Understanding and Valuing Opals.



When you are choosing your Opal it is VITAL that you know how the Opal will be worn, as some Opal will look brighter when viewed vertically whereas others will show more colour when viewed horizontally.

This section sets out the factors used in determining value.

There is no governing body which has set the prices for Opal. Opal prices are a result of what the international market is prepared to pay in order to obtain the gem. As with any other commodity, Opal is subject to the laws of supply and demand.

The supply of Opal is never guaranteed - the luck of the miner, variable costs, new discoveries, floods and weather conditions all affect the supply of the stone.

Demand relates to the enthusiasm of the customer for Opal and may be influenced by fashion and market trends.

For example, the unprecedented demand over the last few years for fine quality Opal, particularly from Japanese customers, has caused prices to soar.

The attractiveness and appeal of a particular Opal are the factors which are important at the final point of sale. What makes up this attractiveness and appeal?

The type, colour, size and soundness of precious Opal are factors that determine the price paid for the gemstone.

The price is based on the quality of the Opal and expressed per karat, furthermore, there is a marked difference between the value of uncut Opal compared with the value of cut and polished Opal.



Valuing Opal is very difficult and the following key factors are considered the most relevant in any appraisal.



Black or dark Opal is considered more valuable than white or light Opal, technically Opals are rated according to their Body Tone "N" Value from 9 (black) down to 1 (light transparent)



The coverage of the play of colours is important, there should be no patches of inferior colourless Opal (potch) in a gem class or high-grade Opal stone.



2. Red Violet  3. Orange  4. Yellow  5. Green  6. Blue

1. Dominant Fire Color: The clarity of the colour is critical when assessing the value of Opal. Red Fire is the rarest colour, followed by green/orange, green/blue and blue. Therefore red fire in an Opal is generally more valuable than a predominantly green Opal, which in turn is more valuable than a stone showing only blue colour.

The brilliance and pattern of the colours present and the number of colours present. The intensity and clarity of the spectrum colours are very influential.

However, the brilliance and clarity of an open proportioned pattern are the main decision-makers - a brilliant blue/green can cost more than a dull red, bright twinkling stars of a 'pinfire' pattern can cost more than a cloudy open pattern of similar colouration or a brilliant, lustrous light Opal can cost more than a lacklustre black opal.



The degree of brightness is of paramount importance as an Opal cannot be valuable without this attribute.


BRIGHTNESS OF FIRE - (brilliance)

At what level - 1,2,3,4,5.



1) Faint

Shows a play of colour only under direct sunlight, and even then, the fire is faint or almost non-existent.


2) Dull

Shows some colour under low light, but is dull even under indirect sunlight or the grading lamp.


3) Bright

Shows fair colour under low light and very nice fire under indirect sunlight or the grading lamp.


4) Very Bright

Shows good colour under low light and sharp crisp colour under indirect sunlight or the grading lamp.


5)  Brilliant

Shows exceptionally bright crisp colour under indirect sunlight or the grading lamp, and often shows even brighter in subdued light.

A gem that glows but is average in all other respects will still command a high price whereas a dull stone with a very good pattern such as Harlequin will only bring an average price.



It is important to know the type of Opal. For instance, a black boulder Opal could in all respects be the same as a black Opal except that the black Opal will be approximately three times as expensive.



Opal that has been mined and is presented either in its naturally occurring state or after being cut and polished.

It has not been chemically treated and has no other materials cemented to it.

Opal is made up of close-packed aggregates of silica spheres and with water content between 3-10%.

In precious Opal, the arrangement of spheres is in orderly layers, and light passing through the spheres is diffracted at the void and layer interface to produce the vivid play of colour associated with Opal.

Larger silica spheres are associated with more sought after colours, such as red.



Is almost everything in Opals. The more colour the better, reds, pink, yellow and orange are harder to find and therefore are more expensive, green, blue and violet, are much more prevalent.

