Although Australia has dominated the Opal market for the last 100 years, Ethiopia is quickly becoming a strong contender in the market. While 95% of Opal production has been mined in Australia, a small discovery in 1994 put Ethiopia on the worldwide Opal map.
Followed by important discoveries in 2008 and 2013, the area now produces beautiful precious Opal, Fire Opal and Black Opal, with an incredible variety of patterns and body colors. However, it is the elusive Ghost Phantom Opal from Ethiopia that is generating interest in the Ethiopian Opal market.
While Opal comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, Ghost Phantom Opals are often thought to be by far the most interesting. These Opals earnt their name from their mysterious ghost like appearance. Experts believe that Ethiopian Opal is a Hydrophane Opal, meaning that it is formed differently to sedimentary Opal. This would explain why the unique ghost like formations occur only in these particular types of Opals. Although most are formed with smooth coverage inside the Opal, the rare Ghost Phantom Opal creates bubbles or cloud formations within. Figure 1: The elusive Ethiopian Ghost Phantom Opal generates interest in the Opal industry.
Predominantly comprised of transparent Crystal Opal on the outside layer, the inner workings of the crystal shell hold the ghost like formations. The Ghost Phantom Opal can range in color from a milky white to grey and black, or occasionally even semi- translucent itself. The intricate formations do not affect the overall color of the crystal fire, although sometimes it might seem to have color, however it is the ghost like appearance that causes this effect.
As the Opals are believed to be Hydrophane, the colors of the Ghost Phantom Opal can vary from a dull yellow color to a green hue, depending on how much water the Opal has absorbed. For example, soaking the Opal in water or keeping it in humid conditions can often affect its color. Alternatively, dryer conditions often cause the fire to change from a milky white color to a brilliant array of sunset fire colors. Figure 2: The Ethiopian Ghost Phantom Opal can range in color.
Interestingly, some Quartz in Africa has also been discovered with the Ghost Phantom. Clear Quartz has been found with milky white deposits inside, however it is colorless. This occurs when Quartz forms over an existing crystal, which may or may not originally be Quartz.
Although a rarity, the phantom Quartz results when its chemistry changes and a thin layer of mineral, like Feldspar, forms over the crystal. Once the conditions change again, the original Quartz continues to grow and the phantom like formation begins to take place. Sometimes even two different minerals can crystallize. This process occurs over millions of years and can help explain how the Ethiopian Ghost Phantom Opal is formed, as sometimes the ghost is surrounded by different layered colors of dark browns to pastel light brown or grey colors.
Ironically, although experts continue to learn more everyday about them, there is still little known about the Ethiopian Ghost Phantom Opal. Similarly, to a phantom or ghost, the Ethiopian Ghost Phantom Opal is an elusive rarity in the Opal industry worldwide.
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I spoke with my Ethiopian opal miner and he says Phantom Ethiopian opals are only found on top high cliffs and runs horizontal white bars of acidic white ash from volcanic eruptions over millions of years.
His assumption is that this white ash which is acidic, is somehow formed when the opal does, and a as ash is lighter it forms in the middle
His mine is lower on base of mountain so he doesn’t get any Phantom opals.
Sounds like the most possible explanation that white volcanic ash forms these phantom Opals
I tried to find some information about these phantoms but looks like no one has done research on these phantom inclusions.
So far it seems like feldspar ,which is group chemicals inclusions of aluminium silicates of soda and or potassium or lime
If so this would explain the ghostly white appearance of the phantom
Another theory is they are Zeolites ,which are natural white salts or white clays composed of hydrated silicates of sodium and aluminium
It could be combination of the above and formed under different conditions or chemical reactions.
Further research is required