What is Opal?

Opal, a gemstone famed for its unique play of color ( play of color), is named from the ancient Greek word Opallos, meaning "to see a change of color." It's also derived from the ancient Roman Latin Opalus, meaning "gemstone." Historical records trace opals back to around 100 AD, when Middle Eastern traders introduced them to Roman nobility, initially named Upala in Sanskrit, meaning "precious stone."

Opal Names in Chinese 蛋白石, 澳寶 or 澳寶石, 閃山雲, 歐泊 or 歐珀 (Mainland China as 欧泊 or 欧珀)
Mineral Hydrated Silica
Chemical Composition SiO2 · nH2O
Crystal System Amorphous
Color All Colors
Refractive Index 1.37 - 1.47
Specific Gravity 2.15 (+0.08, -0.90)
Mohs Hardness 5 to 6.5
Origin Australia, Ethiopia, Hungary, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Czech Republic, and more

Opal is Australia's national gemstone, with over 95% of the world's supply coming from Australia, hence its meaningful chinese name "澳寶" (a nearly perfect combination of semantic and phonetic translations). The gemstone's vitreous luster and its color-changing qualities make it a star in the jewelry world. Its diverse colors are due to the play of color phenomenon, with its structure made of tiny spheres arranged in a grid, creating diffraction that displays a rainbow of colors.

Light refraction and diffraction within opal, showcasing a wide spectrum of colors

Light refraction and diffraction within opal, showcasing a wide spectrum of colors (Image courtesy of Michelle Yuen Jewelry)

Types of Opal

The size and arrangement of silica spheres within an opal directly affect its play of color, leading to classifications into common opal and precious opal, including white opal, crystal opal, black opal, boulder opal, fire opal, and water opal. We will introduce these types one by one:

Common Opal

Common Opal ( Common Opal) lacks the tight arrangement of spheres necessary for play of color, resulting in less vibrant and more subdued hues.

Common opal's less dense sphere arrangement results in no play of color, leading to less vibrant and more subdued colors.

Common opal sample (Image source: Naturally Wild)

Precious Opal

Precious Opal ( Precious Opal) has spheres within a specific size range arranged more densely, increasing the chances of refraction and diffraction, thus able to display various colors, making it the only type classified as a gemstone. Below are the types of precious opal:

White Opal

White Opal ( Milky Opal) sometimes referred to as White Opal, is a common type of opal. Its body color is milky white, with play of color appearing against a light background. While not displaying as intense colors as black opal, a large, well-cut white opal with good fire can also command a high price.

Michelle Yuen Jewelry showcases the fire color of white opal

Precious Opal: White Opal sample (Image courtesy of Michelle Yuen Jewelry)

Extended reading: Have you heard of Violet Opal? Discover other forms of opal you might have seen or heard of but we haven't mentioned yet. Come see them here!

The Symbolism and Power of Opal

Opals are not only known for their unique external highlights but also for their rich cultural significance and deep historical roots, as seen above. They carry profound meanings across different cultures, embodying hope, purity, truth, and the essence of nature's beauty and change.

Michelle Yuen Jewelry's classic opal ring: 18K gold with natural diamonds, providing a beautiful stage for top-quality Australian natural opal, symbolizing hope, purity, truth, and love.

Michelle Yuen Jewelry's classic opal ring, the Classic Opal Ring, in 18K gold with natural diamonds, provides a beautiful stage for top-quality Australian natural opal, symbolizing hope, purity, truth, and love.

Opal Legends

Opals, these colored gemstones, not only encapsulate all gemstone colors in one but also possess their legends and stories. Remember the Bedouins mentioned earlier? In Arabian legends, opals fell from the heavens in a flash of lightning, bringing the enchanting colors of the paradise rainbow to earth!

In Sir Walter Scott's novel "Anne of Geierstein," Lady Hermione, a mysterious princess, had opals in her hair. When the gemstone was sprinkled with holy water, its brilliance vanished, and she later collapsed and turned to ashes. This might have been an African opal!

The Mystical Benefits and Uses of Opal

Opals carry mystical powers that can enhance emotional well-being, boost inner energy, and contribute to fortune development, bringing unexpected benefits to the wearer. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Opal Benefit 1: Attracting charisma. Wearing opal can enhance charisma, boost confidence, expand social circles, and aid in career development!
  • Opal Benefit 2: Wealth attraction. Opal is known for inspiring creativity and potential, enhancing personal abilities and talents, aiding in facing challenges with strong execution power, thus attracting wealth!
  • Opal Benefit 3: Enhancing love luck. Dubbed the "Cupid Stone," opal enhances attraction, boosts love luck, and can bring long-lasting romance to couples!

Opal ring Marquise Band Ring with 925 silver, zircon, and intricately inlaid marquise-shaped opal, exuding elegance.

Michelle Yuen Jewelry's opal ring, the Marquise Band Ring, uses 925 silver, zircon, and intricately inlaid marquise-shaped opal, exuding elegance.

Opal's Association with Zodiac Birthstones

Opal is the birthstone for Libra (September 23 - October 22) and Scorpio (October 23 - November 21), representing hope, purity, and truth. People born in October have a keen sense of beauty and can balance life and work well. It's said that wearing one's birthstone, especially for those born in October, can enhance personal charm and love luck.

How to Determine the Value of an Opal: What's the Typical Price Range?

The value of an opal is directly proportional to its grade, with the play of color phenomenon being a crucial factor in determining its grade.

  • Comparing two opals of the same size, the one with more play of color is more valuable.
  • Among opals with the same level of play of color, those with a darker background color are more valuable.
  • Comparing two opals of the same size and play of color, the one with higher clarity is more valuable.
  • The origin of an opal can also affect its price. For example, Australian opals are generally more valuable than those from Africa, as Ethiopian opals have a looser structure with many tiny pores that allow water to easily penetrate, making the originally colorful Ethiopian opals turn transparent or white, losing their fire. Sometimes, if left to dry naturally, the fire color might return, but this is not guaranteed.

So, what's the price range for opals? Opal grades range from a few dollars to millions for the highest grades.

However, beauty is subjective, especially for opals, whose unique patterns can evoke beautiful landscapes, inspiring endless imagination and associations, whether it's the seas of the Maldives, sunsets in Saipan, or the nebulas of the universe. Of course, when an opal becomes meaningful to us, its grade and price are no longer directly correlated.

Celebrities Who Wear Opal

Opal is a staple in high-end jewelry. An exceptional centerpiece can provide limitless inspiration for designers, and opal's unique beauty makes it a frequent choice for main stones in luxury jewelry. Historically, many celebrities have been seen wearing it.

In 1954, Queen Elizabeth received opal jewelry during her first visit to South Australia

In 1954, Queen Elizabeth received a top-quality opal from the Andamooka mine in South Australia, later set into earrings and a necklace during her first visit to South Australia. (Image source: Pinterest)

Opal Care Tips

  • Recommendations for wearing opal jewelry: Avoid vigorous activities and collisions, and refrain from using strong chemical cleaners in daily life.
  • Storage and care tips: Store opals in a cool place to prevent exposure to strong sunlight. Cleaning with plain water is sufficient for maintaining cleanliness.

Extended reading: Learn more about how to care for your opal jewelry?


As one of the six internationally recognized precious gemstones, opal's allure lies not only in its unique play of color but also in the vitality and resilience it embodies. We can see reflections of ourselves in opals, feeling the power and resilience they convey. This is the magic opals bring to us, and why we cherish them.

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