History of Opals

The earliest opals were found dating back to 4000 B.C from Ethiopia and have been a critical part of the culture of many important civilisations. The Ancient Romans revered opals above diamonds, pearls and other gemstones as the opals beauty stood out in a time before stone cutting was invented. Opals were popularly thought to be lucky and in some instances it was thought to give the wearer foresight. The Ancient Romans provided the first real market for opals, its most notable purchasers were the Caesars and Marc Antony.

Opals are found all over the world. A large mine in Hungary provided light opals for Europe and the Middle East, however South America boasted dark opals that were brought back to Spain by the Conquistadors in the early sixteenth century.

Opals were first discovered in South Australia in 1849 by the German Geologist Johannes Menge and since then the unique stone has been mined at the White Cliffs and Lightning Ridge in NSW and Opalton in QLD. When the first Australian opals were sold on the world market the Hungarian mines spread a rumour that they were not real as they were of a style and beauty unseen before. However, by 1932 the European mines could not compete with level of popularity of Australian opal mines, as a result they closed. Now Lightning Ridge opals are world famous for their colourful, rare black and crystal stones and up to 50% of the worlds opal production comes from South Australia.

OPAL DOUBLETS AND TRIPLETS

Opal Doublets and Opal Triplets are not natural opals as they have been treated and glued together so it is not recommended to soak them in water. Triplets can lift after time but now cutters use a UV light which seals it better so ask the seller if the triplet has been UV treated. Clean with a soft cloth with mild detergent.

How to Care for Opal Jewellery

There seems to be much confusion about the proper way to care for and clean opals and opal jewellery. Here’s a simple guide that will let you preserve your beautiful opals and keep them looking their best.

  1. Buy quality stones from a knowledgeable dealer or jeweller, preferably someone who is a cutter: Now this may sound like strange “care” advice, but the stone you purchase is as important as the care you give it. Here’s why. Many jewellers don’t know one opal from another, and cannot offer you the right opal care advice. Therefore, if you know what you have, you will know how to look after it.
  2. Can I put my opals in water? Yes, there is no problem in doing this, but if the stone were an opal doublet or triplet, it would be unwise to leave it in water (particularly hot water with detergent) for long/extended periods of time as it may effect the cement that holds the protective crystal cap on the stone. However, in the case of solid opals, hot water or detergent or oils will not effect them.
  3. How do oily substances affect an opal? Oily hand and face creams will not hurt the stone, except that it may build up around a ring and make it look unsightly.
  4. What should I do to avoid damaging an opal? Don’t wear it doing the gardening, because the sand or soil may take the polish off the stone, or, if you get too energetic, you could smash the stone against a rock, and opals don’t like being treated that way. There is the chance that the gold or silver claws will be damaged, and you could loose the stone altogether. Take it off if you are doing any sort of work that could bring the stone in contact with hard surfaces.
  5. What do I do if my stone loses its polish or becomes scratched? This is why you should buy from people who cut the stone. For example if you get a stone from the Opalauctions.com site and it gets damaged, in most cases it can be re-polished. Alternatively, it can be polished by most jewellers or a polisher at a lapidary club.
  6. How do I store my opals for long periods of time? Generally it’s safe to store them away, as long as the area is not overheated. It’s not a bad idea to put them in a sealed plastic bag with a damp cloth in case of drying out. Don’t store them for long periods of time under hot lights, as this could crack the stones if the heat builds up and is magnified in a showcase.
  7. Caring for opals with diamond accents: If you have accompanying diamonds with your opal jewellery the diamonds may become very dull after a while, even if it is clean. The main reason for this is that many people only clean the front of the ring and not the back. Just pour some pure washing detergent into the back of your ring, and scrub it from the inside out with a soft toothbrush in hot water. The diamonds will sparkle again, and it will not hurt the opal as long as it is done sparingly.
  8. Check your jewellery: Inspect your jewellery regularly for claw damage. You can do this yourself if you have a magnifying glass, if the claws are loose the stone moves a little or if you hold the item close to your ear it will rattle. If you are unsure, talk to your jeweller.
  9. Cleaning gold jewellery: Any paste or fluid designed to polish brass will also polish gold or silver. Just use a soft rag, apply the paste, and polish it off. After that, pour on a few drops of household detergent, give it a scrub with a fine toothbrush and wash it off under hot water. This will bring the gold back to what it was like when you purchased the jewellery. Toothpaste and a soft toothbrush do an excellent job on both stones and metal.