From the gold rush to the diamond phenomenon, the gemstone and jewelry industry is an ever-evolving and changing landscape. As certain gemstones boom in popularity, others fade into the peripheral. Despite the shifting tides, one fact remains: people love natural gemstones.
In a world of synthetics, imitations, simulants and fakes—how can you be sure a gemstone is real? In this article, we’re narrowing the topic down to one remarkable gemstone: the opal.
Opals have stood the test of time, persevered through trends and remained a classic and beloved gemstone. For over a century, nearly all opals hailed from Australia. In the later years of the 20th century, opal deposits were discovered in Ethiopia, opening another door for opal enthusiasts to purchase opals. Yet as Ethiopian opals grew in popularity, so too, did the rise of fake opals. In this article, we’re answering the question: is Ethiopian opal natural?
But first, what constitutes a natural gem? And how can you spot a real opal from a fake? Let’s get to the bottom of it.
A natural gemstone is a mineral or natural specimen mined from the earth before being cut into a sparkling gem. The chemical composition of natural gemstones is entirely organic. However, after the gem is cut, gemologists add treatments and enhancements to saturate the gem’s color and clarity. Despite these alterations, the gemstone remains natural.
Natural gemstones form in the earth’s crust over millions of years and only blossom from intense heat, pressure and elemental exposure. The miraculous process required to grow a gemstone naturally is something so precise, only nature can create it. Or so it would seem.
Over time, humans realized they could replicate the beauty of gemstones into a synthetic gem. These gemstones are man-made in a lab at an expeditious rate. The most popular synthetic gems are diamonds, sapphires and quartz replicas. While these alternative gemstones have the same chemical composition and crystal structure, they remain an imitation. Even so, most people cannot distinguish between a man-made gemstone and a natural one. As such, there are discrepancies in the gemstone market, particularly with the rise of fake or counterfeit gems being advertised and sold as natural. Unfortunately, this is the case with Ethiopian opals. Despite the prevalence and ample supply of stunning natural opals from Ethiopia, the market is riddled with fakes.
Absolutely! And it just so happens to be a stunning gemstone. Ethiopian opals were first discovered in the northern Shewa province in 1994. Then, in 2008 and 2013, two more deposits were unveiled in Wegel Tena and Wello.
Many people intuitively draw comparisons between Australian and Ethiopian opal. While these two origins generate distinguishing factors, both classes remain within the opal family of gems. Australian opals tend to be more expensive, while Ethiopian opals offer a high-quality alternative. Within both countries of origin exists varying levels and qualities of opals. That is to say that there are higher quality opals in Ethiopia and vice versa. Ultimately, it boils down to the exact gemstone you hold in your hand, and the features that make it valuable.
Another critical difference is that Ethiopian opals are hydrophane; when immersed in water, they absorb it, change color and increase in weight.
If you had any hesitation, these variables prove that Ethiopian opal is natural. So, if we know it’s a natural gemstone, what’s with all the fakes floating around? More importantly, how can you, as a buyer, tell the difference?
By now, you’ve learned that Ethiopian opals are a real and natural gemstone from Africa. Opals from Ethiopia are incredibly gorgeous, exhibiting stunning play of color and that signature waxy texture. To avoid an unfortunate buying experience, it’s vital to know how to differentiate between real and fake opals.
Sadly, many buyers have fallen victim to buying fake gemstones. We’re here to help ensure that doesn’t happen to you. Here’s how you can tell a fake opal from a real one. There are tell-tale secrets...
Look at the pattern and play of color, it will be tightly bunched together, and under a loop light, there will be no gaps in the pattern. In other words, the flakes of pattern will be so tightly compacted that it appears uniform.
Natural opals will have different size flakes within the gemstone. The pattern won’t have a perfect pattern, and if they do, it’s extremely rare. Most natural opals have an even, feather-like pattern of colors. You may even notice that one part of the opal has a pattern that departs from another part of the gem. These nuances and variances in pattern and color are a signature feature of natural opals.
When in doubt, look at the gemstone under a microscope, or ask the vendor for a close up video of the gem. Close up, you’ll be able to tell if there is a unique, varying pattern, or if it appears even across the gemstone.
If you look at an opal and it appears to be flawless, it should be expensive, as flawless opals are extremely rare. If it appears flawless and is affordable, there’s a high probability that the opal is synthetic.
Another giveaway that an opal is fake is if the shape appears perfectly round or oval. Even perfectly polished natural gemstones won’t have a perfect shape. However, a fake opal won’t have any unique features or flaws in shape.
Real opals exhibit a variety of shapes in the pattern
Fake opals have a uniform pattern across the stone
The shape of real opals is more spacious and feathered
Fake opals appear to have a pattern that is compact and dense
For further investigation, examine the opal under a microscope
If it looks perfect, it’s probably fake
When in doubt…
The best way to avoid falling victim to buying fake opals is to buy from an opal dealer who is educated about the gemstone. Trustworthy opal dealers are more than willing to answer your questions and work with you to find the right gemstone. At Opal Auctions, our vendors follow strict guidelines to ensure that every Ethiopian opal is 100% natural, high-quality and advertised with transparency.
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