How to Buy an Opal Online? The Ultimate Guide

2022 Feb, 18
Your Guide to Buying an Opal Online Opal Minded.

How to buy an Opal Online?
Your ultimate guide to buying an unset opal
or opal jewellery online

With an abundance of online opal sites, a wide range of prices and varying opal characteristics to consider, buying opal online is an exciting journey but can also be a daunting one if you’re unsure of what to look out for and the right questions to ask.
To ensure you do your necessary due diligence, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to buying precious opal online, the questions you should ask and the qualities to examine.

Need to know basics

The first consideration to make is whether you want to buy for quality or aesthetic pleasure. If buying for visual impact, then colour brightness, uniqueness, stone size, and excitement are key factors. If you’re sticking to a budget, you may wish to consider synthetic or imitation opal – as long as you’re aware of what you are buying. Buying an opal doublet is a great way to reduce your spend, while maintaining authenticity, as it combines precious opal with a man-made backing.

Precious opal can be defined as an opal that exhibits ‘play-of-colour’, which can also be described as ‘opal essence’, whereby the colours shift and change as light reflects on the stone’s surface. There are many online sites selling precious opal from Ethiopia, Australia as well as Mexico and some other locations. Some sell opal doublets, triplets, as well as imitation opal.

Just like other valuable gemstones, synthetic versions of opals also exist. Synthetic opals are produced in a laboratory and hold very low market value compared to the real thing. Synthetic opal has a specific pattern called ‘lizard skin’ and ‘chicken wire’ that can be identified easily by a gemmological test. When taking a closer look, this type of opal doesn’t have the fluidity of colour play that natural opal does.

It’s also important to understand the difference between a solid and composite opal. Solid opal is opal in its pure form and can also include an opal cut with its natural host rock. A composite opal includes opal doublets and opal triplets. Doublets and triplets are made with a slice of natural opal glued to the backing of another (sometimes synthetic) material. The backing of the secondary material is often dark, causing the stone to appear darker and brighter in colour. This is usually an attempt to replicate the look of a valuable black opal, and occasionally, light opal. A composite opal is not as durable as solid opals, and we recommend that you avoid frequent immersion in water to preserve the longevity of your piece.
Unsurprisingly, opal doublets and triplets are lower in price – that is not to say that impressive quality opal doublets do not exist.

At Opal Minded, we create our opal doublets with the same premium Australian opal that we use for all our other pieces. We start with a thin layer of precious opal that’s attached with strong glue to either dark colourless opal, known as ‘potch’, or to ironstone. Our opal doublets allow you to enjoy wearing beautiful opal, but at a more approachable price point.

You can also assess an opal’s value based on its chemical composition – often influenced by its geographical origin. For example, a sedimentary opal has a much lower water content than a volcanic opal, making it stronger and more durable. Australia produces mostly sedimentary opals, whereas Ethiopia produces most of the world’s volcanic opals. At Opal Minded, our opals are expertly set for long-term wear.

Defining opal brilliance and value

When it comes to high quality opals, Australian precious opals cannot be looked past. They possess brightness, durability, rarity. Ethiopian-mined opals are more often treated and are of volcanic origin, which oftentimes can make them significantly more fragile. Australian opals are considered the very best in the world. Within the Australian opal family lie distinct opal types: white, crystal and black opals. An opal’s body tone and origin determine what category type an opal belongs to.

Most people think of the light body tone opal when they think of Australian opals, while others search specifically for black opals.  Black opals are found in Australia in Lightning Ridge mine in New South Wales or various locations in Queensland. They attract higher prices than their lighter Australian counterparts. Yet, some lighter tone opals can be rarer and more valuable than dark body opals. A gemmologist and opal valuer can help clearly define why a particular opal has been assigned the value it has. To learn more about Australian precious opals and their origin and defining characteristics – check out our blog post: Where are Opals Found.

Key considerations before you buy

  1. What opal type are you looking at? What is its origin and has it been treated?
  2. What is the size of the opal face (not the carat weight).
  3. Request close-up images of the opal, so you know exactly what you are looking at. Close up images will also reveal any fractures and the quality of the polish.
  4. Request a photo of the back, especially if it is an unset opal. You will want to ensure the back is uniform and therefore, lasting.
  5. Ensure the opal supplier can provide quality guarantees, a return policy, certificates of authenticity, and even more importantly – Certificates of Valuation by a registered valuer.
  6. Check whether the business has a physical location, and if you can trace the people involved in the businesses.

There are many opal types that we could discuss, but one of the most important checkers you should make as an online buyer, is that you view a realistic representation of what you will ultimately receive.

