Buying Opal Rings: What Are the Options? What To Look Out For

Opal rings are a must-consider option for any ring buyer in the 21st century.

The opal stones arguably capture every color of the rainbow and boast of symbolism for good fortune, creativity, and self-confidence.🌈 October’s birthstone is a gem of positive transformation and, when looking at the pure alchemy of these mystical droplets, it isn’t hard to agree.

The major fashion houses in Paris have really been pushing opal in recent years, influencing designers worldwide to design with the most alluring gem on the planet. There are no boundaries in working with opal. You can look into it and see a beautiful landscape. Each stone has a mystery that encourages curiosity”

—Andrew Cody of Cody Opals

Now, tell me, doesn’t that sound alluring?😍

Rose Gold Opal Ring Worn on the Finger

Understand the basics of opals

The history of the opal begins over a century ago with a 14-year-old boy and his father in the Australian Great Victoria Desert.

The father and son were on the search for quartz and gold but, running low on water, they stopped to make camp whilst the father looked for a way to quench their thirst.

Upon his father’s return, young Willie Hutchinson sat there with a half-filled sugar sack of precious opal stones, a source for water, and a huge smile on his face.😊 Indeed, he was happier to have found the water than the opals!

The 1915 accidental discovery of precious opals by a young boy was the catalyst for prospecting in the Coober Peddy region.

What exactly is an opal?

Opal is one of the world’s most beloved gemstones and can rival the likes of the finest diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.

The variety of different opals available around the world are vast with opals exhibiting almost every color of the spectrum. That’s right, there’s an opal for everyone!💡

The sheer intensity and color quality surpass even that of a diamond giving a high-end opal the level of desirability that easily matches the highest quality of diamonds.

Let’s get technical—opals are considered a mineraloid rather than a mineral. This is because it contains a variable amount of water within its structure. A hydrous silicon dioxide with a chemical composition of SiO2.nH2O, the opal is considered amorphous.

What does that mean? It means that opals do not have a clearly defined shape or structure which is why we have such a variety of opals available to us!

Play-of-Color Effect of a Pear Shaped Green Opal Gem

What do opals symbolize?

For the October children out there, they can bask in the delights of positive transformation as mentioned previously. But the meaning of these enigmatic stones has transformed over centuries of oral storytelling and myth extending into the depths of ancient cultures.

For some, these dazzling delights are believed to be the byproduct of lightning, others claim them to be the physical embodiment of rainbows, while some believe them to be the tears shed over lost loves and unnecessary wars.

With up to 10% of an opals structure formed of water, it’s quite clear where the association to tears, raindrops, and stormy skies comes from.

In 290 BC the Romans even renamed the opal stone to ceraunium which means thunderstorm. They believed that these stones fall from the sky during thunderstorms and the lightning trapped inside them is what gives them their iridescent qualities.

What are the different types of opals?

Let’s try and break this down because opals are considered one of the hardest stones to categorize and evaluate because of their versatile nature.

5 Color Backgrounds

With the many different opal types available, these stones can be categorized in many different ways. But below are the five most common types of opal according to color background:

  • Black Opal - Black opals are considered the rarest opals and are incredibly sought after. The rich blackness of the stone has a startling quality in contrast to the play-of-color they exhibit which makes them stand out particularly against a dark background.
  • White Opal - Opals with a white or light-colored translucent to the opaque body with play-of-color are deemed white opals.
  • Fire Opal - Fire opals may also be called "Mexican opal" or "Mexican fire opal". They are aptly named after their yellow, orange, or red body color which may also show play-of-color but not always.
  • Boulder Opal - These opals are translucent to opaque opals that sit within a host rock. They exhibit play-of-color. The thin layers of opal are formed within a host rock which is called a matrix. When the opal is cut, the matrix and the opal form part of the finished gem.
  • Crystal and Water Opal - These opals may or may not display a play-of-color but when they do, it’s truly exquisite. Crystal and water opals are transparent and semi-transparent with clear backgrounds.
Halo Style Precious White Opal Ring

Common Opal vs. Precious Opal

The main difference between common opals and precious opals can be found in the flashes of iridescent colors that we can see within the stone when viewed at different angles.

