The Value of Australian Opal

Opal is our favourite gemstone, and if you're reading this article it likely could be your favourite too! Australian opal is considered to be the most valuable of all types of opal thanks to its captivating play-of-colour, beautiful patterning and superior quality. It's ethically mined too. 

Did you know that Australian opal and jewellery made from this precious gemstone are among the most coveted in the world? And that top quality opal can be as valuable as diamonds? Opals from Down Under usually command higher prices than opals from other countries like Ethiopia and Mexico, and are often preferred by collectors and investors.

The opal market has changed a lot over the past few decades, largely thanks to the internet, social media and online sales. This means Australian opal is more accessible and affordable than ever before, which is great news for local and international customers. And you can purchase it with the click of a button!

So how valuable is Australian opal, what do top stones cost and is it a worthwhile investment? Let's take a look at the world of Australian opal below.

A pair of colourful South Australian crystal opals

Are Australian opals valuable?

In a nutshell, yes they are. But that doesn't mean they're out of reach for most of us. While the world's best jewellery houses turn to Australian opal when sourcing colourful gems for their beautiful designer pieces (think Cartier and Chopard), the Queen of Gems also features in modern everyday jewellery. This reflects how versatile gem quality opal from Australia really is, with varying price points that suit all budgets.

Prices can range from under $100 for a piece of opal jewellery featuring a triplet, white or crystal opal set in silver, to tens of thousands of dollars for a top quality black opal with fiery red colour and Harlequin patterning. Set this into an 18ct gold or platinum ring or pendant, and the price tag rises substantially!

Lightning Ridge black opal is the world's rarest and most valuable type of Australian opal as it is only found at one place on earth. We absolutely love black opal and have a special connection to this stone as we have mined and sold it all over the world since 1969. Black opal is also one of the most popular stones for our handcrafted gold opal jewellery collections and is desired as an investment stone by global gem collectors.

Queensland boulder opal is also a valuable and precious Australian gemstone.  Relatively obscure for many years, boulder opal has moved out of the shadows to become one of the most highly prized opals on the market today. These stones have the look of black opal with bright, vivid colouring and beautiful patterns, but the ironstone host rock is part of the opal and they can be more affordable. Boulder opals also tend to be cut flatter whereas black opals have a cabochon cut and higher dome.

Moving to lighter coloured stones, top quality white and crystal opals can also command eye-watering per carat prices, sometimes comparable to a black opal, depending on their unique patterning, intense colours and size. For example, the famous 'Virgin Rainbow' opal mined in South Australia fluoresces in the dark and is considered one of the world's most valuable and beautiful crystal opals. 

A Lightning Ridge black opal gemstone

What colour opal is most valuable?

Australian opal can display all the colours of the rainbow, from neon pinks and oranges to vibrant greens, fiery reds, radiant yellows, vivid purples and a full range of blue hues. Rich, brilliant colours in stunning patterns is a major influence on an opal's value ,and 'play of colour' is one of the most important factors when pricing the gemstone. 

Play-of-colour is a very special feature of Australian opal, and causes changing patterns and patches of rich colour and iridescence as you move the gemstone around. This phenomenon is caused by the internal structure of an opal, where light hits stacked silica molecules at different level. The varying size of the silica modules and spacing between them dictates the colours within the stone. Pretty amazing stuff!

Typically, Lightning Ridge black opals with a strong red colour on a very dark body tone are the highest in value. Unsurprisingly, this colour combination is known as ‘red on black’ by the Australian opal industry and is greatly sought after. The next most valuable colours are purples and pinks, with oranges, greens and yellows following.

Blue is the most common Australian opal colour and therefore a gemstone displaying a lot of blue colour can be deemed not as valuable. However when combined with other colours in a multi-toned gemstone, its value can soar. 

How is an opal valued?

There are several factors considered by experienced valuers when pricing an opal. The first consideration is what type of opal it is, as black opals usually command higher prices than boulder, crystal or white opals, and also the stone's body tone. Intensely dark black opals are more valuable than those with a dark grey body tone.

