Also known as the October Birthstone and the 14th and 18th anniversary stone, the opal is one of nature’s greatest splendors. The colors can vary in any color of the rainbow. One of the best things about opal is that it can reflect and refract light that is at specific wavelengths. This gives opal a visual and unique appeal, to make it one of the most demanded and looked for gemstones in the whole world. It is one of the world’s most beautiful and precious gem.
The word opal derives from various languages: in Sanskrit Upala, meaning “precious stone,” in Latin, the opals and Greek opallios, both meaning “to see the color change.” Scientifically, Opal is an amorphous mineraloid comprised of water and a rich mix of silica composites. Opal jewelry may range anywhere in color from white or gray, to black. First of all, what is a real opal? A genuine opal is an occurring natural stone. They vary like most gemstones from being dull and lifeless to brilliant and mystifying.
Well then, what is a synthetic opal? It is a man-made copy of nature.
Opal was rarer than diamonds and pearls, and it colors dazzled at shifts of light and destined to be the most common gem to be associated with the reflection of one’s innermost desires and dreams. Early races believed that the opal stone possessed mystical energies that would enable its wearer to see the future. Opal jewelry is said to carry within it an innate sense of magic and obtain the powers of prophetic insight and understanding for its wearer. There are also other designs like the opal beads.
Opal’s beautifully reflecting and ever-changing spectral hues were believed to be a powerful and potent charm which allowed one to let go of their inhibitions and encouraged spontaneity. Opal jewelry is also rumored to aid in obtaining clarity. The opal, which looks different from every angle from which the stone is viewed, is said to have the power to amplify and mirror internal feelings, buried emotions, and desires. According to ancient Arabian folklore, the opal stone descended from heaven in powerful flashes of lightning. To the Romans, opal was considered to be a token of hope and one of purity.
Opal can be found in any rock and is formed from silica-bearing waters. Opal is developed from a solution of water and silicon dioxide. Water picks up silica from sandstone when it runs down through the earth, and transport the silica-rich solution which is caused by natural faults. The water then leaves behind a silica deposit as it evaporates. This goes on for some time until opal is finally formed. Though the water evaporates, the opal gemstone still contains 13% water. Compared to other gemstones, opal is fragile. Its softness makes it susceptible to damage if not worn with care. It is also a gem that is made up of 3 to 6 percent water. If the stone is exposed to conditions that would dehydrate it, cracks can occur as well as the loss of the play of light. An opal should often be worn to allow the stone to retain its moisture by contact with the air and human skin and should be mounted in such a way as to give it protection.
Opal: Different types
The opal can be found in many varieties and types. Beautiful quality opal surprisingly, is rarer to find than that of precious rubies and emeralds. Below are different types of Opal that can be found:
Black Opal – These types of opal are the rarest and most valuable of all opals. These opals usually come in bar form. Despite the name, these types of opals have the complete colors of the rainbow, but the body is of dark colors of black, brown, blue or gray.
Boulder or cabochon Opal – This is called a cabochon from an old French word which translates to the English word hat. Most opals are cut into cabochons because it enhances their color characteristics by allowing the light to enter and exit the stone for maximum effect. This means that the stone will need to have a jeweler make a unique setting for the stone because ready-made settings or castings come in oval shapes which are made for cabochon cuts of stones and not free form stones.
Common Opal – These types of Opal does not display any “play of color” and are classified as non-gem quality Opal. These types of opals are inexpensive and hold very little value.
Now we have entirely man made or synthetic opals. These are opals, but the standard process of nature has been sped up so what occurs over millions of years now happens in a laboratory in months or years. The result is stunning!
How can I tell if it is synthetic?
Synthetic opals are created in laboratories and are hard to tell apart from natural ones without the use of the laboratory. Pierre Gilson created the first synthetic opals in 1974. He used a synthesizing method which is called flocculation method. This method involves producing colloidal silica and separating and eliminating spheres using sedimentation process. This process takes some months to produce. Despite the current economic crisis, people continue to turn their heads towards opals. Each development procedure is fantastic.
Some created stones contain known elements that are natural. In this sense, the synthetic opal is also part of this creation. Conversely, this lacks water. Despite what many people think, this is grandiose in many ways. For instance, the absence of water allows this gemstone to last longer. It ends up being extremely durable due to its hardness- much more than natural opal. There are many procedures to create jewelry with synthetic opal. Before, procedures used to take a lot of time. Nowadays, everything is easier and reduced to few laboratory months.
Synthetic vs. natural
An essential difference can be noticed as soon as you compare both. They have a regular pattern. For instance, a natural opal tends to contain a basic regular pattern. It would be amazing if you could come across an extremely bright one as when it comes to Synthetic opal. This would be highly priced. Another interesting observation has to do with is fire appealing. A consistent and fascinating color is noticed at first sight. On the contrary, when it comes to natural opals, they cannot have the same exact pattern. By contrast, a created one may be the same as a jewelry design you desire.
In short, a Synthetic opal is a magnificent option. This is a very good option to natural opal due to its immeasurable benefits. Apart from displaying amazing colors and contrasts, its brightness is impeccable. As previously mentioned, it is also durable and resistant. You will simply love each synthetic piece. Look at pictures and prove it on your own. This vivacious gem will make you stand out.
If you look at synthetic opal from the side, it mostly has vertical striations which are quite uniform whereas natural opal is wobbly and layers go all over the place. This striation is too uniform and is a good sign that you are looking at synthetic, but I have seen and mined real opal that looks like this too. Synthetic opal will be perfect in most cases whereas natural opal is flawed. If it looks too good, then it probably isn’t a natural stone.
Another major difference is that boulder opal will often not be smooth and domed on the top. We call this a cabochon from an old French word which translates to the English word hat. We cut most opals into cabochons because it enhances their color characteristics by allowing the light to enter and exit the stone for maximum effect.
Boulder opal will mostly have an undulating surface of the opal material sitting on a bed or dark brown ironstone. This means that the stone will need to have a jeweler make a unique setting for the stone because read-made settings or castings come in oval shapes which are made for cabochon cuts of stones and not free form stones.