Australian opal from Lightning Ridge known as a black opal coloured green and blue

Opal has been prized for centuries, and dates back to Roman and Greek times when they were thought to possess mystical powers. They are also known as the October birthstone. These multi-coloured gemstones are highly popular, due to their unique optical properties of scattering light into rainbows of dazzling hues called 'play of colour'. But how should you buy these gems if you've never owned one before? Read on to learn more about why Australian opals are the 'must have' jewel and how to buy them with confidence.

1. Research Different Types of Opals Before Buying

Before buying an Australian opal, it's helpful to research the different types of opal that are available on the market. Knowing what you’re looking for ahead of time will ensure you find the best quality opals for your needs and budget. There are three main categories of opals: solids, doublets and triplets.

Within the solid stone category, you have white opals or light coloured opals with a milky body tone, and crystal opals, which have a translucent to transparent body tone. For darker body tones there are boulder opals and the rare black opals from Lightning Ridge. Each type has its own distinct features and properties that affect value, rarity and appeal. 

White opals are usually the least expensive types of Australian opal as they have a milky appearance and typically a low level of play of colour. Crystal opals are also usually more affordable, however their clear body tones showcase vibrant rainbow-like hues with maximum clarity and vividness - and there are also dark crystal opals too. Crystal opals are usually used to manufacture doublet and triplet opals, which are composite stones featuring a slice of natural opal and a dark backing (triplet opals also have a quartz or plastic capping).

Darker toned boulder and black opals feature a variety of vivid, brilliant hues, from reds, oranges and yellows, to blues, greens and purple shades. Darker toned gems are highly prized as the pattern and colour of an opal really stands out in contrast and captivates. This type of opal can have more detailed patterns and greater brilliance than lighter tones stones, making for some incredibly eye-catching jewellery designs.

When shopping for opal, make sure you examine the colour and patterns carefully. Pay attention to the stone's play of colour, or iridescence, which should be visible when moved around in your hand, and also its price per carat to ensure that you are getting the highest quality opal at the best possible price.

Keep in mind that fake opal does exist and some disreputable sellers won't inform customers the opal is synthetic. So it's best to red descriptions and ask as many questions as you can to be sure you are only buying a natural, ethically sourced opal gemstone. 

A Lightning Ridge black opal

2. Learn to Identify Australian Opals

Professional gemologists use a classification system to evaluate opals, however you don’t need to be a trained specialist to identify the differences between quality Australian opals and lesser-quality imitations or poorly cut or coloured stones. There are also Ethiopian opals on the market that are smoked to resemble a black opal.

Some tips for identifying quality Australian opals include examining the brilliance or vibrancy of the colour when held up to light, noting any visible defects in the stones that could affect their value. Once you’ve determined the quality of the gem, you’ll want to research its origin. Australian opals are mined in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, each of which produces a unique-looking variation.

While New South Wales is known for producing dark-toned solid black opals that give off flashes of iridescent colour, as well as light and dark crystal opal, Queensland is known for producing boulder opals which have rainbows of vibrant hues like black opal but are set in ironstone. South Australia produces the majority of the world's white opal as well as a significant amount of crystal opal. Knowing the differences in the types of opal can impact the price and value of your purchase.

3. Check the Quality of the Opal You Want to Buy

When buying an Australian opal, it’s essential to check its quality. Remember that the best quality stones will usually have the brightest and most vibrant colour flashes in comparison to lesser-quality stones or imitations. Also keep an eye out for defects on the stone’s surface, such as fractures, chips or scratches that may reduce its value.

Check for any rare or unique patterning in the opal itself, as this can affect how much you should expect to pay for it. Additionally, when selecting an Australian opal, take into account the stone’s cut, shape, and size. Opals should be smooth and polished, with nice shaped and freeform formations, however bigger does not always mean better.

A pair of Lightning Ridge black opals from Black Star Opal

4. Look for Certified and Reputable Dealers

When buying Australian opals, it’s important to look for certified and reputable dealers who won’t try to sell you fake or low quality opals. It's best to purchase your opal from a respected, established gemstone dealer or jewellery store who can also provide you with all details of your purchase. 

Be sure to ask the retailer or dealer any questions you may have before buying your stone or opal jewellery so you know exactly what you’re getting. Be sure to look for an opal industry professional who has high online ratings and personal experience with buying and selling opals, and can lend their expertise to help you choose the best, and most ethically sourced, stone. Finally, always check to see if the dealer offers a money-back guarantee to ensure your purchase is protected (at Black Star Opal we provide a 30-day money back guarantee). 

Once you make your purchase, top quality stones can come with a certificate of authenticity stating their type, colour, patterns, weight and dimensions.

 A teardrop shaped Lightning Ridge opal from Black Star Opal

5. Make Sure There's A Warranty and Returns Policy

When buying an opal, it’s important to make sure that your purchase is covered by a warranty and returns policy. A reputable opal seller should be willing to back up their products with these guarantees. This will help protect you in case of any issues with the stone or if it does not match the quality  you were expecting. While these policies may vary from seller to seller, they offer peace of mind on such a substantial purchase.

It’s important to read the terms of any warranty and returns policy as they can differ greatly. Make sure these policies cover any defects in the stone or setting, or loss or damage due to shipping. A reputable seller should be willing to answer all your questions regarding their warranty and returns policies. Having this information can give you peace of mind when it comes to purchasing an opal.

With this information, we hope you enjoy sourcing your very own piece of Australian opal with confidence and ease.