Next, as stated earlier, the stone’s colour is very important – the more intense and varied its hue, the more attractive and valuable it will be. Opals that feature unique and rare patterns - such as a Harlequin or Chinese Writing patterns - can fetch higher prices too.

Opals vary greatly in size and shape, and bigger gem quality stones with more carat weight could be more valuable than smaller stones (depending on other pricing factors). The stone's cut is also important, as is its brightness and the thickness of the colour bar. Valuers also look for any faults in the gemstone, which can decrease its value if significant.

Opal valuers can be formally trained through organisations like the Gemmological Association of Australia and belong to the National Council of Registered Jewellery Valuers. However, many experienced opal valuers and dealers have decades of opal field and purchasing experience, which can make them as accurate as a formal valuer when pricing the Queen of Gems.

Black opal from Lightning Ridge

How much is opal worth in Australia?

Opal can be worth a little, or a lot. It all depends on the type, size, colour and rarity of the stone, among other factors we've covered earlier. Generally speaking, Australian opals tend to be more expensive than other types of opal due to their superior quality and high demand, as well as being ethically sourced. 

 If you are looking for an affordable opal or opal jewellery, a white or crystal opal is usually less expensive than black or boulder opal - a top quality black opal can cost up to $10,000 per carat, if not more. You can even think about a doublet or triplet opal, which contains the look of a black opal but is a composite stone that is considerably cheaper.

Purchasing an opal in or from Australia can mean a better price than when purchased from retailers overseas. You will also be dealing directly with expert opal sellers who oftentimes have close relationships with opal miners and years of experience in the opal industry. At Black Star Opal, we have 55 years experience mining, wholesaling and retailing opal and our retail store The Opal Centre has been operating for 35 years on the beautiful Coffs Coast.

If you've ever seen the television show Outback Opal Hunters, you'll have seen opal dealers meet with miners to purchase rough or rubbed opal. These dealers then either sell these uncut stones, or will have opal cutters shape and polish them to sell to jewellery manufacturers and retailers. Today, some retailers and jewellers are choosing to cut out the middle man, so to speak, and deal with opal miners themselves. 

How much should I pay for an opal?

The amount of money you should pay for a real Australian opal depends on the factors we've explored. Does it display a beautiful colour range and patterning? Is it a big or small stone? And what type of opal is it? And for opal jewellery, the metal in the setting - be it silver or gold - also impacts price. And that's before you add accent stones like diamonds.

Overall, opal jewellery can be quite valuable – especially if it is made from rare types or patterns - but at the end of the day, you should pay what you can afford. Owning an opal does not have to be expensive. You can purchase your own opal for under $100, or pay thousands if you want a better quality stone. When researching which opal is for you, there's a wealth of information online. But talking to opal experts is always the best way to work out what you should pay. 

Lightning Ridge black opal

Are opals worth investing in?

When it comes to investing in opal jewellery and gemstones, the answer is yes, it’s worth it. No two opals are alike and most high quality jewellery pieces are handcrafted, feature unique designs and are set with beautiful and valuable precious opal gemstones. So opals can be an excellent addition to any collection, especially when bough from highly reputable specialists - which we're delighted to say we are.

If you are serious about investment opal, we recommend visiting a professional gemmologist or certified opal jewellery valuer to inspect your purchase and provide a valuation certificate outlining its features, authenticity and excellent quality. 

It's important to remember when investing in opal that with wear, over time opals can lose their lustre and, subsequently, their value. That's why it's so important to look after your gems and jewellery and treat them with the utmost care. If you need to know more about looking after opal, read our Top Tips For Australian Opal and Opal Jewellery Care

So whether you’re looking to invest or you simply enjoy opal jewellery but want to know more about what it's worth and, more importantly, what you should pay, you can't beat a little bit of research to know exactly what the right price for you is. We hope you've found this article very helpful and by keeping all of the above points in mind, you can be sure to find a quality opal at a great price that you can keep in your family forever.