A: The details of opal sourcing, care, and valuation will suck you into a bottomless pit of internet searching and expert consulting. You will find yourself questioning where the information ends.
Here's How I Learned This:
With our new stash of Ethiopian Opals, I thought this would be the perfect time to throw some opal info your way. Then I realized that the world of opals is complex. Very complex.
We made a quick video to hit some of the high points on evaluating opal quality. However there are some other things you want to keep in mind when working with and selling opal jewelry. (If you want to read the info on evaluating opals, I added that to the end of this blog for reference.)
IMPORTANT - I did a fair amount of research on opals and opal care. In the process I learned that different types of opals require different care. When working with opals and protecting them in jewelry, it's important to know the origin and type of opal, as well as if it's solid opal or a doublet or triplet. For example, care of an Australian opal will be different in some ways from an Ethiopian opal.
Basic Opal Care
- Do not wear opal jewelry while cleaning or washing using detergents.
- Avoid contact with acids or chemicals. Good to know for customers AND designers. I used liver of sulfur to patina a finished piece with opals in it. This did not end well for the opals.
- Do not clean opals with an ultrasonic cleaner or with other traditional chemicals used to clean jewelry.
- If opal jewelry needs to be clean, use a small soft brush (a soft toothbrush is fine), with a bit of hand soap and warm water. (I prefer to use something foaming, unscented, alcohol free, and free of any 'moisturizing' elements. Target's Method Unscented Gel Hand Wash has been good to me. I like using the foam because I feel it gives me more control over how much soap goes on my jewelry.)
Opals can be damaged far more easily than many other stones, both finished jewelry and opal components require the same precautions.
- Store opals away from direct or extreme heat and sunlight, in a ziploc plastic bag, and in a drawer or jewelry box. Some experts recommend placing a lightly damp cloth or cotton ball in the bag also.
- A note on heat- if it's too hot for you, it's too hot for your opal. So avoid leaving your opals in, say, a hot car or wearing them on a blazing hot day. You can offer them some protection by placing them in a pocket or opaque bag.
- Prolonged exposure to low humidity environments is also a bad idea. If you're planning to store Grandma's heirloom opal brooch in a zero humidity bank vault, reconsider.
Contrary to myth, a solid opal won't be damaged by water. Doublets and triplets, on the other hand, should not be subject to prolonged water exposure.
- Some resources discuss the merits of regularly wetting opals, while others simply mention taking precautions on storage humidity.
- When hydrophane opals are submerged in water, you'll likely notice a loss in clarity and fire. This is temporary. Give the stone a week or two to dry out and it will return to its glorious natural state. It may be tempting to speed this process with bright lights, a blow dryer, an oven... NO! NO! NO! Patience is a virtue here.
If you're interested in taking a deeper opal plunge, I found a really interesting blog HERE. It not only touches on opal care, it also gives a ton of the "why" behind the "how".
As promised, here's the gist of what we talked about in the video:
When a collector is evaluating an opal they're looking for several things related to color. A desirable opal displays play of color from all angles and includes colors that range across the entire spectrum, although one color may be more dominant. Prominent red and orange are among the most valuable, followed by green, however this tradition does not take into account fashion or personal preference.