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Black Opal: History, Symbolism, Meanings & More

black opal gemstoneYou’ve heard of opal gemstones, but did you know they come in various colors? Black opal is the type of opal known for its dark to black body tone (or base color), ranging from dark gray to dark green to black. Essentially, black opal describes any opal with a dark body tone. Often, black opal is the most highly valued type of opal because this dark base color allows the stone’s “fire” or “play of color” to be most illuminated and brilliant.

The contrast between the dark and bright makes black opal one of the most prized gemstones in the world, giving them high price points and global notoriety. 

Is black opal rare? And what makes black opal special compared to other opal types and gemstones?

In this complete guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the properties that make black opal a gemstone in a class all its own.

What is Black Opal?

Black opal is a variety of opal that shares the same chemical composition and characteristics as all opals. Opal is a colorful class of gemstones that range in color from white to orange to black. The most valued opals showcase an optical phenomenon called “play of color,” which is a feature only seen in opal gemstones.

Almost all black opal comes from Australia, but other locations source the gem, too. The stone is such a cornerstone of Australian culture that it was officially named New South Wales’s state gemstone in 2008. 

So, what is it? Black opal is hydrated silica containing anywhere between 6-21% water. What gives black opal its signature colors? Opals are composed of stacked hydrated silica spheres. The stacks align into a flawless cubic structure that diffracts light and exudes a fiery display of vibrant colors, and this is the feature we describe as “play of color.”

Black opal uniquely contains trace elements of common opal (potch) left intact on the back of the gemstone to best contrast the play of color.

Is Black Opal Rare?

Black opal’s striking color combinations and patterns make it one of the most highly valued types of opal that exists. But is black opal the rarest opal? While black opal exists abundantly in the gemstone market, high-quality black opal is rare because of the stone’s vivid color contrast between the dark body tone and rainbow flashes that shine so brilliantly across the gemstone.

Almost all of these rare black opal gemstones come from Lightning Ridge, Australia.

black opal from andamooka

Black Opal History and Formation

How is black opal formed? The story is as ancient as the earth itself. Black opal began forming way back in the Cretaceous period, between 145 to 65 million years ago. Eons ago, the interior of the island of Australia was entirely awash in seawater. Slowly, the water receded and refilled over millions of years, creating sandy deposits entrenched in silica along the island’s shoreline. 

Millions of years later, soluble silica grew in the earth’s cracks and crevices, allowing the silica water to flow into the ground and crystallize into opal veins. Alongside these opal veins, ancient animal carcasses fossilized into opal. And that’s why so much opal comes from Australia!

It’s accurate to say that the continent hovers over endless opal veins and fossilized opal specimens.

Black Opal Meanings, Symbolism, and Properties 

Here, we’ll expand on the various black opal meanings and metaphysical properties. Why is it called black opal? 

Black opal meaning is pretty straightforward. The name “opal” derives from the Sanskrit term, “Upala” meaning precious stone. Centuries later in Rome, it took on the name “Opallios.” And lastly, “black” describes the dark body tone seen in black (dark) opal.

Symbolically, opal represents creative stimulation and ingenuity, and it’s easy to see why! With such a vibrant, unique gemstone, no two opals are the same. 

Opals are hydrated and porous, giving them absorbing healing properties. In crystal healing, opals are excellent absorbers of negative energies, thoughts, and influences. They also offer protective properties to wearers, giving them strength and discernment to choose justice and good intentions.

Did you know that opal is the October birthstone? And while opals may have at one point garnered an unfair reputation for being bad luck, they have climbed out from under that shadow and risen to glory again by way of striking jewelry designs. Aiding this popularity are their features in pop culture by way of opal books and movies!

Speaking of which, what is black opal used for, anyway?

black opal parcel

Black Opal Uses

Black opal’s vibrant patterns and colors make it a prime candidate for jewelry designs, but there’s more to benefit from than stellar style.

Black Opal Makeup

You read that right! Black opal has made its way into the beauty and skincare industries. Looking to beautify yourself with glistening hues from the opal color spectrum? Makeup brands commonly create opalescent makeup hues and shades for eyeshadows and shimmers.