It is important to know the type of Opal, solid precious Opal is more valuable than doublet or triplet Opals.

Black Opal is more valuable than boulder Opal, which in turn tends to be more valuable than light Opal, the darker the body colour, the more valuable the gem.

A stone with strong colour and a full spectrum range is generally more valuable than one with a predominant red fire, which is more valuable than one with predominantly green colour which in turn is more valuable than a stone showing only blue colour.



Great care needs to be taken when applying this factor, remembering that brilliance overrides all other factors. A blue/green brilliant stone will usually be more valuable than a dull red stone. The dominant colour has value in this order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The red-orange colours are more valued. This rule is more particular to Black Opal, "red on black" being the most valuable.



Determined by looking through the top of the Opal beyond the play of colour.



With Black Opal or Black Boulder Opal, the degree of darkness in the body colour must be taken into consideration. The blacker the body colour the more valuable the gem.



Play-of-color of the Opal is the most difficult factor to judge for any Opal and does make a difference to the price for the end-user.

It's brightness! How bright is the overall play-of-colour?

It's spectral range! What range of colours is visible in the play of colour.

It's saturation! How pure and vivid are the colours forming the play-of-colour?

It's the pattern! What is the size, shape, regularity, and rarity of the play-of-colour?

It's consistency! Is the play-of-colour, pattern, brightness consistent or variable over the whole face of the opal?

It's directionality! Is the play of colour visible from all directions as the opal is rotated?



This term is used to indicate whether or not an Opal, when viewed face-on, presents its colour directly to the viewer, the stone's value is less if its splendour is visible only from acute angles.

Many fine Opals, especially those with broad flashes of colour, are at their best when viewed from a slight angle, these have special appeal when used as pendants or ring stones.



Sameness in all the relevant characteristics of an Opal, including colour, pattern, density, of fire and colour of the background.



Good patterns of the diffracted colours when combined with brilliance have an enormous impact on the value. Pinfire and small type patterns are less desirable than broad patterns or large flashes.

Distinct patterns such as rolling flash, straw pattern, Chinese writing, ribbon, and Harlequin are very rare and considered collectors' items, almost all opal displays some form of pattern you will never find two Opals that are exactly the same.

It's the amount of colour and its intensity that makes it better than another.

In particular, many of the top quality pieces of Black Opal from Lightning Ridge show their strength through a distinct, recognizable pattern play of strong colours, some of the various patterns are listed below.



This is the most prized of all patterns and is very rare, the colours in this pattern are more or less arranged like checkerboard squares.



Is possibly the most common of all nice patterns and its name is derived from its likeness to floral dress material, this pattern covers a broad range of design and colour.



Closely resembles a mass of pinheads in different colours.



Is like an artist's palette.



Usually consists of one colour that travels across part or all of the stone as it is moved.



Natural precious Opal which is transparent to semi-transparent is known as Crystal Opal.

Crystal Opal is a solid Opal which is transparent showing a play of colour and no base colour. This Opal will show little colour when on a white background unless the colours are very strong and vibrant in it.

This Opal has a degree of transparency which allows the colours below the surface to be visible. Some believe the crystal varieties to be the most beautiful. Crystal Opals can be either light or black crystal, by definition, crystal Opal is any Opal, light, dark or black, that's clear enough to read through against a light surface but colours spring to life when viewed on any dark surface.

Light Opal is more desirable when it has a degree of transparency and if lively brilliant colours are present in crystal Opals, they are most highly prized. However, transparency in Black Opal will generally reduce its value.

Crystal Opal can have either a black, dark or light body tone, the term "crystal" in this context refers to appearance, not a crystalline structure. Crystal Opals from Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge are exceedingly beautiful and rare and command very high prices.

Thickness, of the Color Bar: Black Opals and black Boulder Opals with a very thin colour bar is frequently worth many thousands of dollars per carat, although they would be worth more if they had exactly the same appearance with a thicker colour bar. Thickness, of the bar, would also enable a cabochon to be cut from the rough, thereby increasing value.

