Opal Series (Article 1) – Imitation, Not Gemstone Quality and Synthetic Opals
Let’s start the opal article series with the ones to avoid paying high prices for. These include the imitation opals (fakes), not gemstone quality opals, synthetic opals (lab created), and partially man-made stones (referred to as doublets and triplets – covered in Article 2).
As with everything, you might come across one of these types of stones and really fall in love with it. Let me say this, “There is nothing wrong with loving one of these stones.” I simply want you to have an idea when you should and shouldn’t pay high prices for opals.
Ultimately, you decide the worth of an item; so if you love it, pay what it is worth to you. On the other hand, if you are buying it to turn a profit or to hold on to as an investment, you don’t want to pay a price higher than the opal’s worth to someone else. That’s where reading this article series can help.
In this series of blog posts, you’ll learn the basics about opals. There is a lot more to them than this series can cover, it could easily fill a book. If you find it fascinating, you can read one of the books already written (like “Opal Identification and Value” by Paul B. Downing) or additional web sites.
Opals are not a simple subject by any means. This is a brief overview to introduce the topic to you.
Imitation opals (fakes) are made to look like natural opals. They are made from plastic or glass. Some of these are glued on top of a foil backing or inserted in a foil, open back setting (so the sides display a color). This foil backing makes the imitation opal appear to show a play of color.
This can usually be determined by using a loupe to look at the stone. When you do this, you will notice the color comes from the back of the stone. The colors aren’t coming from the middle or top of it. Look at a real opal through a loupe, as this will help you learn the difference.
Here’s an example of a imitation opal with foil behind it. The stone is not set in marked gold, so the charm isn’t trying to be passed off as a real opal set in gold. Instead, it is just a pretty piece of costume jewelry made to look like an opal. It is a pretty charm, but I wouldn’t want to pay the price a real opal costs for it.
Don’t just take an owner’s word that it is a real opal. Someone might have told them it was real, so they believe it is a real one. They may not be able to tell the difference between an imitation and the real deal. Therefore, inspect the stone in question yourself.
Not Gemstone Quality Opals
The opals in a piece might be common opal (like the milk opal), which are not gemstone quality (which show a play of color). These might be glue on top of foil to enhance the color or make it fire (sparkle) with a red color.
Here’s an example. This pendant has six white stones. It is not set in gold, so it is costume jewelry. The two stones the arrows are pointing to are translucent and they might be real gemstone opals, but they are very low quality. They both have one or two spots of natural green fire in them. The pink arrow points to the best looking low quality stone. Notice the slight green fire. The stone the white arrow is pointing to has a little green fire (not seen in the picture) with red fire which is due to a foil background – as previously mentioned this can be determined by looking through the stone with a loupe. The other four stones are not transparent. One of them has one dot of green fire in it. The rest are opaque milky white with no fire. If they are opals, they are not gemstone quality ones, so they are not worth much.
I purchased both of these costume jewelry pieces at two different yard sales for a quarter each, so they were cheap. However, if they were $25 each, I would not have been happy with my purchase, since they are imitations and/or poor quality opals.
Hopefully this will keep you from making a decision you regret later. As I mention throughout my book (Cheap Gold and Silver), “If it is cheap enough and I can’t determine whether something is real or not quickly at a sale, I’ll buy it and decide at home.”
Synthetic Opals (Lab Created)
Synthetic opals are stones grown in the laboratory, so they are not as valuable as a natural opals (with equal characteristics like size, play of color, etc.). To the untrained, they are difficult to tell apart from natural opals. Here are some tips that might help you determine if it is lab created.
You’ll notice the pattern is too perfect (look closely since mother nature doesn’t create perfect patterns). They usually are described as having a snakeskin or chicken wire pattern, which you might need magnification to observe.
If you are willing to pay the price, then buy it and take it to a gemologist. If you are unwilling to risk the amount of money, then walk away from it with no regrets – you’ll sleep better at night.
Be sure to read the next post in the series explaining the man-made doublets and triplets. Want to read the third article in this series, you can read it here – Precious, Fire and Common Opals. Do you want to read the Opal Series article four – Characteristics, read it here?
Good Luck and Happy Hunting,
Author of “Cheap Gold and Silver”