All About Opals: Types and How to Care for Them
With opals, each stone tells a story of beauty and mystique. Opals are more than just gemstones; they're a spectacle of light and color, unique in every aspect. This blog post will take you on a journey through the diverse and mesmerizing varieties of opals, from the vibrant hues of Australian opals to the rare elegance of Lightning Ridge black opals.
Opals form when water seeps into the cracks and cavities in rocks, and then the water deposits silica over millions of years. The silica forms tiny spheres that diffract light and create rainbow-like colors. The size, shape, and arrangement of the silica spheres determine the opal's appearance. The uniqueness of colors, brightness, and patterns makes opals so famous.
There are many types of opals, but here are some of our favorites:
These are opals that form on ironstone boulders in Queensland, Australia. They have a dark brown or black background that contrasts with the bright flashes of color. Boulder opals are very durable and often have an irregular shape that follows the contours of the host rock.
Australian opals come from various regions, mainly Coober Pedy, Andamooka, and Mintabie. They’re the most abundant and diverse type of opal. Australian opals can feature any color, from white to black, and from transparent to opaque. They also come in a wide range of patterns, from pinfire (also called “pinpoint”, when the opal has small colorful points) to harlequin (also called “mosaic”, showcasing squarish patches in alternate colors).
Lightning Ridge Opals
This is a type of black opal that comes from Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, Australia. This variety is considered the most valuable and rare type of opal.
Lightning Ridge opals' dark background enhances its brilliance and intensity. These opals can display all the colors. Some even have a red-on-black pattern, which is the most sought-after.
Opalized wood is a kind of fossil wood that has opal instead of other minerals. It's formed when water with silica soaks into dead wood and turns it into opal over time. It keeps the shape and details of the wood, but adds bright colors and sparkles.
Opalized wood can be blue, green, red, yellow, or anything in between.
This is a variety of opal that has a bright yellow, orange, or red background. In the name, the word “fire” refers to the fiery background or body color, not the sparkles. It may or may not have a play-of-color.
Fire opal is mainly found in Mexico, but it can be sourced from Ethiopia, Brazil, Australia, and the US.
Ethiopian opals are a relatively new discovery—only dating back to the early 1990s. This is a type of opal that comes from the Wollo province of Ethiopia. It's also known as Welo opal or Ethiopian crystal opal.
Ethiopian opal is characterized by its high transparency and hydrophane property. When hydrophane opals absorb water, their appearance can change. When dry, Ethiopian opal is usually white or clear, but when wet, it can display a dazzling play-of-color.
Peruvian Blue Opal
This is a type of opal that comes from the Andes mountains of Peru. It is also known as Andean opal or blue opal. It's a rare and unique type of opal, as it has a blue-green color that's not caused by play-of-color, but instead by traces of copper in its composition.
Peruvian blue opal is said to have a calming effect, as well as enhancing communication and creativity.
Opal Orbs: A Unique Opal Jewelry Item
Some of Hilary Finck’s most distinctive creations are the opal orbs. These are sphere-cut opals that are set in a metal cage or frame, creating a captivating and elegant piece. The fact that no two opals are alike only adds to this design’s uniqueness.
How to Clean and Care for Opals
Opals are delicate and sensitive gemstones that require special care and attention. They can be easily damaged by heat, chemicals, abrasion, and dehydration. Here are some tips on how to clean and care for your opals:
- Clean your opals with a soft cloth and warm water. Don't use soap, detergent, or any harsh chemicals that can strip the opal of its natural oils and moisture. You can also use a soft toothbrush to remove any dirt or dust from the surface of your opal.
- Dry your opals with a soft cloth or a hair dryer on low heat. Don't expose your opals to high temperatures, or they could crack, fade, or lose color.
- Store your opals in a cool and dry place, away from heat sources and humidity. Moreover, opals are delicate gemstones, so you want to avoid damaging the surface.
- Avoid wearing your opals when doing activities that can cause them to scratch, chip, or break. These include sports, gardening, cleaning, or cooking. Direct contact with cosmetics or any substances that can also damage your opals' surface.
- Rehydrate your opals by soaking them in water for a few hours. This will help to restore their moisture and luster, as some opals can absorb water. But don't soak your opals in oil, as this can clog their pores and reduce their play-of-color.
Want your own one-of-a-kind opals? Discover the beauty of Hilary Finck’s handmade opal jewelry!