✅Precious stones exhibit these colors and this phenomenon is known as "play-of-color". It is this play-of-color that makes opals such desirable gems. That variety of opals available is so vast and based upon uniformity, color intensity, diversity, and pattern.

Precious opals are very rare and most are mined in Australia followed by Ethiopia and Mexico.

Common opals on the other hand do not possess this play-of color.

Whilst many common opals can be attractive and beautiful, they are not sought after in the same way that precious opals are. They are considered "common" because they can be found in many locations around the world and do not exhibit the opulence of the precious opal.

Solid vs. Assembled Opals

Opals by their nature can be fragile and so solid opal gems can be thick enough to withstand the hardship of everyday wear and jewelry repair without the risk of damage. However, thinner opal materials require extra support.

Assembled opals simply mean opals that are fashioned with backings. These are added when the manufacturer is working with thinner materials that may not withstand the durability of everyday wear.

Two types of assembled opals include:

  • Opal doublets - A thin layer of opal cemented to a backing of either black glass, obsidian, natural common opal, or plastic.
  • Opal triplets - A thin layer of opal cemented between a domed top of colorless quartz (or clear glass) and a backing of black glass, obsidian, or chalcedony.

Natural vs. Lab-grown Opals

Natural opals can be found and naturally mined all over the world. The most popular of these being Australia, Mexico, and Ethiopia. Other places include Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, and Slovakia.

Lab-grown (or synthetic) opals are formed under strict laboratory conditions. The mineraloid composition is formed under conditions that simulate that of naturally formed opals.

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Lab Created Diamonds

How to evaluate the quality of opals?

When trying to determine the quality of an opal, there are three main aspects that we should focus on:

  1. Color - body/background and play-of-color
  2. Pattern - Play-of-color arrangement
  3. Clarity - Transparency, and quantity of inclusions

When evaluating these aspects, the opals are placed against a dark background under controlled lighting to better determine the various qualities and characteristics.

Knowing this, we can use the five steps below to evaluate the quality of opals…

Evaluate the Quality of a Precious Opal

#1 Confirm the type of opal

Is it a fire opal, black opal, white opal, precious opal, common opal, etc?

#2 Evaluate the opals "play-of-color" characteristics

Determine the percentage of play-of-color in comparison to the background color. Consider its intensity, range of colors, dominant hues, and pattern.

#3 Determine its level of transparency

Is it opaque, transparent, semi-transparent, or translucent?

#4 Inspect the clarity

Check the stone for any matrix, surface blemishes, fractures, or pits. You might also look for crazing which can be found if an opal has lost a lot of moisture—this is a network of cracks that looks similar to a spider’s web.

#5 Go over the opals cut quality

Consider these four different aspects of cut: symmetry, thickness, polish, sizing, and calibration.

So, what types of opals are more valuable?

Every single opal is so unique and distinguishable from the next that in truth, it’s very hard to determine which type of opal is more valuable.

With many different types of opals that come with different play-of-color effects and patterns, certain opals are considered more valuable than others.

A precious and solid opal will always demand a higher price than a common or assembled opal. Likewise, we must not forget that the carat weight will always have a great impact on price in alignment with the other qualities mentioned above!

In general, black opals are the most desirable opals and have demanded prices of over $12,000.

Generally speaking; darker body tones, a brilliant display of color, distinctive patterns, and limited faults (cracks, blemishes, etc) are what we seek when looking for a valuable opal.

Yet we must understand that these stones are so incredibly unique and there is such a variety of different types available to us, that the attractiveness of each opal is incredibly subjective.

How much is an opal ring?

The price of an opal ring can be vastly different and this is fully dependent on the price of the opal and that of the ring setting.

