If you love reading about opals, you may have stumbled across the term “opalite” and wondered: What’s the difference between opalite vs. opal?
While opal is made by Mother Earth, man-made opalite is a type of glass resin named for its use as an opal imitation. Not to be confused with precious opal, both types of opalite gemstones offer affordable alternatives to fine opal gems.
Can opalite be found naturally? Yes, but it’s a different stone than a precious opal. You won’t see the same fire and play-of-color that precious opals are famous for. But don’t rule out opalite just yet, because these gems have a lot to offer by way of affordability and beauty!
Opalite refers not only to man-made opal but also a form of common opal. Natural opalite isn’t man-made, but rather a naturally-occurring green or purple opal that’s heavily included and often shows chatoyancy (also known as a “cat’s eye effect.”)
Ready to learn more? Let’s get to it!
There is a little confusion about synthetic and natural opalite, so we’re going to set the record straight here. Man-made opalite is a translucent to milky stone usually made of opalescent glass but sometimes made from plastic or resin. The stone also goes by glass opalite, argonon, or sea opal. In trade, the terms “synthetic,” “simulated,” or “imitation” may be used instead of “man-made.”
For this guide, we’ll be using “synthetic opalite” to refer to man-made opalite, as “synthetic opal” refers to a stone with different chemical composition.
At first glance, synthetic opalite appears colorless or white. Once the stone is against a dark background, a pale blue color emerges. Put it against a light background and you’ll see a white body tone with a subtle, peach-colored glow.
Since it’s a form of common opal, natural opalite has the same composition: silica and water. The hydrated silica forms in stacks of tiny spheres. When natural opalite has a cat’s eye, the hydrated silica spheres stack in a pyramid shape.
Moonstone is a feldspar mineral composed of potassium, aluminum, and silica. Unlike amorphous opal and opalite, moonstone forms in a monoclinic crystal structure.
Because moonstone looks similar to opalite, opalite is often marketed as “opal moonstone.”
How can you tell opalite apart from moonstone?
First and foremost, man-made opalite differs from moonstone in that moonstone is formed naturally. The two share a similar sky blue hue and shimmering luster, but moonstone’s interior has cloudy inclusions that opalite’s milky interior does not.
Natural opalite differs from moonstone in color, hardness, and gemstone family. Opalite hardness is 5 to 6.5 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale, making it slightly lower than moonstone, at 6 to 6.5. Opalite’s composition falls under the Opalite family, while moonstone falls under Feldspar.
Let’s do a full breakdown of man-made and natural opalite properties.
Color: Synthetic - Colorless to white with blue or peach hues; Natural - Green, lilac, or purple with gray, black, or bluish-black inclusions
Crystal structure: Both - Amorphous
Hardness: Synthetic - 5; Natural - 5 to 6.5
Luster: Synthetic - Vitreous; Natural - Subvitreous to waxy
Transparency: Synthetic - Translucent to transparent; Natural - Translucent to opaque
Refractive index: Synthetic - 1.50-1.52; Natural - 1.43-1.52
Density: Synthetic - 2.6; Natural - 1.9-2.3
Cleavage: Both - None
Fracture: Synthetic - Conchoidal; Natural - Conchoidal to uneven
Chatoyancy: Present in some natural opalite
The science behind opalite is relatively recent and plays an important role in the stone’s history.
Natural opalite’s history starts where all opal history starts: millions of years ago. Opalite started forming about 20 million years ago, from what we know. The oldest opal artifacts were found in Kenya and date back to roughly 4000 BC.
The term “opalite” first appeared within literature in 1945. Glossaries for gemologists and geologists defined “opalite” as a synonym for common opal. For reference, common opal is any opal that doesn’t display play-of-color.
In 1972, French chemist Pierre Gilson made opal history when he successfully created the first synthetic opal, selling his creation two years later. Gilson relied on 1960s research on opal’s internal structure done by Australian scientists P.J. Darragh and J.V. Sanders.
When Gilson initially sold his synthetic opal, he named it “Gilson Synthetic Opal.” In 1980, Gilson sold his design and some equipment to a Japanese company that started making the stones as well. As synthetic opal found a larger market, opalite became a new term for synthetic opal.
We should note that Gilson’s synthetic opal is not man-made opalite. Gilson’s stones are composed of silica, while synthetic opalite is composed of glass or plastic materials. However, Gilson’s innovation paved the way for synthetic opalite’s growing popularity.
Today, synthetic opalite is often used as a decorative object or tumbled stone for healing. On that note, what are opalite healing properties?
To understand opalite healing properties, first, you have to know what opalite means.
In general, opalite symbolizes clarity, fresh starts, and tranquility. The cool blue hues of synthetic opalite resemble a clear sky, representing optimism and perspective.
Opalite represents zodiac signs under the water element: Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Spiritual opalite benefits such as its soothing and mood-enhancing properties are perfect for sensitive water signs who may need some extra relaxation.
Scorpios born in October get to double-dip, as opalite serves as a more affordable alternative to opal, the October birthstone.
What is opalite stone good for in terms of physical healing?
Physically, opalite can help balance the circulatory and respiratory systems. The stone is purported to help those struggling with insomnia and nightmares as well.
