How to Pick Out a Precious Opal for Purchase

Part of Buying Gemstones For Dummies Cheat Sheet (Australian Edition)

If you’re shopping for opals, know what type you’re buying and choose the one that you like the best in your price range. Be aware that solid opals are best, whether they be black opals, white opals, boulder opals or crystal opals.

Composite or assembled opals as doublets and triplets can look spectacular, but they are not nearly as durable. If you’re buying opals from the Internet remember that a photograph simply can’t accurately portray a natural opal.

Here’s what you need to know when buying an opal:

  • What type of opal it is. Australia produces over 95 per cent of the world’s opals. Each of the different types comes from a different part of Australia and each looks very different to the others.

    Black opals from Lightning Ridge are the ‘Rolls Royce’ of opals and are rare and expensive. Boulder opals come from Queensland opal fields and can have stunning colour, but they also have a natural ironstone backing which adds to their weight (so beware of being sold boulder opal as a price per carat), but which also makes them stronger.

    Crystal opals have a translucent or transparent quality, and those with a good colour as well can fetch high prices. White opals come from South Australian opal mines, and have a ‘milky’ white body tone, which often results in the colour being less bright; however, a good quality white opal is still a wonder to behold.

  • Compare, compare, compare. Look at as many different types of opal as you can, and when you’ve decided on which type you like best, establish whether the one you keep coming back to is solid or a composite stone (a doublet or triplet). Solid opals are most durable, but they’re also more expensive.

  • Determine the quality of the opal. To judge an opal, consider its play of colour, body tone, brilliance, pattern, the thickness of the colour bar, and any faults such as cracks or inclusions (natural inclusions are acceptable but never buy an opal that’s cracked).

  • Choose an opal that you love and one that goes with your skin tones. While red on black is the most desirable and the most valuable (followed by orange, yellow, green and most common is blue), if you prefer blues and greens then go for it.

  • Consider the brilliance of the opal. The brilliance or brightness is one way the value of an opal is judged. There are three ratings: Brilliant, Bright and Subdued; with ‘brilliant’ being the brightest and most expensive, ‘bright’ in the middle range, and ‘subdued’ having the least brightness. Brilliant opals are fabulous but even subdued opals can be lovely.

  • Always get a certificate of authenticity. Obtaining a certificate when you buy an opal is good for insurance purposes and re-sale value, and it makes the seller accountable.

  • Take advantage of paying no GST. If you’re a tourist in Australia, or you’re an Australian who’s travelling overseas and doesn’t mind taking it with you, you don’t have to pay the 10 per cent Goods and Services Tax when you buy opals, or you may receive a refund of the amount if you do.

  • Remember that opals are quite fragile and require extra care. Opals don’t respond well to sudden temperature changes so setting an opal in a piece of jewellery requires the skill of an expert. If you’ve chosen a loose opal that you want set in jewellery ensure it’s set by someone who really knows opals.