Let’s take a look at two comparisons…

  • A solitaire white opal ring of approximately 1.5 carats that has very little play-of-color can be purchased for around $500-$600.
  • Alternatively, a black opal ring of approximately 1.5 carats with exceptional play-of-color can cost upwards of several thousand dollars (or even more than $20,000 in some cases!)

As you can see, the price difference can be huge!

But good news! That means there is an opal ring out there for everyone.

NOTE
If you’re searching for a more affordable option then lab-grown opal rings can be purchased at a lower cost than natural opal rings and can often be indistinguishable from the real thing!

Opting for an opal ring: What are the popular options?

Let’s take a look at the popular options available when buying an opal ring with specific attention to opal engagement rings and opal wedding rings.🎀

Solitaire Opal Engagement Ring

A classic design featuring one stunning center opal. As with any other solitaire ring, the design is simplistic and sleek. Nothing detracts from this center stone, it simply speaks for itself!

Classic Solitaire Opal Engagement Ring
Angara SKU: SR1080OP

Multi-Gemstone Opal Engagement Rings

Fancy something a little bit different? We can pair opals with other gemstones to create a more unique engagement ring to better suit our personality!

Opal and Diamond Engagement Ring

The brilliance of these two stones combined makes for a luxurious and almost princess-like feel for any bride-to-be.👸🏻 Diamonds that are paired with an opal with a high play-of-color simply dance in the light and enhance the qualities of each and every stone.

Rose Gold Pear-Shaped Opal and Diamond Engagement Ring
Angara SKU: SR0350OPD

Opal and Sapphire Engagement Ring

An opal and sapphire engagement ring could be an excellent choice for someone seeking the traditional feel of a diamond and sapphire combination with a twist! The blue of the sapphire perfectly compliments lighter opals.

Halo Style Precious White Opal Ring in 925 Sterling Silver

Opal and Amythest Engagement Ring

Opal and amethyst engagement ring? Perhaps not the first thing you might consider but remember that opals come in a wide variety of colors. Some of these colors make for a perfect pairing with an amethyst stone…throw in some diamonds and you’ve got yourself something incredibly special!😝

Three Stone Opal and Amethyst Engagement Ring
Walmart

Opal and Pearl Engagement ring

An opal and pearl engagement ring couldn’t be beaten in representing a bride-to-be. This combination is subtle, elegant, and delicate.

Rose Gold Opal and Pearl Engagement Ring
DallerJewelry / Etsy

Opal Wedding Bands

Why not take it one step further and enjoy an opal wedding band? Opals can be set into a wedding band in much the same way as any other stone.

You can feel comfortable knowing that you can easily match your wedding ring to your opal engagement ring without any difficulty.

Opal Wedding Band With Milgrain and Filigree
Brooke Camarata / Pinterest

This leads me on to the next option...

Opal Engagement Ring Sets

An opal engagement ring set consists of an opal engagement ring with an opal wedding band in a similar style that compliments one another.

Opal Engagement Ring Set (Rose Gold)
MDNICE / Etsy

The opal engagement ring set above is a perfect example of this.

The two have been made to sit neatly side by side with the opal wedding band designed in this set curve surrounding the center opal stone of the engagement ring.

The two rings slot together perfectly for a harmonious look.

Let your imagination run wild here!
If the opal ring is not specific for an engagement ring then why not consider a black opal ring or a fire opal ring?!

Maybe go crazy and consider a black opal ENGAGEMENT ring!

And don’t forget, men’s opal rings are available as well and the black opals are a guaranteed winner.

Is an opal ring right for you? (Compared to a diamond ring)

Certainly, a diamond ring might be considered a top pick for any engagement jewelry so it’s worth comparing the two to determine whether an opal ring is right for you.

Take a look at the comparison table below for things you should take into account when choosing between the two...

 Opal RingsDiamond Rings
Pros
  • Impressive play-of-color effects that are unique to the opal

  • Intensity and quality of color surpasses the fire of a diamond

  • There are a wide range of variants to choose from so there is something available for everyone

  • Can be very affordable with the right opal in the right setting
  • A timeless and classic choice.

