August 10, 2023

Opal Unearthed: Untold Stories of Nature's Rebel Stone

By Bailey Christenbury
Opal Unearthed: Untold Stories of Nature's Rebel Stone

What's opal?

Opal isn't just a gem; it's an explosive kaleidoscope of colors and light. At its essence, opal is a hydrated form of silica, which means it's close kin to the more structured quartz. However, its water content swings wildly, anywhere from 3% to 21%. This water fraction plays a crucial role in determining the opal's clarity and transparency. The vivid play-of-color we all rave about? It's the consequence of light refracting and diffracting off the microscopic silica spheres within the opal.

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How are opals formed?

The opal's genesis story is a mix of drama and patience. Picture this: millions of years ago, torrential rain soaked the earth. The water, supercharged with dissolved silica from sandstone, permeated cracks and voids underground. Over time, as the water evaporated, it deposited a silica-rich solution that solidified into opal. So, beneath our feet, nature took its sweet time crafting these masterpieces, drop by drop, year after year.

Where is opal found?

  • Australia: The Big Boss of the opal world. Think of it as the godfather, reigning over 90% of global opal production. But hey, dominance doesn't mean dullness.
  • Ethiopia: The newbie making a splash! Found in the Welo and Shewa provinces, these opals are like the rebels of the opal world—transparent and flaunting wild colors. However, they soak up water quickly, losing their color and becoming milky. Talk about drama!
  • Mexico: The Firestarter. Sourced mainly from Querétaro, Mexico serves those spicy red-orange fire opals that will make you feel like you've captured a piece of the sun.
  • Brazil: Samba and... opals? Hell yeah! From clear crystals to blazing fire opals, Brazil dances to its own vibrant beat in the state of Piauí.
  • United States: The opal underdog.
  • Nevada: Giving us moody black opals and some sick opalized wood. Nature's punk rock!
  • Oregon: Home to the ethereal blue-green opals that seem plucked from a mermaid's treasure trove.
  • Idaho: Rolling out the opalized wood like it's going out of style.
    • Peru: The enigma. Ever seen an opal without that flashy play-of-color? Peru's blue and pink opals are like the cool, mysterious folks in shades at the back of the club.
    • Indonesia: A rising star in the opal scene. With gems resembling Aussie and Ethiopian opals, Indonesia's Banten region is a gem hunter's dream.
    • Slovakia and Czech Republic: The old guard. Once the reigning "Opal Capital" before Australia swaggered in, these countries bring opal history with their white and fiery stones.
    • Honduras: Serving up edgy black matrix opals, they're like the grunge icons of the opal world—dark, mysterious, and totally unique.

      Each corner of the world brings its own opal swag to the table. So, whether you're rocking the sunfire from Mexico or the cool blue from Peru, you're not just wearing a gem; you're wearing a statement.

      Australian Opals Country

      While opals are globe-trotters, Australia's rugged outback is the main stage, accounting for over 90% of the world's opal production. Towns like Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge are the epicenters. With their harsh arid desert climates, featuring low rainfall and dust storms, these rural areas have temperatures reaching well over 100°F. But here's a toast to Andamooka, a lesser-known opal haven where our opal miner, the audacious Angel Dempsey of "The Misfits" digs out these lustrous gems, with each stone narrating a tale of resilience. Not to forget, her adrenaline-fueled escapades caught the lens of the Discovery Channel in the show “Outback Opal Hunters”. Our opals, sourced from her, come with a backstory as colorful as the gem itself.

      Angel Dempsey The Misfits Outback Opal Hunters

      Hero Australian Opal Bracelet by Ringcrush

      What color is opal? 

      Opals defy being boxed into one color. From deep blues and greens to fiery reds and soft yellows, they can shimmer in a multitude of hues.

      Australian opals are some of the most sought-after in the world, boasting a vibrant array of colors and patterns. When discussing the common colors found in Australian opals, it's essential to differentiate between the body color of the opal (the main background color) and the play-of-color (the flashes or specks of color that appear as the opal is moved).

      Here's a breakdown of the colors commonly found in Australian opals:

      Hero Australian Opal Bracelet by Ringcrush

      Body Color:

      • White or Light: This is the predominant body color of Australian opals, particularly those from Coober Pedy, the "Opal Capital of the World."
      • Black: Contrary to its name, black opals have a dark blue, green, or gray body color, which provides a stunning contrast to the play-of-color. These are especially prominent from Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.
      • Boulder: These opals retain part of the ironstone they form in, creating a rocky, dark background that can vary from browns to deep grays. Queensland is a major source of boulder opals.


      • Red: This is the rarest and often the most prized color in opals. Australian black opals frequently flaunt vibrant red flashes against their dark background.
      • Green and Blue: Common in many Australian opals, these hues can range from soft pastels to deeply saturated shades.
      • Yellow and Orange: Often present, especially in light opals from South Australia and some black opals.
      • Purple: Less common than green and blue but can be found in several Australian opals, adding depth and intrigue.

      The intricate patterns formed by the play-of-color, such as harlequin, pinfire, ribbon, and rolling flash, add another layer of allure to Australian opals. These patterns, combined with the opal's base colors, make each stone a unique and mesmerizing work of art.

