What Are Opals?

One of the oldest and most colorful gems on record, the opal is a beautiful stone for any skin tone, age and style. The gem comes in a range of colors and looks stunning in many different types of jewelry, though it is a favorite in necklaces and earrings. Found in areas within Australia and Ethiopia, the opal makes for a striking centerpiece with color and intensity that even surpass the beauty of a diamond.

Precious opals are known for their play of color or iridescence, as they can flash many different hues within the same stone.  

What Is the Origin of Opals?

Antique Opal and Diamond Brooch, achieved $4,063 at FORTUNA’s 2020 August Jewels & Watches auction.

Opals are a combination of silica and water. Their formation process began millions of years ago, when rainwater seeped down into areas of the earth filled with silica-rich sandstone. The water mixed with and carried silica particles with it as it traveled down further into the ground, becoming trapped in cracks and crevices. Eventually, the water evaporated, leaving a silica deposit behind. 

As rainwater continued to flow down into these crevices, the deposits gradually built up to form beautiful gems. Australia is the world’s leading source of opals, although Ethiopia is a strong competitor. 

Do Opals Mean Anything?

Opals have a range of meanings because they come in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. In Greek mythology, opals were thought to be the result of Zeus’s tears falling to the earth. Other cultures believed the rainbow’s virgin goddess turned herself into an opal to escape suitors’ pursuits. As a result, the gem became associated with offering protection. 

The colors of the opal itself have symbolized passion, love and spontaneity. Other ideas of happiness, loyalty and confidence are also attached to these vibrant stones, as is the belief that opal can attract money.

How are Opals Valued?

Some famous pieces of opal jewelry have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The price is determined by a few factors, with the origin being perhaps one of the most important. Australian opals are highly desired because Australia has been history’s longest opal source, creating a reliable and well-respected reputation for the nation. Ethiopia is still new to the market, making their opals a little more affordable.

Once the origin is confirmed, the class and body tone are the next two determining factors in value. The class identifies whether the opal is entirely authentic or is a doublet or triplet. In the latter, the piece is composed of a slice of genuine opal and one or two pieces of another material to give the opal a darker or more full appearance. Body tone is the background or foundational color of the opal, typically ranging from black to light. The darker the background, the more valuable the opal, as a black background displays refracted light more vividly. Genuine solid black opals are quite rare and can command extremely high prices at market. An example can be seen below in a spectacular ring from our September 2018 Important Jewels auction. The ring, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Art Nouveau design with a stunning black opal, achieved $12,5000 at auction. The strong play-of-color and mystique innate to precious opals made them a very popular choice for jewels during the Art Nouveau era.

Buccellati Black Opal and Enamel Earrings, FORTUNA’s 2021 July Jewels & Watches.
Louis Comfort Tiffany Art Nouveau Black Opal Diamond and Enamel Ring, FORTUNA’s 2018 September Important Jewels.

Visit FORTUNA® to Buy or Sell Opal Jewelry at Auction

If you are looking for opal jewels that can bring life and joy to your favorite looks or if you have opal jewelry to sell, trust FORTUNA for the best possible quality and deal. We host monthly auctions to showcase some of the most beautiful and collectible watches and jewelry in existence. A team of specialists with decades of experience in the jewelry industry carefully inspects each piece for value and authenticity.

Explore FORTUNA’s calendar for upcoming monthly sales and contact us with any questions. Sign up for our mailing list to keep an eye on our offerings!