  • The symbolism of love and purity

  • Exudes a stunning amount of fire, brilliance, and sparkle

  • Very durable meaning it requires less maintenance
Cons
  • Opals are very soft stones rating 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness.

  • They require more maintenance

  • Certain settings might be better suited to protect the stone which may leave fewer options if the durability of the stone concerns you
  • Can be expensive

  • If on a lower budget you may have to opt for a much smaller stone or accept a lower quality of color or clarity

How to choose and care for your opal ring?

What should you consider when choosing your opal? What things need to be taken into account? How do you decide which opal ring design is best for you?🧐

Let’s take a look, shall we?

  1. Consider the wearer’s lifestyle - Opals can be a fragile stone so it is worth taking into account the lifestyle of the wearer. If you have a tendency to work with your hands or outdoors, for example, then you can still enjoy the beauty of an opal ring. However, you may consider that it will need to be taken off for such times.
  2. Opal natural or opal assembled? - Besides natural opals, there are some opals in the market that have been treated/assembled to enhance durability and color effects. These are often less expensive and could be a great option if buying on a budget. Assembled opals (opal doublets and opal triplets) are perfect for giving added support to the structure of the stone if you are concerned about its durability.
  3. Pick a pretty and strong ring setting - While the solitaire prong setting is the most classic it does require extra care. The exposed sides of the stone may make it perceptible to damage and will require greater vigilance. However, a bezel setting or halo of diamonds surrounding the center opal would add an extra layer of protection to the center opal stone.
  4. Choose the right metal color to enhance the stone - As we now know, opals are available in a wide variety of colors, tones, and intensities so it’s important to choose a metal color that compliments the opal of choice. If you’re unsure, take the time to peruse the different combinations online or visit your jeweler of choice to see some firsthand.

Caring for your opal rings

We want to make sure that your opal ring stays with you for many years to come. So it’s important to understand the best practices for caring for your opal rings in order to keep these precious stones in tip-top condition for as long as possible.📝

  1. Cleaning your opals
    • Solid opals - Solid opals should be cleaned with warm water and very mild detergent using a soft cloth or soft toothbrush. The process should be very gentle so as not to scratch or damage the surface of the opal.
    • Doublets and triplets - Do not ever soak or immerse these assembled opals in water! Use a damp soft and mild detergent to gently wipe the surface of the stone.
    • Avoid the ultrasonic cleaner - Never place your opals in an ultrasonic cleaner. The intense vibrations may damage a solid opal and cause cracking whilst water penetration will damage any assembled opals.
  2. Storing your opals
    • Keep away from other stones - Opals are a soft stone compared to many others. If they are placed side by side with a sapphire or diamonds, for example, they risk becoming scratched.
    • Store in a padded cloth bag - This is the best way to protect your opal while it is in storage.
    • Longer storage periods - Put the opal in cotton one with a few drops of water to prevent water from escaping from the stone. If it loses too much moisture it may crack over time.
NOTE
If your opal loses its shine over time or gains some surface scratches, take it back to an opal cutter or your preferred jewelers. Small scratches and scuffs may accumulate over time and will cause an opal to lose its shiny polish leaving it looking dull. A professional polishing will revitalize the stone, as good as the day you bought it!
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Everything you need to know about buying opal rings

And that’s a wrap!

With there being so many options available and with the opal being so unique in its chemical make-up, there can be a lot to take in.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that, while there are many opals that are considered more valuable than others, our aesthetic preferences are incredibly subjective. It really is a gut-feeling kind of purchase.🧸

If you are ever in any doubt then do not hesitate to contact a jewelry professional who can guide you through the opal ring buying process.

With so many options and varieties to choose from, you will certainly be stumped for choice!

This only means that you will be able to find an opal ring that is perfectly suited to you; unique in every way, a perfect representation of your character, and ready to be shown off!

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