Black Opal Beauty skincare (stylized as BLK/OPL) is a famous line of beauty products and cosmetics catered to women of color.

And lastly — but no less fabulous — are black opal flakes used in makeup and cosmetics to create a shimmering bling effect. Who knew? It seems black opal uses are endless!

Black Opal Rings, Jewelry, and Pendants

As you can easily imagine, black opals beautifully accentuate jewelry designs, whether as accent stones, raw gemstones, or in the spotlight of engagement ring center stones. There are a couple of ways to wear opal jewelry, and the first is to buy loose black opal gemstones and have them cut into custom jewelry designs. This gives you the most control over the quality and appearance of your opal jewelry.

Alternatively, you can buy beautiful arrangements seen in black opal pendants, earrings, rings, and jewelry designs. Remember that opal is a relatively soft gemstone, so having a protective setting such as a bezel or prong is critical to the stone’s longevity. 

Spiritual Healing

All gemstones and crystals have a presence in spiritual healing and enlightenment, but black opals offer benefits all their own. Black opal properties are restorative and cleansing, offering purification to the body and soul. Physically, black opal healing can help strengthen the immune system and guard the liver against disease. 

As far as work and home life, the stone offers organization and order, enabling you to think clearer and communicate better. Metaphysically, another black opal meaning is the “stone of prediction” because of its prophetic and psychic properties.

In addition to these black opal benefits and uses, why not concoct yourself a yummy black opal drink?

However you decide to employ your black opal gemstones, you’ll want to know what to look for when buying to ensure you get the best gem and value.

black opal carving peacock head

Buying Black Opal? Factors to Consider

Next, we’ll share the identifying characteristics of black opal. 

Color, Body Tone, and Play of Color

What is the rarest opal color? As you may well have guessed, the answer is black opal! But is black opal really black? Yes, and no. Black opal colors range from black to dark gray, but all black opal has a dark body tone. That’s why black opal is often called “dark opal.”

Black opal isn’t solely black in color. Instead, it has a dark body tone that allows the light flashes to illuminate brightly against the dark body tone.

As such, the highest quality black opals will contain a vast spectrum of neon colors that collectively create a fantastic color play. What gives black opal its distinct colors? Trace elements of iron oxide and carbon infuse into the gemstone to make the dark body tone, allowing light to refract better and exude a full-color spectrum. 

As far as the play of color, black opal colors showcase bright blue, green, yellow, orange, and fiery red variations.

Play of color describes the interaction of light that occurs exclusively in opals. Light enters the black opal, interacts with the layered silica spheres, and reflects a fiery flash of colors. What you see from this optical interaction is a rainbow display called play of color, or “fire.” 

Clarity

Most black opal gemstones exhibit clarity that ranges from translucent to opaque. The standout appearance of black opals is identified almost always by the presence of inclusions. Gemstone inclusions are trace elements of minerals and impurities that create unique colors, patterns, or cloudiness in a gem. While some inclusions are undesirable, thus lowering the value of transparent precious gems like diamonds and emeralds, they are welcome in opals.

Black opals have the presence of common opal (potch) inclusions. However, the value is wholly diminished when a black opal crazes due to drying the naturally hydrated stone. The result is crazing and fissures that essentially ruin the stone. Generally, black opal should showcase a waxy, shiny luster without looking synthetic or plastic-like.

black opal faceted

Cut

Cutting and polishing black opal must take into account the original rough specimen. For instance, gem cutters and lapidaries will seek to cut the stone to display its most attractive qualities like pattern and color play. Overall, the cut that lends itself best to black opal is an oval-shaped style called cabochon, or “cab” for short. 

This smoothing and polishing style doesn’t cut any hard lines into the gem; instead, it smoothes the gemstone to illuminate its unique characteristics. 

You may also see black opal cuts like trillion and teardrop shapes, but they’re less common. An essential feature of a good opal cut is the shape of the dome, which can either enhance or diminish the gemstone’s color bars. As such, a low dome will best display the color bars, especially if they are thin.

