Buying?

The value of opals varies based on factors such as type, color, play of colors, and size. High-quality opals, especially black opals with intense play of colors, can command substantial prices. Opals are a worthwhile investment for those who appreciate their beauty and uniqueness. Additionally, opals are believed to bring positive energy and creativity to their wearers, making them a valuable addition to one's jewelry collection.

Where Can You Buy Opal Jewelry From?

When purchasing opal jewelry, it's essential to choose a reputable source to ensure you get genuine and high-quality pieces. Here are some places where you can buy opal jewelry:

  • Jewelry Stores: Established jewelry stores often carry a selection of opal jewelry, including rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Be sure to ask for certification or documentation to verify the authenticity of the opals.
  • Online Retailers: Many reputable online retailers specialize in opal jewelry. Look for websites that provide detailed information about the opals they sell and offer customer reviews.
  • Auctions and Estate Sales: Auction houses and estate sales occasionally feature opal jewelry. These can be great places to find unique and vintage pieces but be prepared to do your research to ensure authenticity.
  • Gem Shows: Gem and mineral shows held in various locations often showcase opal jewelry from various sellers. These events can provide an opportunity to see a wide variety of opals in person.

In conclusion, opals, with their ethereal play of colors, continue to be a beloved gemstone for jewelry enthusiasts. Whether you prefer the natural allure of real opals or the affordability of lab-created ones, understanding the differences and knowing how to identify a genuine opal can enhance your appreciation of these mesmerizing gemstones. When buying opal jewelry, choose Beads of Cambay wisely to ensure that your opal treasures are both authentic and beautiful.

February 07, 2024 — Arun Yadav