If you live for all things opal, then you’ve likely encountered various terms like doublet, triplet, solid and rough.
What do these terms mean and why is it important for buyers to understand their meaning?
As with any item, an intimate knowledge of the product helps you make an informed purchase. Many gemstone collectors familiarize themselves with the interworkings of the opal market. What about buyers who have an appreciation for opal but aren’t bonafide collectors? This guide is for you!
In this post, we’re defining three variations of opal: opal solid, opal doublet and opal triplet. When you have a clear understanding of what these terms mean, you can save time and money as you shop for the perfect gem.
First, where do opals come from and what processes influence their final shape? Let’s explore!
The glittering, iridescent gemstones that flicker on the shelves of jewelers have undergone an extensive process to get there. Even before miners dig into the ground to find opal, they have to file paperwork and apply for drilling leases. Once the formalities are covered, the hunt begins.
Miners use drilling rigs to dig into the bedrock of the earth. What they retrieve are samples that undergo an examination to see if the ground holds opal. If there isn’t opal, the hunt continues. However, if a miner strikes opal, they drill about 100 feet deeper into the earth to reach the mother lode.
Opal is a lucrative prospect, especially in Australia because the land is filled with opal mines and deposits. Opal contains about 2-5% of water mixed with silica, as Australia was centuries-ago blanketed in water springs. When the water fell into the earth’s cracks, it slowly evaporated and left behind silica crystals. These crystals formed slowly over thousands of years to become beautiful opals.
So, how do opals become striking, profitable gemstones? Gemologists and gem cutters use rough specimens of opal to cut them into gems. Every detail of the opal is examined to consider inclusions, play of color, body tone, and brilliance, among other features. These factors will ultimately, dictate whether the final product is an opal solid, doublet or triplet.
And that leads us full circle into the differences between the three!
The term “opal solid” describes a specimen that is made entirely of opal. When we talk about an opal solid, we can describe two things:
A solid rough opal specimen
A solid opal gemstone
While these are two very different products, they each contain 100% solid opal. In other words, the entire gemstone or rough contains pure opal. Unlike specimens like Boulder Opal or Matrix opal, solid opal doesn’t contain any host rock or inclusions from its growing environment. When most people think of the classic depiction of opal, they envision solid opal.
A variety of opal types come as solid opal, including white opal, black opal, and fire opal. So, we’ve established that an opal solid is made of pure opal, but what about a doublet?
If you guessed that an opal doublet isn’t made entirely of pure opal, you guessed correctly! Look at you, you’re on your way to becoming a gemstone expert! So, if opal doublets aren’t entirely made of opal, what else do they contain?
Opal doublets contain a thin sheet of precious opal, but this piece is cemented to ironstone or black potch backing. You might wonder why the stone isn’t pure, like an opal solid. Well, not every cut of opal is flawless enough to be solid. But that doesn’t mean an opal doublet is worthless. If every opal that didn’t meet the solid opal standard was discarded, there would be an extreme amount of waste.
Fortunately, gem cutters strategically repurpose these pieces into opal doublets! Not only is it a great way to conserve materials, but it provides an affordable option for buyers. Opal doublets provide the choice to buy a gorgeous opal gem at a lower price-point than solid opal.
Now that you know what an opal doublet is, you can probably guess that an opal triplet has three pieces. So, what’s the third ingredient?
Our final opal product in this discussion is an opal triplet. Similar to an opal doublet, triplets contain opal that’s bonded to a backing. The key difference here is that the percentage of opal is very small. In fact, triplets contain only a thin piece of crystal opal.
Think of a triplet as a three-layer-sandwich. The bottom bun is ironstone or black potch, the top bun is made of plastic or quartz, and the middle is where the opal’s at!
The key feature of opal triplets is that the majority of the gem contains manmade materials. While you might think this would extensively lower the value and demand, it’s not necessarily the case. That’s because that thin sheet of opal in triplets often exhibit striking patterns and fiery displays of color.
In turn, triplets are commonly used in opal jewelry items like rings and earrings.
The answer to this question is truly subjective. If you’re a purist, you’ll love solid opal because it’s entirely made of opal. However, if you care about getting a great value and a good portion of opal, then doublets are the right choice for you. Lastly, if you want a highly durable and affordable opal, opt for a triplet for your opal jewelry.
The truth is that you truly don’t have to decide. If you love the look and quality of opal gemstones, then you’ll likely have a variety of all three. Either way, you can’t go wrong with either one of these striking gemstones!
Solid opal is a gemstone or rough that contains 100% pure opal
Opal doublet describes a piece of precious opal that’s bonded to a black potch or ironstone backing
Opal triplet is a thin sheet of precious opal sandwiched between black potch or ironstone backing, and plastic or quartz
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