Treatments

High-quality Australian Black Opal will rarely have treatments because the specimens are so naturally vivid. That said, treatments are commonly applied to Ethiopian Black Opal by a unique and time-honored process.

By smoking the opal, carbon penetrates the gemstone and enhances its color to be more bright and striking. Some gems are soaked in sugar water and sulfuric acid, then slowly heated to darken the gemstone’s body tone.

While the methods listed above aren’t to the detriment of the gemstone, you should be wary of coated treatments. Some black opals are coated to enhance the colors, but this introduces polymers and other resins that may alter the gem.

Synthetic Black Opals

Identifying black opal is easy because you can tell by the stone’s dark body tone. That said, you must always be mindful of synthetic black opal. These lab-created synthetics can only be detectable in a lab with the proper equipment. 

Synthetic black opal will be overly colorful, and the patterns won’t flow naturally but in a perfect arrangement. Nature makes such beautiful black opal, and it will most often have flaws and inclusions that make each gem unique.

So, where is black opal from? 

polished black opal specimen

Black Opal Origins

Where is black opal found? Black opal is almost exclusively sourced from various deposits across New South Wales, Australia.

Lightning Ridge black opal is the most significant gemstone source and serves as the largest global supplier. Over in Africa, Ethiopia is another source of black opal. A departure from Australia’s naturally dark opal, Ethiopian black opal is typically smoked to enhance the gemstone’s body tone. 

We’ve covered almost everything there is to know about this dark opal gem, but how expensive is black opal?

Value

If you hadn’t noticed yet, black opals are extremely valuable, thanks to their unique light effect and dark body tone. So, how much are black opals worth? Prices vary, with the most expensive black opal fetching up to $10,000 USD per carat.

Why is black opal so expensive? It comes down to the phenomenal play of color against a dark body tone. When you look at other opal types, for instance, crystal opal or fire opal, you simply don’t see the immense contrast of color and darkness as seen in black opals. While these types are indeed gorgeous all their own, they are not seen in as rare colors and patterns as black opal.

Of course, you can find some affordable black opals available, and these are also striking jewels, even if they don’t fall in the elite class of the finest black opals. You can buy these for anywhere from $50 per carat to $4,000 per carat.

Is black opal worth more than a diamond? Compared to diamonds, opals overall are not as expensive. However, a fine-quality rare black opal can exceed even the most brilliant diamond.

Once you choose your black opal, you’ll want to follow best practices for preserving its quality.

Caring for Black Opal

Opals are gorgeous gemstones, yes, but they require a strategic method to keep them in tip-top shape. The most important thing to remember about caring for black opal is that it is a hydrated stone, which means that if you dry it out, it will likely crack or craze. What dries out opals? Fluctuations in temperatures are the most common culprit. 

You can easily protect your black opal gems by storing them in a soft jewelry box with a moist cloth or wet cotton ball enclosed. Seal the cloth or cotton ball into a plastic bag and place it into the container to protect the gems from dehydrating.

As far as durability goes, black opal ranks between 5-6.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which is relatively soft. You should take extra care to prevent your gems from scratching or coming into contact with harder surfaces.

black opal from lightning ridge

To clean black opal, rinse them in warm water and wipe the stones clean with a soft cloth — microfiber is a gentle material. Under no circumstances should you ever expose black opals to chemical cleaners or ultrasonic cleaners, which will most certainly guarantee a crack in your gemstone. The best approach is to remove your opal jewels before cleaning, exercising, or bathing. 

And be wary of wearing opals and using hand sanitizer, as the porous gemstone will absorb the sanitizer and likely damage the stone.

However, if you follow the tips listed above, your black opal gemstones will catch the light and radiate beautiful colors for generations to come!

Buy Black Opal Today!

We have taken an extensive tour of all the crucial details of black opal gemstones. Now, all that’s left to do is find yours! If you’re looking for the best black opal for sale, look no further than Opal Auctions!

Buy Black Opal Today!

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