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Synthetic Opals

Synthetic Opals? – How Do I Know if they are Real or Not and Should I buy them?


First of all what is a real opal?  A real opal is a natural occurring stone.  They vary like most gemstones from being dull and lifeless to brilliant and mystifying.

Well then, what is a synthetic opal?  It is a man-made copy of nature.


Great looking opal is hard to find and expensive.  Even the tiniest pieces can be made into something saleable.  There are basically three type of opal pieces sold: Solids, which are one piece of natural opal stone, Doublets, which are two pieces and Triplets which are three pieces.


Doublets are usually one piece of real opal with a piece of black opal or some other stone glued to the back of it.  So a doublet may no longer be 100% real natural opal.  A triplet will be a doublet with a dome of clear substance on the top of it.  This is often glass, quartz or something else. Triplets then, most likely only have one of their three parts as real opal.


Are doublets and triplets bad?  Heavens no! They suit the lower budgets and that’s a good thing.  Solids are the real thing and are the best. Doublets are a thin layer of real opal and are not as valuable and triplets are less valuable again.


Now we have totally man made or synthetic opals.  These are actually opals but the normal process of nature has been sped up so what occurs over millions of years now occurs in a laboratory in months or years.  The result is stunning! 


How can I tell if it is synthetic?


It is not easy but let me say that most retailers will wittingly not try to pass off synthetic opal as real. I have gone into shops in different parts of the world and told the owners that what they are calling opal is not real but synthetic opal.  In all cases they were selling a lovely piece of jewellery with a small piece of synthetic stone and they were interested to learn, particularly when I showed them some real opal.


If you look at synthetic opal from the side it mostly has vertical striations which are quite uniform whereas natural opal is generally wobbly and layers go all over the place.  These striations are too uniform and is a good sign that you are looking at synthetic, but I have seen and mined real opal that looks like this too.


Synthetic opal will be perfect in most cases whereas natural opal is flawed.  If it looks too good then it probably isn’t a natural stone.


But should you buy a synthetic opal?  Why not!  They look stunningly beautiful. I buy them and I cut them and make them into fantastic pieces of jewelry that my customers and my family are happy to wear. You just have to appreciate that they are synthetic.


Author: Gary Hocking is an opal miner and manufacturing jeweller who has his own website:

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