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Buying Opal

Opal is one of the most popular of all gems. In determining value, the brilliance and pattern of the play of color on an opal are very important. Generally speaking, opal with an abundance of red fire is the most highly prized. Those strong in blue and green are equally beautiful but not as rare, so they're priced less. Opal is not a common gem, although non-precious varieties abound. White opal, the most prevalent, may sell for a few dollars to several hundred per carat. On the other hand, fine black opal, which is the loveliest and rarest, therefore most expensive of the opal varieties, can command more than $1,000 per carat. The value of opal also lies in the size of the gem. Opal is very rare in large sizes, especially in black opal. Most opal is not faceted (except fire opal). It is usually cut into rounded or freeform cabochons that enhance color play.

Perfect natural gems--in color and appearance--are very rare and expensive. Many types of opal are treated to enhance their appearance. A common technique is to immerse white of gray opal in sugar solution and then in strong sulfuric acid. The acid carbonizes the sugar and leaves microscopic carbon specks in the opal that effectively blacken the body color and make the spots of fire stand out more. If an opal is enhanced in this way, avoid solvents and repolishing.

 

Some opals are also impregnated with colorless oil, wax and resin; colorless plastic and/or other hardened agents; or colorless synthetic resins and hardeners to hide crazing and/or improve durability. If an opal is enhanced in this way, avoid heat, solvents, chemicals and ultrasonic cleaners.

Natural opals are also found in composite or assembled stones called opal doublets or triplets. While they strongly resemble black opal, they are composed of a thin layer or two of white opal adhered to a poorer quality opal or other substance with black cement. It's an affordable way to get a big opal look. Doublets and triplets are usually sold by the stone rather than by weight and are cut to standard millimeter dimensions. Small gems sell for under $100.

Moreover, opals are synthesized and simulated in the lab. Pierre Gilson of France began synthesizing opal, the Gilson Created Opal, in 1974. Other companies, namely in Japan and Australia, are also creating opal. Opal is also imitated by a variety of other substances including plastics and glass.

 

 

 

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