Shape and Polish: The usual shape for an Opal is a cabochon or domed oval, the length of which is about 40% greater than the width, and the height (dome) equal to about 60% of the width. In practice, this is very difficult to find, because Opals have been fashioned irregularly by mother nature.

Perfectly shaped ovals generally command a premium price, because valuable Opal material is sacrificed when cutting them to this form. In most cases, about 40-60% of the rough stone is ground away to produce the finished article.

Oval, pear, and other regular shaped stones will bring a higher price than irregular shapes (free shapes) because it is possible to obtain greater yields from free shapes, and demand is higher for the regular shapes.

A cabochon enhances the appearance and signifies a thicker colour bar or that it is skin-to-skin Opal. A domed stone is, therefore more valuable than a flat or low domed stone. Black Opals are not usually highly domed but are more likely to be flat on top or have a low dome.

The quality of the work performed by the opal cutter can significantly affect the value of the Opal. It should be polished so that no scratches or imperfections are visible to the eye.



All Opals must be visually assessed for face-up clarity, any eye visible inclusion, such as patches of potch or lines of potch, (webbing) the presence of "sand spots" and/or crystals of gypsum near the surface or the Opal, or the presence of ironstone (in the face of Boulder Opal), will affect the value of an opal. Importantly, the presence of crazing (surface-reaching cracks and fractures) in precious Opal renders it commercially valueless.



Because Opal is so unusual the appeal of a particular Opal weighs more heavily than almost any other consideration. This is a double-edged sword, if it appeals to you as the buyer you will be willing to buy it but if it appeals to the seller you may have to pay extra to sever their emotional attachment.



Some Opals are described as having character, which means their appeal is far greater than others of the same technical standard. Every person sees Opal in their own way, and an inexpensive stone can often have great personal appeal.

It's a fact that every Opal presents some different characteristic is very important, unlike other gemstones such as sapphires, rubies or emeralds, each Opal shows unique colour combinations. It is rare to see two similar stones, and impossible to find two which are identical.

Opals with more attractive and appealing colour combinations have higher values, the colour patterns of many Opals appear as though they could have been painted on.



Smaller sizes under a karat are worth less per karat than larger stones. This is particularly true with Black Opal, although less important if the stones are calibrated. Larger stones are harder to obtain and command a premium.



There are many types of imperfections which will affect the value, although sand, "cotton" and other impurities which are not clearly visible from the top of the stone have little impact.

Indeed, many collection quality opals will have sand in the back of the stones.

Cracks drastically reduce value.

A cracked or crazed Opal has very little commercial value unless the stone can be recut.

Cracks can be distinguished from inclusions and vertical colour bars by examination with a strong light behind the gem. When the stone is tilted the examiner should see a glint of light reflecting from the crack, (except where a crack is silt-filled) sometimes looks like a small brown fan inside, this is what is called a ginger whisker. On first, impression, vertical colour bars and impurities such as copi may look like cracks but this simple test will clarify any doubt.

Another tip is to inspect the stone with a 10x loupe; if the mark breaks the polished surface, then it is a crack.



Opal is valued and sold by carat weight. 1 carat = 200 milligrams.



Please keep in mind that taking photos of Opals is very difficult, much more so than of any other gem, often the Digital Camera picks up colours we do not see, but also seems to leave out some of what we do see.

The Opal photos presented are a good likeness of the stones, but as with all Opal photos, they cannot show you all the true colours or Fire you would see in the real thing with some movement. So, if you think the opal looks good here, then it will always be better when seen with the naked eye in natural light.

The hardest and most difficult colours to photograph are the Blue/Green and the Green/Blue.

It should also be mentioned that Opals should always be viewed under close single incandescent light ( 12 to 15 inches away from the stone) or with the sun from over your shoulders, moving the stone in different directions for best play of colour flashes.


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