Do not get swayed by the talk of black opals being superior to white opals. There are some that are, but it is not uncommon to come across a white opal, which may exhibit a brightness and play of colour that is mesmerising and far more impressive than the majority of black opals.

Below we’ve put together a quick checklist of what qualities make an opal truly brilliant

  • A darker body tone usually indicates a higher value than the same quality and size as a lighter opal.
  • Red is more valuable than orange, yellow than purple and green than blue.
  • Opal with a multitude of colours is considered more alluring.
  • The more defined an opal pattern, with broad coverage, the rarer the opal is.
  • Opals that refract colour with their entire face at every angle are rare and, therefore, most valuable.

If you’re in the market for the best opal in terms of rarity and quality, you cannot look past an oval, cabochon-cut, multi-coloured, broad pattern opal. It should exhibit bright colour play against a black body tone background. A carat of this description would set you back $10,000, and more.

Opal Minded opals

You may want to consider the opal mining practices involved in procuring the opal you seek. At Opal Minded, we take ethical mining and sustainable practices seriously. Since we were established in 1989, we have demonstrated the highest mining and excavating opals standards. Read more about our ethical and sustainable practices here.
We are also proudly the only opal boutique in Australia with our own mine. Our Queensland mine Jundah-Opalville is where we commonly unearth our exquisite black boulder, crystal and bright black pipe opals.

When comparing opals, it’s crucial to compare like with like. As experienced opal purveyors of over 30 years, we know a universal demand for authentic, quality opals exists. So, if you’re planning on buying a piece of opal jewellery online, we recommend you act with caution. If you’ve come across an opal that looks too good (too cheap) to be true, it probably is. Make sure you ask the retailer to provide proof of the opal’s quality and origin.

We guarantee each opal’s authenticity and value with recognised certification. Certificates are available on request for no additional cost. A Certificate of Authenticity validates the origin of the opal, its weight and its type. We have a team of accredited NJCV jewellery valuers who can issue valuation certificates for any purchased opal piece. You can use this legally binding document as a reliable assessment for jewellery insurance.

Our valuers and gemmologists ensure that our prices reflect a fair retail market price. Worth noting is that all Opal Minded natural opals remain untreated. You may want to ask your retailer if an opal you’re considering is treated or untreated. Like many precious gemstones, an opal may have been treated to optimise its brightness and colour play, or to cover fructure of another feature that may reduce its value.

Take advantage of our tax-free and lifetime guarantee. Whenever you purchase with Opal Minded opal, you automatically receive the benefit of lifetime Opal Care Service – meaning you can bring your opal jewellery in at any time for servicing and repolishing at no extra cost. We also offer free worldwide insured shipping.

As you’ve probably realised by now, the beauty of opal lies in its uniqueness and the joyful individual markers. Look for the qualities that most speak to you, after all, an opal is for life.

Once you’ve considered an opal’s defining qualities, you’ll want to narrow down your choice by what you’re most drawn to. Buying an opal online can be just as enjoyable and successful as buying in person. You’ll want to consider your skin tone alongside your favourite picks. Our collections showcase plenty of photos of every opal piece in our collection and we are always happy to provide you with more photos or a video of the opal in motion, if desired.

We also offer private in-person or online appointments with our Creative Director Renata Bernard. Renata is a qualified opal jewellery designer and can talk you through the collection and make suggestions based on your preferred taste and style. If you have a vision for how you would like your opal to be set, we can offer a bespoke service that will help turn your opal dream into a reality. Check out this service in more detail here.

Final thoughts

We recommend combining your instinct with some basic opal knowledge to arrive at your final decision. It pays to know why some opals are valued as highly as they are. Their rarity, quality, durability, and origin all influence the final price.

There are many types of precious opal available to buy and each come with their own value proposition. So, depending on your budget, you may want to make a list of what values you deem the most important. The rule of thumb is that if something looks cheap, it generally is. Fine Australian opals are in most cases, the world’s most durable, and with this high quality, comes a higher price tag. At Opal Minded, we offer peace of mind, by looking for all of the qualities that influence the overall durability of the gemstone.

If you’re looking for visual brilliance and quality combined – you can’t go past the shining qualities of an Australian precious opal. Natural, solid, untreated and sedimentary characteristics ensure you’ve found an opal for life. Once armed with this knowledge, make sure you ask your fine jewellery supplier to provide you with Certificates of Authenticity and Value. The documented provenance will secure the jewel’s value long into the future. We believe a special piece of jewellery should be an heirloom investment, something you can wear daily, treasure forever and pass on to your future generations.

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