A guide to buying opals online
Buying opals in bulk from a store is difficult enough if you don’t understand them, but buying them online is a daunting task. You are at the mercy of the seller and that is not always in your best interest. But I can help with some advice that will pave the way.
Natural or synthetic?
Synthetic Opal are man-made in a lab and are referred to as ‘manufactured Opal’ on most websites. You can also make stunning jewelry. They can also be called “opal imitations”.
Solid, doublet or triplet?
Let’s say, having decided that we want real or natural opals instead of artificial opals, we now need to decide whether we want a solid opal, a doublet or a triplet.
You may know that a solid opal is one piece and is the best and most expensive.
A solid opal that is very thin, too thin to make a piece of jewellery, is given another piece of black opal glue on the back to give it strength and bring out the vibrant colors of the stone. These are doublets that are cheaper than solid fabrics and often look even nicer. We just need to be clear that these are not solid opals.
A triplet is basically a doublet with a dome of clear material like quartz or glass on top. These are the cheapest of all but often look fantastic. Again, we just need to understand what we are buying.
Doublets and triplets may not just be thin or inferior opal products that cannot be sold. Sometimes good opal is intentionally cut into tiny flat pieces and made into doublets and triplets. For a true opal lover like me, this is anathema. I’ve seen these wafer-thin pieces sliced so thin that when you put them in the palm of your hand, they sink into your palm. They are then worked into many, many triplets from the one original solid opal.
Which is the best color?
Let’s say we want a natural solid opal. Next thing to think about is the color. Anything containing red will be the most expensive. Then green is the next most expensive and then blue. However, I have seen many brilliant blue solid opals that are much nicer and much more expensive than dull red pieces. So what matters is how bright and fiery the actual stone is, not whether it’s red, blue, green, or some other color.
What shapes should I look out for?
As most good opals come from Australia their measurements are shown in millimeters and not inches or fractions of an inch. Most opals are oval in shape. The market has dictated for many years that oval shapes are the most popular. If it is not an oval shape, it is called a “free shape”. That means it has an irregular shape.
Some opals are round but this shape is not popular and is the most difficult to cut.
This is an important distinction as ovals are more likely to fit into a setting your jeweler already has rather than having to custom make a setting for that free form stone which will cost you a lot more. Possibly twice as much or more than a setting that has been mass produced and freely available to your jeweler.
Does size matter?
Read the description of the opal or opal jewelry carefully. First of all, what you want to know is the size. If it’s a ring, look for an oval measuring 7mm x 5mm, 8mm x 6mm, 10mm x 8mm or even 9mm x 7mm. These are the sizes that your jeweler may have a ring setting made to match your stone. Otherwise he has to make one custom made.
The size of a pendant can range from 8 x 6 mm and larger. I think anything smaller is going to be a bit too small for a trailer.
The next thing you want to know is the thickness of the stone. In general, any opal less than 1.5mm thick is too thin. An opal thicker than 4mm may be difficult to set in a ring.
Of course I’m generalizing here. I have set solid opals in rings measuring 18 x 13 x 6mm but they were large.