For emotional healing, opalite is known to reduce grief or sadness, as well as calm anxious thoughts. Many energy healers encourage using opalite to increase self-esteem and strengthen connections with others.
Some spiritual practitioners call opalite “Merlanite,” after the famous sorcerer, for the stone’s reputation for opening you up to mystical communication. Opalite can enhance your intuition, opening your mind to visions or messages from the spirit realm that will grant you wisdom.
What chakra is opalite good for?
Opalite chakra healing is best for the Third Eye chakra, where you gain a higher understanding of the universe and your place in it.
When the Third Eye chakra is blocked, you may feel unassertive and restless. Once you use opalite to open the chakra, you may feel greater insight and acceptance.
Want to gain some insight into opalite’s value? We’ll fill you in!
When choosing opalite jewelry or stones, knowing what goes into the gem’s value can help you feel confident about your purchase. Synthetic and natural opalite gemstone value depends on a few factors, including color, clarity, and cut.
Natural Opalite: The stone’s primary color is typically mossy-green, lavender, or purple. Dark inclusions may be black, gray, or bluish-black and appear as veins or dendritic patterns.
Synthetic Opalite: As mentioned, synthetic opalite colors change based on different backgrounds. While light blue against a white background, the stone will be peach-pink or orange against a dark background.
Natural Opalite: As natural opalite is heavily included, clarity grades aren’t as important to opalite’s value as they are for other gems. However, translucent specimens may command slightly higher prices than opaque specimens.
Synthetic Opalite: Most synthetic opalite stones have no internal flaws, giving them great clarity. If flaws are present, they typically appear as air bubbles in glass opalite, which would lower the stone’s value.
Natural Opalite: Natural opalite stones are often cut into various cabochon shapes, like ovals or rectangles. Tumbled stones are common, as well as raw opalite slabs. Opalite cabochons may be placed in jewelry settings as well. Cat’s eye opalite is popular for rings.
Synthetic Opalite: These stones are almost always tumbled and/or cut as cabochons or beads.
Before it can be cut, how is opalite made?
Most man-made opalite is made of glass. The glass is often composed of dolomite and metal to best replicate natural opal’s volcanic conditions.
As with any glass, the process starts with melting raw materials down to a liquid, then allowing the mixture to cool and solidify. Dolomite is best for opalite glass because it allows the melted materials to maintain a viscous texture and protects the stone better from scratches.
Natural opalite forms like any other opal. Water seeps down into cracks and crevices underground, picking up silica spheres along the way. Most of the water evaporates, leaving behind beautiful opalite.
The size and proximity of the silica spheres give the stone its green color, while minerals present during its formation (like moss agate) are behind the dark inclusions. When the stone shows a cat’s eye effect, the silica spheres have taken a pyramid shape.
So, where can you find opalite?
The main sources for synthetic opalite are Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, and the US states of Arizona, Georgia, and California.
Natural opalite can be found in numerous locations, including:
Natural cat’s eye opalite primarily comes from Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Tanzania. Although Ethiopian cat’s eye opalite is slightly different in color, with silver and pink undertones.
Thinking of buying opalite? Let’s discuss what to expect price-wise.
First, we’ll discuss opalite value for natural stones. Natural opalite stones may change in price based on the stone’s source.
At wholesale prices, Welo opalite gemstones are typically between $8-$20 per carat, though some reach $65 per carat. Ethiopian opalite stones are more affordable, usually $0.60-$1 per carat. Of course, these prices assume the opalite isn’t a cat’s-eye opalite.
Cat’s-eye opalite gemstones are slightly pricier than Ethiopian opalite but still affordable, between $1-$4 per carat.
Synthetic opalite is typically sold by type, not per carat. Tumbled stones are usually $1 to $3. Items with more craftsmanship required, like an opalite necklace or opalite point, can be anywhere from $2-$25, depending on size and other elements included (chains, clasps, etc.)
To get your money’s worth and make your opalite stone last, you’ll want to know how to clean opalite.
Both natural and man-made opalite are easy to care for. To clean either stone, use some warm, soapy water and a soft brush (like a toothbrush) to gently scrub dirt and debris away. Your opalite will get its glimmering iridescence back in no time!
However, if your natural opalite is a doublet or triplet, it’s best to avoid hot water, oils, and soaps. For these, stick to wiping the surface with a soft cloth.
Planning to use your stone for healing? You’ll need to know how to cleanse opalite, too.
You can cleanse your stone through various methods, but we recommend using sunlight. Leave the stone under sunlight for 30 minutes to an hour, and any negative energies inside your opalite will dissipate.
We recommend cleansing opalite at least once a month or more, depending on how often you use it. Just be sure to face a different side of the stone toward the sun each time you cleanse it to prevent color fading.
That’s a wrap on all the information you need to know about opalite gemstones! Now that you know all the science and symbolism behind natural and man-made opalite, you can see why each stone has become increasingly popular over time. Opalites are a fun, inexpensive choice if you’re looking for a different type of opal.
So, if you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to opal or an earthy boho gemstone to add to your wardrobe, opalite is a perfect choice to add that shiny, colorful opalescence we all know and love!
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