How to Buy An Australian Opal

how to buy an australian opalHave questions about buying opals? You’re not alone! Questions abound online about how to buy Australian opal and we’re delivering you the 411. In this detailed buying guide, we’re answering all of your burning questions about what to look for when buying an opal, including:

What is a doublet?  What is a triplet?
How do I buy opals?
How much is Australian opal worth?
What are the different types of opals?
How to buy opals online?

It’s obvious there are a lot of questions so let us waste no time answering them. First step?

Get Educated About Opals

The first thing to do as a buyer is to get to know the product you’re buying. Concerning opals, you’ll want to know about the different types of opals available and how much Australian opals are worth. And that’s not all. Opals are a dynamic gemstone that wears many hats. Unlike say, a diamond, colorless and recognizable for its unmistakable sparkle, opals come in many forms. What’s more–each opal has its own set of features. As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about opals!
boulder opal

There’s so much to learn, we’ve got every detail of opals covered from A to Z. Here’s a recap of the highlights to consider when buying Australian opals.

Base Tone

One of the most important ways to gauge the value of an opal is to look at the base tone. Base tone is the base coloring of the opal gemstone. It can be very dark, like black opal, or very light and milky. Base tone is read by looking through the top of the stone, and varies from N1-N4 (Black Opal) up to N9.


Opals have a brightness scale which denotes how dull or brilliant the opal is. The scale is numbered and the brightest opals are valued the most highly.

  1. Faint

  2. Dull

  3. Bright

  4. Very bright

  5. Brilliant

Most opal dealers and auction sites use this brightness chart as the standard for grading an opal’s brightness. However, there are other means of measuring brightness so it’s important to locate exactly which scale is used. It can be confusing if a website uses the Opal Association scale, which has 7 ratings with 1 being the brightest, instead of the faintest.

Buying tip: Buying a brilliant gemstone will cost more, and there are other factors to consider beyond brilliance. For example, if you find a very bright opal that has better play of color or body tone, the investment may be better by sacrificing the brilliance.

Play of Color

Now we’re getting to the feature that opals are known for. When buying Australian opals, you’ll want to ensure there is even play of color across the entire gemstone. Play of color is the single most important feature when determining whether or not an opal is natural or synthetic. 

black opalThe most prized opals will exhibit play of color at every angle you hold the opal. However, opals which showcase play of color when a light is held to the side or above the gem make beautiful pendants.

Inclusions or Flaws

Opals are mined from the earth and naturally will have some inclusions and flaws. While some are eye clean, others have inclusions that lower the price. Imperfections are actually a positive feature as they prove that the opal is 100% real and not synthetic. Some flaws to look for when shopping for opals:

  • Clay - When an opal has a white or milky color on its surface it is referred to as clay, silk or sand. These are small traces of clay left in the gemstone from when the opal formed.

  • Matrix - If an opal has visible rock or clay surrounding it, the value will be less than a doublet.

  • Faults vs. cracks - The main thing to remember here is that faults or flaws are ok. However, never buy an opal with a crack in it. To differentiate between a fault and a crack, hold the opal up to a lamp to inspect for cracks, which diminish the gemstone’s value.

Learn About the Different Types of Opals

If you’re looking to buy Australian opal, one thing is for sure: you need to know about all the different types of opal for sale. Opals come from all over Australia, and the most common include black opals, white opals, boulder opals and crystal opals. It’ll ultimately come down to your preference and what style you like the most. Here’s a brief overview of each kind:

  • Black opal - The cream of the crop of opals with a dark base tone

  • Boulder opal - Second only to black opals in terms of value and esteem, these come from Queensland, Australia and are known for their dark base tone and fiery play of color

  • White opal - Very milky base tone that is less bright than black or boulder opal

  • Crystal opal - This branch of opals encompasses any opal that is transparent or opalescent. When combined with excellent play of color, crystal opals can get quite expensive.
crystal opal

The Variances in Opals

You’ve heard the terms; solid opal, doublet, triplet and rough opal, but what do they mean? A reputable jeweler will clearly state what type of opal you are buying. Here are defined terms to help you when buying opals online:

  • Natural opal solids - This is 100% natural opal with no added materials.

  • Opal Doublet - An opal gemstone that has a dark backing glued on it to make it look like a full piece of natural opal. The backing is generally ironstone or potch.

  • Opal Triplet - An opal doublet with a clear glass or quartz dome on top of it. Triplets are generally the lowest valued form of opal because they contain the least amount of natural opal.

  • Rough Opal - Uncut opals taken directly from an opal mine.

Tips for How To Buy Opals Online

Now that you have a rich understanding of the complexities of Australian opal, you’re ready to make a purchase. Here are some tips for how to buy opals online:

  • Photography - When buying opals online, you never know what type of camera equipment the seller is using, what the lighting conditions are, etc. With this in mind, there will always be slight variations in what the opal looks like online and what it looks like in your hand. To view the play of color from all angles, look for opals that have a video.

  • Choose an authentic opal - True opal gemstones will have a certificate of authenticity. This is especially important for discerning between synthetic opals and natural opals.

  • Buy from Opal Auctions online - Especially if you are a new buyer or unfamiliar with the valuation system for opals. Online opal auctions put the power in the buyer's hands and ultimately shape the opal industry.

  • When in doubt, reach out to the seller - If you have any questions about buying opals whatsoever, don’t hesitate to ask. Most jewelers are more than happy to answer your questions and help you choose the right opal.

Buying Australian opal is a complex process in the beginning – there’s so much to learn! Like any new hobby or skill: the more you do it, the better you get. We hope this informative guide for buying Australian opals helps you make the best choice during your search.

Ready to put your knowledge to the test? 


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