Opulent Opals

All about nature’s lucky little kaleidoscopes

By: Colton Bartel
Photos by: Paul Marshall

Need a little luck in your life? How about a splash of color? But what if you’re not sure which color? Look no further: Opals are your answer. In the middle ages, opals were believed to be the luckiest stone you could ever dream of. Since opals can display every color of the spectrum, it was thought that they possessed the powers of every other stone known to man, making them very lucky. Unfortunately, they don’t have a really well-kept record of their luck, but they do show their colors well.

Opals fall under a category known in the gemology world as phenomenal stones. No, they don’t actually possess any actual powers, float, predict the future or anything, but these stones aren’t just sitting down and doing nothing, either. Phenomenal stones are stones that do anything besides displaying a single color. Some examples would be color-change stones like Alexandrite or color-change Sapphire, which have the ability to change color in different light, or Star Sapphires and Rubies. These stones display a “star” on top and move with the light.

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Opal’s trick is what we call “play of color.” This means that though the main color of the stone is visible other colors, many other colors are often also visible in or on the stone, and they change as lighting changes. Opals aren’t the only stones that have this ability to show multiple colors, but they are the most widely known. Without getting too technical, let’s talk a little about how opals work and what makes them valuable.

OK, so most people don’t know this, but opals do contain a small amount of water, and this hydration not only helps with their ability to display multiple colors, but also contributes to how they form. The quick version is this: Opals are essentially made up of very fine spherical silica crystals that are stacked on top of each other. The water helps this process by carrying the materials to form the stone and then allowing the crystals to “stack” on top of each other during solidification. This usually happens in layers, and it’s why really nice opals seem to have nearly infinite depth and colors.

What causes the play of color is the light passing through these stacks, and each of the silica crystals acts like prisms breaking up light into spectral colors and reflecting the light back to the viewer similar to the way a rainbow does. Because natural opals are all formed slightly differently, the colors displayed are always different, making each and every stone as unique as a fingerprint.

There are several different kinds of opals from several different places in the world, but to keep me from rambling on for days about them, let’s just look at the three most popular:

1/ White opal
2/ Crystal opal
3/ Black opal

White opal is the most common type of precious opal you will see. Most of the time, chain stores and box stores selling natural opal jewelry will be use white opal. These stones are obviously primarily white and show little spots or flashes of different colors known as “pin fire.” When shopping for white opal (or any other type of opal), look to make sure there are no visible cracks or “crazing” in the stone. Obviously you are going to want to pick the one that you like the best, but just FYI: The bigger and the more centered the flashes of color are, the more expensive the stone. White opals are great for first opal purchases and for younger jewelry lovers, since cost is usually low.

Crystal opals are not quite as widely found, and it is much more rare to see them for sale. Very rarely will crystal opals be found in chain stores or box stores due to the difficulty of finding consistent sizes and shapes. Because they are much more rare, these stones are usually cut in odd shapes and sizes based on the shape of the rough. Crystal opals will be translucent and usually show bigger and brighter flashes of color. Just like white opals, the bigger and brighter the flashes are, the more expensive the stone will be.

The most expensive and desired type is black opal. Most of these stones come from Australia, as well as with a big price tag. Black opals will have a dark opaque background, and large and extremely bright flashes of color, usually across the entire stone. If you are in the market for black opals, it is a good idea to sit down with your jeweler and get educated about them. If you would like to learn more about black opals, or any of the other types of opals, visit with your local gemologist or use the contact information below.

For more information, to set up an appointment or to view different types of opals or other gemstones, call Susann’s Diamond Jewelers at 361-991-7565, visit www.susanns-jewelers.com or stop by the shop at 4254 S. Alameda in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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