Oct 5, 2018
DR. PREM PHAKEY AM HARLEQUIN PATTERN PINFIRE PATTERN, Opal is the birthstone for people born in October and the suggested gift for the 14th anniversary. Opal is also Australia’s national gemstone. More than 90%of the world’s supply of opals comes from Australia. Some opals arefound in Mexico, Brazil and Ethiopia.It was discovered in Australia by people looking for gold.

Precious opal’s unique beauty results from the amazing display of flashes of the rainbow colours as it is moved. This feature, called play–of-colours, makes opal a versatile gemstone to suit and adore any garment colour.

The value of an opal depends on the quality of opal which is judged by four main factors:  (i) Play-of-colours (ii) Body Colour. (iii) Pattern and (iv) Clarity.
Play-of-colours displayed by the opal is the most important quality factor.

Body Colour also known as tone is the background colour. It refers to its relative darkness or lightness and has categories that are black, dark and grey.

Black opal has a black body colour and is most sought after because it exhibits the play-of-colours at its best. Black opal is therefore very expensive. Next is the dark body colour opal.  A cloudy or milky background colour lowers the value of opal considerably.

Pattern is the arrangement of play-of-colours which can be described in three general categories. (i) Pinfire or Pinpoint when the colour is in very small patches. Usually closely arranged patches of bright colour are favoured over tiny scattered dots. (ii) Flame or Flash when there are large patches of colour. (iii) Harlequin when there are large distinct, usually rectangular patches of red, green and blue are arranged like checks on a clown’s costume. Black opal displaying Harlequin pattern is most sought after variety. However opals showing mainly blue and green named “peacock” are also popular.

Clarityis the degree oftransparency. It reduces if inclusions and minute cracks are present. Clarity can range from transparent to opaque. Hence it is usual practice to describe an opal as brilliant, bright, subdued or dull.

Black Opals: Black opals are the ‘King of Opals’. They have a dark body tone and more often displayan impressive play-of- colours. They are most expensive overall due to their rarity.

Dark Opals: Dark opals have a lighter body colour than the black opals.

Boulder Opals: They have natural brown body colour and cost much less than the black or dark opals. They are a good buy and are ideal for earrings.

White Opals also called Milky Opals: White opals have a white or milky body tone. They are so called due to their appearance and are quite common. White opals exhibit scattered colours. They are still stunningbut are affordable.

Crystal Opals: Crystal Opals have a transparent to semi- transparentlook. This effect can occur in any type of stone and with a good colour can increase the opals worth.

Harlequin Opals: They are rare and are most expensive.

Fire Opals: Fire opals are mostly from Mexico. Their Basic colour is mainly orange or red.

Synthetic Opals: Synthetic opals are man-made using glass or plastic materials and are available in the market. They are very cheap to buy. Synthetic opals are not of much value and are easy to recognise as they usually appear glassier than natural opals and show more regular pattern of colour.

Assembled Opals:  These are basically of two types namely doublets and triplet. They are common and much cheaper than solid opals. Opal Doublets consist of a solid piece of opal that has been glued to a black backing. If you look closely you will be able to see a slight line where the join is. Opal Triplets are made of three parts in which a thin layer of natural opal is sandwiched between a dark base material and a transparent top layer usually glass or quartz. Opal doublets and triplets are very common and quite cheap than a solid opal.Therefore examine the gemstone, offered as a solid, very closely to make sure that it is not a doublet or a triplet.

The beauty of any opaldepends upon the background body colour, the transparency and the play-of-colours. A black solid opalhas a black body colour; and if it has a good play-of-colours then it is most expensive. The next is the one with grey body colour.  All opals that are transparent and have a good play-of-colours or flashes of colour are costly because such stones can show many layers of colour within the stone as it is tilted.Opals showing large flashes and broad patterns are more popular and valuable than those with small pin-fire patterns. Opals displaying “Harlequin” pattern in which large angular patches of red, green and blue are seen arranged like checks on a clown’s costume are most sought after. An affordable type is the common white or milky opal. This type tends to have more diffused colours due to the light background. Boulder opal with natural dark host rock as background is also a good buy.

Be aware that it is a common practice to subject opals to various treatments to enhance their value. Commonly used techniques for body colour enhancements are dying or painting, impregnating with resins or waxes, oiling and treating with chemicals. The most common and cheap enhancement is to apply black paint or black glue to the back to make the specimen look darker.

Shopping for an opal in Australia can be an exciting experience!After decidingwhat you are going to use the opal for consideration of shape and size become an important factor. Look for a matching pair in case of earrings. Then the first step is to pick an opal that appeals to you. Hereit is your personal choice as each opalis different. As a guide, opals showing red flashes on black are usually popular, but if you like blue, go for it. Next consider the brilliance of the opal because a brilliant or bright looking opal will look good, no matter the colour or body tone.Next consider colour display. Generally red is the most popular, followed by orange, yellow, green, and then blue. Lastly, ask for a signed certificate of authenticity with your opal because it is good for insurance purposes, re-sale and for making the dealer accountable.Finally, choose a reputable jeweller to set your opal.

An Australian uncut black opal, named “The Olympic Australis”, weighing 17,700 carats is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. It was valued at A$2.5 million in the year 2001. Another cut black opal called “The Aurora Australis”, weighing 180 carats, was valued atA$1 million in the same year.

Opal is brittleand fragile, scratches easily and loses its shine. Being porous it contains some moisture; therefore it can dehydrate and crack. Opal should never be allowed to freeze or dry out. Do not use a steamer or an ultrasonic cleaner, chemicals such as ammonia to clean your opal. It is best to use a soft dry or damp cloth to clean an opal. Do not soak opal in water particularly if it is a doublet or a triplet. Even with these drawbacks, opal is still a popular gemstone.

Finally, there is a word of caution for those people who intend to take a loose opal to India for setting.  Setters in India are generally inexperienced in dealing with opals. They may inadvertently subject the opal to heat while setting it in the jewellery. That is very risky because the opals cannot withstand heat and may break or in the case of doublets or triplets may become unglued.

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