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Opal: Everything you need to know

Opal is a beautiful gem which encompasses colours from many other gems. The birthstone for October, opal gemstones are unique as each individual gem is made up of a one-of-a-kind colour combination.


History of opal

In ancient times, opal was often referred to as the Queen of the Gems, due to its distinct combination of various other gem colours. The name originates from the Greek word “opallios” which means “to alter” which is in reference to the many changing colours of the gem.

Opals date as far back as the times of Greek and Roman Empires. They were originally found in the area which now covers Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. There are also many links to Judaism; the opal was associated with the Dan tribe, but it is impossible to know for certain whether the stone known then as an opal was the same opal we know today.


Where is opal from?

Opal can still be found in the area of Europe encompassing Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. However, it can also be found in Mexico, USA and Australia. In fact, Australia’s Lightning Ridge is home to some beautifully rare black opals. Despite the name, these opals are not actually black. The stone’s dark background is instead made up of deep shades of green, purple or blue, with flashes of bright colour.

Famous opals

The earliest famous example of the opal is its mention in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Slightly more recently, in 1877, large opal deposits were discovered in southern Australia. This overtook the Hungarian opal mining, which had been the most prominent until then. The Flame Queen – an opal weighing 253 carats – brought fame to Australian opals.


Opal value

The value of an opal depends on the colour definition. The general rule is the clearer the colour definition, the rarer and more expensive the opal. Black opals are also considered the most valuable.

Good quality white opal can fetch up to £100 per carat, whereas the rare, prized black opal can be valued at over £8,000 per carat.


Opal buying tips

The below tips will help ensure you get the best value when buying opal:

  • Colour: Black opal with clear, bright flashes of colour is the most valuable
  • Carats: As with all gemstones, the higher the carat, the higher the value. Opal carat can reach up to £100 per carat for while opal or £8,000 per carat for the highest quality black opal.
  • Clarity: Clarity of an opal is usually referred to as brilliance. The highest clarity is brilliant, followed by bright. Subdued or dull opal would be worth less than bright or brilliant ones.
  • Cuts & shapes: The opal is amorphous, which means it hardens between two rock layers to give it shape, rather than through crystallisation
  • Budget: If you are on a budget when buying an opal, you will still be able to find a unique white opal under 10 carats for a reasonable price. With a larger budget, opt for the black opal. Remember, the highest quality opals are those which are black with clear, vivid flashes of colour and brilliant clarity.



McGowans Opal

Our experienced and friendly team will always help to guide you through the buying process of any gemstone and will ensure you find the best piece for your taste and budget. You can visit us in store in Glasgow or Aberdeen to discover our range of affordable and beautiful opal jewellery. We have finance options available too.

We sell a range of stunning opal jewellery. You can browse a few of our favourites online, or discover our full selection of opal and other gem stones in stores.

Our online items only represent a small selection of our stock. Please pop in to any of our stores to see the full collection.

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