Opal is one of the gemstones always thrilling and never failing to amaze the gemstone hunters, so to speak. Why is that so? Well, it is magnificent because of its famous play-of-color, a spectrum of colors originating on a background of a prominent color. The background’s color is created due to the immersed substances between the silica spheres since opal is essentially a form of hydrated silica.
Nevertheless, no one wants to analyze the chemical reactions that happen on the inside (although chemistry is always the key of certain things). We all want to grasp the outside and rejoice at its look and feel. But, before we do that, we have to get the opal. Although that may sound pretty straightforward, every search for a genuine opal would end up with a new choice – Ethiopian opal or Australian opal? Opal newbies may think it is just a trend based on origin, but actually, the two of the opal varieties really differ.
Meet the Ethiopian opal
Originating in Wollo, Ethiopia, commonly known also as the Welo opal (mostly because of spelling), is a type of the most sought-after opal in the world. Wollo is the home of both common and precious opals, which bring us to a new crossroad. Common opal is more neutral regarding the look, meaning its glow is uniform and doesn’t bring much of a color spectrum to the gem. Sure, this one is great for a classic, vintage and minimal look. But, for the “more is more” fans out there, there is the rare, precious opal, bringing your vivid, colorful dreams come true in one single gemstone.
Ethiopia is the home of other opal varieties too. For example, the fire opal is definitely one of the most astonishing gems (not only opals) out there, dazzling with its fierce attitude, reminiscent of a phoenix’s egg. But, probably the most prominent feature of the Ethiopian opal is that it is hydrophane. Yes, it is associated with water. Being hydrophane means that when the opal is immersed in water, it temporarily changes its color, light and transparency. Some of the hydrophane opals can increase their mass by 15% when contact with water is made. But, the absorbed water gets out within a few days (weeks) time, the same way it got in. Some of the witnessed immersions resulted in true opal masterpieces! Anyway, it isn’t recommended for any opal to be immersed in water whatsoever.
Meet the Australian opal
This is the most common opal found in the world, with Australia being one of the first discovered opal sources. As with similar kinds of goods, conquering the market first managed to skyrocket the prices for this variety of opal. After this one came the Ethiopian, Mexican and more opal varieties and origins. But, due to those simple economy laws, Australian opal still is the most expensive opal, even to this day.
Quite the opposite of the Ethiopian opal, the Australian opal is being found deeper in the ground, meaning it contains more water than the Ethiopian and it is not hydrophane.
So, the question is – which opal to choose? There is a phenomenon known as crazing, which causes small cracks to appear in the opal when it is damaged through time. That is why it is strongly advised that neither Australian nor Ethiopian opal are exposed to intense physical activities.
But now on the other side of the judgment – the price. Although both the Ethiopian and Australian opal are SiO2·nH2O (which is hydrated amorphous silica), their prices differ way too much due to the fact that Australian opal has more tradition and was discovered a long time before the Ethiopian. The truth is, all of the opals are unique and there isn’t a single one that has a duplicate to be found in nature. Therefore, the high price of the Australian opal isn’t justified and we give the advantage to the Ethiopian opal, which also has astonishing play-of-color nowhere to be found.
Taking care of the Ethiopian opal
The Ethiopian opal isn’t really high maintenance, but still, some essentials need to be taken care of. For instance, avoid all kind of contact with liquids (water, oil, lotions etc.) since the hydrophane nature of the opal may result in undesirable discoloring. But don’t worry. The occasional raindrops won’t do any special harm, just make sure you dry everything back home with a dry cloth. Even if it gets wet in any other possible way, the discoloring isn’t permanent. Leave your opal to dry and it will soon get back to its normal state. But, note that you should be patient. Don’t try to accelerate the process with heating systems or hair dryers, the opal is too precious for sudden heat waves.
Although it may be obvious, doing heavy work is strongly not advised when wearing a precious opal. Skin perspiration can also prove to be harmful (like all liquids), but mounted opal settings mostly prevent that.
When it comes to cleaning, a good old microfiber cloth is enough for seldom polishing and dirt removing. Besides the fact you shouldn’t moisten it with water and soap, have in mind that it really isn’t necessary. Opals never get dirty in a literal way.
Cherish the out-of-this-world color and light blends in your Ethiopian opal ring, necklace or earrings and don’t let day-to-day tasks do any harm to it. The most important thing to think of when it comes to an Ethiopian opal – it is unique, genuine and there is no one out there having the same one as you do!