Opal Gemstones, Clearing The Confusion

There is no doubting the beauty and popularity of opal gemstones. Through history it has held a prominent position in civilizations across the globe. The Romans in ancient times called it 'opalus'. There are two thoughts regarding how, opal got it's name. While one school of thought credits the Sanskrit word 'upala' with the source of the name opal, others believe that the Greek word 'opallios' inspired the name opal. Since the Sanskrit word 'upala' translates to 'precious gemstone' and the Greek word 'opallios' means 'change of color' - both words could be related to the origin of the name of opal.

All the naming explanations are history now and we do not intend to get into any debate on the issue. What we will talk about is some very important terms used to describe natural opal gems. The meaning of these terms can be confusing if you go merely by the dictionary meaning of the words used. As a buyer you would want to know whether your opal gems are good. The information in this report presents a clear, frank and honest view of the terms and their implications. Just keep in mind that we are talking only about natural opal gems, imitations and synthetics do not form part of our discussion.

Closely observe the opal gemstone in the above image. You will notice a white base with small specs of colors. The color flashes, are caused by the reflection and refraction of light that, hits the gemstone. The insides of an opal are made up of tiny spheres of hydrated silica. When these spheres are well arranged in the gem, light hits these spheres and breaks up into different colors. The light is then transmitted back carrying all these wonderful colors of the spectrum. If you move the piece of opal or view it from a different angle or, move the position of the light source - the specks seem to change color. This is basically because the light is now broken up at a different angle. Words like color flashes or color play is used to describe this phenomenon in opal gems. Not all opal gems show this color play, interestingly some very pretty and valuable opal gems do not show the effect at all. The information in this paragraph is very relevant to the contents of this report, so do read and understand it well.

We will now explain some interesting terms related to opal gems. Much of this information might be new to you, so do take the time to read it.

Precious Opals: Most of us would think that all natural opal gems are precious. A second thought could be that, an opal that is not precious is worth little or nothing. But then, you would learn that a Mexican fire opal gemstone that could cost as much as 100 U.S$ per carat, is natural, gorgeous and valuable - but cannot be referred to as a precious opal gemstone. So what is the meaning of a precious opal, here is the explanation. If you have read the above paragraph, you would know what play of color and color flashes mean with reference to an opal gemstone. The problem on coming to terms with the term precious opal gems is that, there are few opal varieties that are gorgeous, natural and also in demand that, do not show color play. You might have heard about the lovely pastel green and pink opal gems from Peru. The pink Peruvian opal in particular has become a very popular gemstone, with high preference being given to pink opals set in rose gold. The pink and green opal gems from Peru do not have any colorful acts, they have a confident and serene appearance and rely on their beautiful color to attract gem lovers. Top gem quality fire opal from Mexico can cost as much as 100 U.S$ per carat. This gemstone has a stunning orange to reddish orange color. It is also one of the very few opal varieties that can boast of a high degree of transparency. The name fire opal is derived from the color of the gem which, reminds you of fire and flames. Now that you know what a precious opal means, you need not get anxious about the gorgeous opal gems that you own or intend to purchase.

Solid Opals: Some gem buyers love to impress buyers by using high pitched sales talk. They tell you that their opal gems are solid opals, you never can remember seeing any liquid opal gems in your life. So what exactly do you mean by the name solid opal. Very simply put, a solid opal is an opal gemstone that consists of nothing more than a single piece of natural opal. Should a natural opal gemstone be cut, along with a thin layer of the parent rock left on it - the opal would not be classified as a solid opal gemstone. This is because the opal would not consist entirely of natural opal, the rock cannot be called an opal. There is one technic that many opal cutters use to improve the thickness and beauty of opal gems. A rather thin piece of fine opal is mounted and glued to another flat opal piece. The piece of opal below the fine opal would be of an ordinary grade. The end result is an opal gem that has two layers, the total stone increases to make the gem a bit more sturdy. The cost to the opal seller is much lower as the gem includes both fine opal and ordinary opal. This is an interesting case where, the opal gem has only natural opal but, would still not be a solid opal. Remember that the definition of a solid opal said, a single piece of natural opal. By the same logic, opal doublets and triplets which are basically assembled opal gems, would also not be included in the category of solid opal gems. While a conventional gem expert might insist that, solid opal is the best opal type, it is interesting to see things from a buyers view point. The technic of assembling opal doublets and triplets, does three very positive things for the opal gemstone. There is no doubt that these gems add to the durability of the opal. The generally darker base bonded to the base of the natural opal, darkens the background of the opal and this allows a better show of color flashes and color play. The fact is that these opal options make good looking opal gemstones more affordable.

Honduras Opal: Had it not been for the big sales hype pushed by some leading gem and jewelry sellers, honduras opal would have drawn little interest. It is generally sold as an opal with color flecks on a dark black background, yes it is natural and no, it is not solid opal. You would surely not risk calling it a precious opal gemstone too. The stone in reality or rather the major portion of the stone is just, plain rock nothing more. In this rock are small cavities or pits that get filled with natural opal formations. So those particular flecks and specks might show color flashes. There you now have the attractive name, opal color flashes on a dark background, a natural and untreated stone!

We have introduced you to three very important terms used in describing opal gemstones. It is very likely that you would have encountered all these opal varieties in your opal experience, you just did not know what they were called. And when you did here these strange names, you probably worried about the right purchase decision, in the past, present or future. The next time you hear an unusual name from an opal gemstone, step back and try to understand the meaning and reference in the name. And do not forget to enlighten your friends and family with this new piece of information, you could easily share this link with them.

Related Resources:
Solid Opals   Precious Opals   Opal Doublets   Opal Rings