Australian Opals: What Types of Opals Can You Buy?
Featuring such a spectacular array of colours and patterns, it can seem like there are endless types of Australian opals out there. Renowned as The Queen of Gems, opal truly is one of the most magnificent, precious and rare gemstones on earth. Gem grade opal, which is set in a wide range of opal jewellery, is highly prized for its beautiful array of brilliant colours - from rich, deep blues and vivid greens to vibrant oranges, striking red tones, neon pinks, electric purples, pretty turquoise, golden yellows and more. In fact, opals can feature every spectral colour known to man.
Not only do opals showcase these beautiful colours, they also feature extraordinary patterns with captivating, descriptive names like Harlequin, Flower garden, Chinese writing, Mackerel sky, Rolling flash, Flagstone, Chaff and Pinfire, among others. Along with its colour, cut, size, brilliance, body tone and carat weight, an opal's pattern is one of the key elements that determines its price. The other is its type. Commercial opals can be broken down into three basic forms – solid Australian opals, doublets and triplets.
SOLID AUSTRALIAN OPALS
Solid Australian opals are natural opal gemstones that have been mined straight from the ground as a rough piece of opal, which has then been cut and polished to perfection. Most Australian opal is ethically mined by small teams in outback locations like Lightning Ridge or White Cliffs in NSW, Coober Pedy in South Australia, and Winton, Jundah and Opalton in Western Queensland. Rough opal can take the form of a nobby, be found in a seam, or be uncovered in its ironstone host rock, as is the case with Queensland boulder opal. Australia is the world's leading producer of commercial, gem grade opal and is recognised as producing the finest opal in the world.
There are four types of solid Australian opals – black opal, white or light opal, crystal opal, and boulder opal.
Found only in Australia, mainly at Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales, black opal is the world's rarest and most valuable type of opal. Ablaze with a rich and vibrant rainbow of colour set against a dark or black body tone, black opal is highly prized for its intense spectrum and features in the world's finest jewellery collections. If an opal's body tone is dark but not truly black, it is known as dark opal.
A collection of Lightning Ridge black opal gemstones
WHITE or LIGHT OPAL
Found mainly at Coober Pedy and Mintabie in South Australia and White Cliffs in New South Wales, precious white or light opal usually features a softer, more pastel range of colours than black opal. This type of opal has a white or light body tone, and can also be referred to as milky opal.
Featuring a translucent, light body tone, crystal opal has earned its name because of its resemblance to rock crystal or glass due to its translucency or transparency. Hold a crystal opal up to the light and observe some light passing through this beautiful opal gemstone. Another interesting feature of crystal opal is the orange glow its body holds if you shine a light through it from behind. Some dark and black opal can exhibit translucency too, and this is called black crystal opal.
Found mainly in Western Queensland, this beautiful variety of Australian opal is similar in appearance to black opal but forms naturally in cavities within brown-red coloured ironstone or ‘boulder’. This ironstone rock is often included on the back of the cut and polished gemstone. Colour rich and featuring a dark body tone, boulder opal has become one of the most popular types of Australian opals for jewellery designers to set into opal jewelry.
A collection of rough and cut Queensland boulder opal
DOUBLET & TRIPLET OPALS
Doublet and triplet opals are composite stones that comprise a slice of natural Australian opal layered with other materials to create the look of a natural solid black opal. A triplet is a thin slice of colourful light opal sandwiched between a clear domed quartz capping and a black backing, which is usually a layer of dark non-precious opal known as ‘potch’. A doublet is similar to a triplet but without a quartz capping. Doublets and triplets are not classified as manmade but are sold worldwide as an affordable, acceptable and popular alternative to black opal.
A doublet opal, which is a slice of natural Australian opal on a black backing
Now you know more about the types of Australian opal, why not explore the full range of solid opals, doublets and triplets in our opal jewellery and gemstone collection.