Opal engagement rings have become increasingly popular for their mysterious beauty and bright flashes of rainbow colors. However, these stunning stones have been favored as far back as the Middle Ages. Even Queen Victoria was fond of them and kept a collection to gift to her loved ones.
So, it comes as no surprise that an opal engagement ring is such a sought-after item. The iridescent opal shines more brilliantly than diamonds, and each stone is one-of-a-kind. They are also a budget-friendly alternative to more expensive precious stones.
If you’re considering your own opal engagement ring, keep reading to discover everything you need to know about these unusual gems.
Opals are unique gems known for their brilliant play of color. They form after seasonal rains when there is a dry period. Rainwater that has been trapped in the sedimentary rock layers evaporates, leaving silica deposits behind. These flecks of silica are what cause the rainbow colors in opals.
Opals are some of the rarest stones in the world, even rarer than diamonds. But there is less price control, making a solid opal much more budget-friendly than a diamond.
However, an opal stone is much more delicate than other gemstones like diamonds or sapphires. An opal typically ranks 5.5 or 6 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, giving them a similar hardness to glass.
Fondly nicknamed the ‘Queen of Gems’, opals were made fashionable by Queen Victoria in the late 1800s. Empress Josephine and Cleopatra were also fond of precious opals. During the Middle Ages, it was believed that opals could make the wearer invisible.
Opals are also one of the October birthstones, along with tourmaline.
Opals come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are natural opals that are mined and lab-grown synthetic opals. Natural opals display unique patterns and colors, and the overall color of the stone can vary between milky white, transparent, blue, black, and red.
White opals are one of the most common opal types and are characterized by their milky white base color. As a result, the rainbow colors it reflects are less saturated and more pastel. They are quite popular as the center stone for engagement rings.
Fire opals are known for their translucent yellow, orange, or red body tones. Some fire opals also have flashes of green, but it is uncommon. Fire opals are most commonly found in Mexico.
Occasionally, a fire opal won’t exhibit any flashes of color. These are referred to as jelly opals. Another characteristic of fire opals is that they are sometimes cut and polished with their host stone, which is then referred to as a Cantera opal.
Second only to black opals, a boulder opal is one of the most valuable opal types on the market. As the name suggests, these opals are mined underground where they form part of large ironstone boulders.
Inside these boulders, there are fissures and cracks, which is where the opal forms. This results in thin veins of bright opal. However, as they are so thin, cutters don’t fully remove the pieces of boulder from the opal.
Instead, the host rock is left as part of the opal and polished with it.
A black opal is perhaps the rarest and most valued opal type. The name can be misleading, as these stones are not entirely black. However, compared to white or crystal opals, the stone has a darker body tone (background color), giving it a deeper and darker overall appearance. The rainbow reflections in the stone are also more saturated.
Any opal with a semi-translucent, translucent, or transparent body is referred to as a crystal opal. Crystal opals can reflect any color, making their see-through nature their main characteristic. This translucency gives crystal opals more vibrance and clarity, which in turn raises their value.
Around ninety-five percent of the world’s opals are sourced in Australia. The country is home to unique geological formations that result in favorable conditions for this sedimentary gemstone to form. In other words, Australian opals are the many opals that have been mined in Australia.
Blue opals are simply opals with a blue or blue-green body color. They tend to be a mostly opaque, teal color and often originate from Peru. These stones are such a staple of Peru, it has become the national stone of the country. While the traditional Peruvian opal is a sky blue color, the blue-green variant is called a Paraiba opal. It is becoming increasingly rare.
Blue opals are also produced in the U.S., Slovakia, and Indonesia.
Synthetic opals have existed since the late 1970s. They are a great alternative to natural opals as they are cheaper and easier to come by. They also tend to be a bit stronger and less prone to chipping than their natural counterparts.
However, unlike a natural opal, they all look alike and their patterns are not unique. Instead, the many colors are structured in a chicken wire pattern.
Opals can be deeply significant due to their history. They also make for the perfect engagement ring if you’re looking for an alternative to a diamond ring.
Because of its natural shine and large flashes of color, this precious stone looks great in simple settings. As a result, and due to their already budget-friendly price, an opal engagement ring can cost much less than a traditional diamond ring.
Opals are also excellent additions to other jewelry.
On the downside, opals are some of the softest gemstones and are prone to scratching and chipping. For some buyers, this is a significant drawback and is considered bad luck for an engagement ring.
It can be difficult to decide on a cut and setting when planning opal engagement rings. The cut of an opal stone can have a large effect on its shine and appearance. As a result, opals often have a unique and specific cut to emphasize their play of color, shine, and clarity.
Here are some of the most popular opal cuts and settings.
The most popular cut for opals is the cabochon cut. When a gemstone is polished into an oval or round dome with a flat bottom, it is referred to as a cabochon. The reason behind this cut is to ensure transparency so that the colors can shine brilliantly. Faceted opals would not have the same shimmering effect.
Another popular cut for opals is called a doublet. To create an opal doublet, a thin slice of crystal or white opal is cut and attached to a black backing. The backing can be made of black glass, black colorless opal, plastic, ironstone, or vitrolite. The edges are then rounded off to create a cabochon.
This process results in a stone that mimics the appearance of a solid black opal. It darkens the body color of the stone and makes the reflected colors more vibrant. This is much cheaper than buying genuine black opals.
A bezel setting is popular for engagement rings. In this setting, the precious metal encases the center stone, offering extra protection. For this reason, it is a great choice for rings with a delicate stone, such as opals.
Opal engagement rings can be set in a full bezel, where metal surrounds the stone from all angles, or a partial bezel, where some angles of the stone are still visible. Partial bezel settings tend to add more shine but are slightly less protective.
Because of the wide range of colors reflected when light hits this soft gem, they tend to look good in every kind of precious metal. However, white opals tend to have lighter, softer colors, and many people opt for yellow or white gold settings to contrast or emphasize these colors.
Because opals are so much softer than other gems, it is very important to handle your beautiful opal jewelry gently. While lab-created opals are slightly stronger, they can still be prone to chipping. So, it is best to be careful.
Many jewelers offer a complimentary annual cleaning service. Experts will clean your gemstone ring without causing any damage and can service or polish the setting if need be.
Between annual cleanings with your jewelry maker, you may need to clean your opal engagement ring yourself.
Be sure to avoid harsh chemicals when doing so. Instead, opt for a gentle cleanser (like dish soap) and some warm water. Use a soft cloth or paper towel to dry it afterward.
It is also best to avoid harsh methods like steam cleaners and ultrasonic cleaners. This can dull the luster of your opal ring and loosen the setting, which can lead to loss or damage.
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