Home > The Delicate Elegance of the Opal

The Delicate Elegance of the Opal

From fiery reds to cool blues, opal jewelry is available in colors across the spectrum. Whether it is an opal pendant or in another setting style, this stone adds drama and elegance to anyone who wears it.

Opal Jewelry: Origins

While Central and South America have some deposits, 95% of the world’s supply of quality opals comes from Australia. They were first discovered in Australia in the 1800s and were mined starting in 1890 at the White Cliffs mine. Other well-known mining regions include Andamooka, Lightening Ridge and Coober Peddy.

Opal Jewelry: Physical characteristics

This gemstone is a sedimentary rock that grows wherever there is space and it takes the shape of the cracks and crevices it finds. With a chemical make-up similar to quartz, opals are a silicate. What makes them different is the amount of water they contain. The stones in an opal necklace probably consist of 6-10% water, but as much as 21% can be present. However, the gems with this high concentration of water are unsuitable for jewelry.

Opal Jewelry: Varieties and colors

The blues, pinks, oranges and reds that mingle together in one opal earring are a result of light diffraction. Silicate dense water travels through the sedimentary rock, leaving behind spheres of silicate. These become the basis for the opal and they are also responsible for diffracting light and creating the rainbow of colors an opal is known for.

There are several varieties and colors that find their way into opal jewelry:
  • Fire and Ice- Varying shades of blues and reds dominate different varieties. Others can have a milky white background while others are translucent and all you see are the colors.
  • Black- These form in volcanic ash which gives it an extremely dramatic dark gray/black
  • Boulder- This refers to stones that have not been separated from their host. They are cut out of the limestone or quartz that they formed on, leaving a backing for the stone. They are typically cut in to asymmetrical and unique shapes for the opal jewelry they are set in.
  • Doublet- This is a variety of opal that consists of a top layer of opal glued to a black layer of quartz, resin or glass for textured background.
  • Triplet- The same as a doublet except there are three layers glued together for depth and complexity. The difference is that the opal is sandwiched between a top layer of clear quartz, resin or other stone and a black layer.

    Opal Jewelry: Special occasions

    The opal birthstone celebrates the month of October on the modern birthstone chart and the Indian Ayurvedic chart for healing stones. For the mystical minded, the opal celebrates the month of April. For a couple celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary, a pair of opal cufflinks or earrings make a memorable and appropriate gift as the opal is the official gemstone of this marriage milestone.

    But, because no two stones are alike, opal jewelry makes a great gift for a unique and special person anytime of the year.

    Opal Jewelry: Care and cleaning

    For all of its beauty, opal jewelry is among the most delicate of the gemstones with a ranking of anywhere between a 5.5 and 6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Because of this, great care should be taken when wearing, cleaning and even storing pieces like an opal ring alone or with other jewelry.

    Cleaning with mild soap and tepid water with a soft cloth is the best method for gently cleaning this delicate stone. Never use harsh chemicals or soak the pieces because the stones are sponges, soaking up the liquid it is exposed to.

    As for storage, it is important to not toss an opal bracelet in amongst a jumble of other pieces, especially when packing for travel as other stones and settings can scratch and chip the softer opal. Secure it in its own case or bag to protect it. As for storing at home, other than securing it from other pieces, the only other consideration is if the climate is extremely dry. If this is the case, storing the piece in a plastic bag with a moist towel will keep it from becoming dry and brittle.

    Opals age better if they are worn occasionally instead of daily. This helps reduce possible damage to these beautiful but delicate stones. Rings and bracelets are very vulnerable to damage so take care when wearing, maybe save these for special occasions. Necklaces and earrings fare much better and can be worn more frequently.

    Whether it is a fiery red, bold black or cool blue, these unique gemstones are elegant as their play of color flash from the neck, hand, wrist or ears. They will be just as memorable as the person wearing them.