At Opal Auctions, we’ve come into contact with phenomenal opal stones from around the globe — From the outback to the hills of Ethiopia. What we love about opals is that each origin yields its own unique array of brilliant gemstones. Yet even if you combed the hills and valleys of each continent, you’d be unable to retrieve two exact opals. That is true, unless they’ve been cut from one large specimen, but you catch our drift.
One of the most exciting things about working with this precious gemstone is how radically diverse one opal is from the next.
In this article, we’re focusing on two vibrant styles of opal and weighing them against one another. You may have compared Ethiopian opal vs. Australian opal before, but what about white opal? In this article, we’ll share all about the unique attributes of both variations of opal. Comparing Ethiopian opal vs. white opal reveals just how diverse and majestic this wonderful gemstone truly is.
First thing’s first: allow us to introduce you to the vivid world of each style of opal. Ready for some fire, sparkle and glimmer? Then you’ve come to the right place!
So, what are the primary differences between these two styles of gemstones? Well, let’s put it this way: if you held these two stones in your hand side by side, you’d instantly notice one big difference and that has to do with the color of each gem.
White opal, also known as light opal, has a milky, cream-colored body tone. The exact body color of white opal falls into the category of N8 or N9. Like all variations of beautiful opal, white opal exhibits speckles of bright colors including blue, yellow and green. However, there are levels of color grading among white opal, meaning they all don’t look exactly the same. Style of white opal include:
Mintabie Opal: A milky white body tone with broad speckles of yellow, pink, green and blue.
Andamooka Opal: These gemstones almost have bright, almost polka-dot-like spots of fiery colors.
Coober Pedy Opal: 80% of Australian opal comes from Coober Pedy, and you’ll find a wide assortment of milky colored white opal here.
Like white opal, there are several variations of opal from Ethiopia. However, the key difference here is that Ethiopian opal doesn’t come in just one body tone, but a vibrant spectrum of colors. For example, variations of Ethiopian include:
Fire opal - All variations of Ethiopian opal showcase a striking, bright flash of fiery color. However, the body tone beneath the bright colors can vary from black, blue, orange and even white opal.
Dark Opal - Quite opposite of white opal, dark opal from Ethiopia comes with a black color-treated body tone that fiery swirls of red, green and yellow dance above.
Welo Opal - One of the leading suppliers of Ethiopian opal is the Wollo Province, and Welo opal is a bright, orange-reddish hue that exhibits a stunning play of color.
Now, let’s move beyond color to examine some of the differentiating features between Ethiopian opal vs. white opal. To do this, we need to better understand the origin and history of each opal.
One of the most fascinating and diverse gemstones on the planet is the beloved opal, yet up until just 25 years ago, Australia nearly exclusively supplied opals on a global scale. Since the discovery of three opal deposits in Ethiopia in the mid-90s and 2000s, Ethiopian opal has changed the opal market. These phenomenal opals are relatively new, which makes valuing and grading them a complex process. In general, we value Ethiopian opals for their brightness, intense color and unique patterns. As a general rule, the brighter an opal is, the more valuable it is. How does this compare to white opal?
People treasure Ethiopian opal for its fiery flash of color, however, the same cannot be said for white opal. In general, white opal is much more subdued than Ethiopian opal varieties. The body tone of white opal is, as you can imagine, white. For this reason, the color bars and flashes of color across the stone aren’t as strong of contrast as black opal or Welo opal. Still, they are radiant gemstones that miraculously showcase a rainbow of colors, despite their light-colored base tone.
Most white opal comes from mines in the state of South Australia, which is the cheapest variation of solid opal available. What makes this beautiful gem less valuable than other types of opal? Well, white opals exist in abundance and therefore they are not considered a rare stone. For this reason, as well as the subdued play of color in contrast to other opals, white opals aren’t as valuable or desired as Ethiopian opal.
Is that the only difference between white opal and Ethiopian opal? Not quite, in fact, we haven’t even mentioned the biggest difference between the two.
As you can see, Ethiopian opal and white opal have many differences. Yet perhaps the biggest difference is the category of each gem itself. In other words, Ethiopian opal relates to the origin of the opal, whereas white opal relates to the actual color of the body tone.
Simply put: white opal comes from Australia and Ethiopian opal comes from, well, Ethiopia! That wasn’t so hard, was it? It might seem straightforward, but origin has a tremendous influence on the color, shape, quality and overall value of the gemstone. That’s because each country of origin has specific geological conditions that have shaped the opals over the span of millions of years. If a certain opal came from a different location, it wouldn’t look the way it does because the elements play such an important role in shaping them. In this way, opals truly are magnificent little miracles, aren't they?
To recap, here are the key differences between Ethiopian opal vs. white opal:
Color - White opal is milky white, whereas Ethiopian opal comes in a variety of body tones from blue to black to yellow.
Rarity - White opals are much more common than Ethiopian opals, which affects the value and desirability of the gem.
Origin - White opal comes from Australia and Ethiopian opal comes from Ethiopia.
And that just about sums up everything you need to know about both Ethiopian and white opal! Did we answer all of your questions? Then it’s time to browse gorgeous opals to find your favorite!
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