      Do opals change colors?

      Here’s the dope: opals have a personality. Depending on the angle of observation and light source, they showcase a dazzling play-of-color. While they don’t undergo a fundamental color change, the shifting colors they display—due to light interference and diffraction—are enough to make every glance feel like the first.

      Australian Opal Ring

      What does raw opal look like?

      In their raw state, opals have an earthy, unrefined charm. The brilliance and patterns we admire in polished opals are subdued, hidden beneath a surface waiting for its potential to be unveiled. Opals from Angel Dempsey don’t just land at Ringcrush. They're ushered in with reverence. Olivia LaSelva, our gem maestro, then steps in. She transforms these raw stories into gleaming tales, ensuring each opal is sorted, refined, and polished to perfection over a dedicated four-week process. So when an opal piece from Ringcrush adorns you, it's not just a gem; it's a legacy.

      Is opal a birthstone?

      Rocking an October birthdate? Congrats, opal’s got your back. For centuries, this gem has been linked to good fortune, creativity, and inspiration. Historically, opal was even believed to possess magical qualities—acting as a talisman of protection. For modern October babies, it serves as a radiant emblem of their birth month.

      What are the different types of opals?

      The opal fam is a wild, diverse bunch. These are just the types of opals found in Australia:

      • Black Opals: These are the showstoppers. Dark body tones make the play-of-color vividly pronounced.
      • Boulder Opals: A mix of opal and its host rock, often ironstone. Think of it as opal with an edge, literally.
      • White or Light Opals: With a pale backdrop, they often gleam with a pastel play-of-color. These are the opals you’re most likely to encounter.
      • Crystal Opals: Clear, semi-transparent, or translucent, they’re like a window into a world of color.
      • Fire Opals: Named for their fiery reds, oranges, and yellows, they often lack the typical play-of-color but make up for it with their intense body color.
      • Water Opal: This type has a clear or transparent body with a bright play-of-color.
      • Matrix Opal: Here, the opal is naturally intergrown with its host rock, allowing the play-of-color to be interspersed throughout the rock.
      • Yowah Nut Opals: These are a type of matrix opal found as nodules or "nuts" with random patterns of opal within.
      • Pipe Opal: These are tubular formations of opal.
      • Hydrophane Opal: When dry, it appears chalky white but can become translucent when soaked in water, often displaying a vibrant play-of-color.

      Are opals ethically and sustainably mined?

      Ethical and sustainable mining is a significant concern in today's world. The good news is that the majority of Australian opal mines, including those in Andamooka, adhere to strict environmental and ethical standards. Rigncrush chooses Miners (like Angel Dempsey) that prioritize the well-being of the environment and the community. This ensures that the opals you receive have been sourced responsibly.

      How old is opal?

      Talk about ancient glam. Opals have been forming for anywhere between 100,000 to over a million years. Some of the opal deposits in Australia have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. The fact that you can wear a gem that began its journey alongside those mighty creatures? That's a trip.

      Is opal man-made?

      Nature’s masterpieces are hard to recreate, but humans, being the ever-curious species, gave it a shot. While synthetic opals mimic the real deal and have their place in the market, they can't emulate the rich history and unique formation process of natural opals. After all, authenticity has a luster all its own. Here are few types of synthetic opals:

       kyocera opal stud earrings moon shape ringcrush

      1. Gilson Opal: Created by Pierre Gilson in 1974, this is one of the earliest and most famous synthetic opals. It replicates the play-of-color of genuine opal.

      2. Kyocera Opal: Introduced by the Kyocera Corporation, these synthetic opals are popular in the jewelry industry because of their resemblance to natural opals.

      3. Inamori Opal: Produced by the Inamori Company in Japan, this type of opal is also popular in the jewelry market.

      4. Monarch Opal: This is a relatively newer brand of lab-grown opal that offers a wide range of vibrant colors.

      5. Opal Doublets & Triplets (Synthetic): These aren't entirely synthetic but are worth mentioning. An opal doublet consists of a thin layer of opal adhered to a black backing. An opal triplet adds a clear cap on top. In the case of synthetic doublets and triplets, the opal layer is man-made.

      6. Hydrophane Opal: Some synthetic opals are made to mimic the characteristics of hydrophane opals, which can absorb water and become translucent when wet, reverting to their original state when dried.

      7. Slocum Stone: Developed in the 1970s by John Slocum, this opal imitation is not truly a synthetic opal since its composition is different. However, its appearance is similar to that of genuine opal, so it's sometimes mistaken for it.

      When shopping for opals, it's essential to know whether you're purchasing a natural or synthetic stone, as the two can sometimes look very similar. Synthetic opals are generally more uniform in their play-of-color and pattern, while natural opals tend to have irregularities. Lab-created opals also tend to be more affordable than their natural counterparts. Always ask the seller about the stone's origin, and ensure you are purchasing from reputable jewelers (Like Ringcrush!)

      Opals are more than shimmering stones. They're epochs captured in silica, stories told through colors, and nature's own canvases. Whether it's in a museum or on a Ringcrush jewel, they beckon, ensnare, and forever enchant.

      Shop Australian Opal Jewelry and Necklaces