Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Opal Patterns - The Ultimate GuideThe Opal is considered the Queen of all gemstones, and some say it’s the King of all gemstones too. What makes opals so unique in the gemstone world is that it is rare to find quality opals with the same exact color and with incredible patterns like opal. There is scientific research on how these patterns are formed but the Opal is so complicated that no one has figured it out yet. I’m sure our readers would prefer to read about beautiful patterns that are formed in opals and we can touch on how these patterns are formed later.

By far the most prized and rare pattern is the true Harlequin opal. This pattern is extremely rare and we use the terminology of true pattern, as some opals might just have one or two shapes like harlequin pattern but only in a small area.

How Rare is Harlequin Pattern Opal?

Most opal miners at Lightning Ridge will never mine or dig out a Harlequin pattern opal in their life! Red on black is the rarest and most expensive color so when these colors are combined with the Harlequin pattern it is a truly amazing stone.

Opal miners at Lightning Ridge must shift over a tonne of dirt on average to find one single Opal. To find a Harlequin pattern Opal, thousands of tonnes of dirt need to moved.

To date we have never seen a Boulder Opal that has a a true Harlequin pattern.

Only a few Ethiopian opals have had a true Harlequin pattern.  

What is a harlequin pattern opal?

This unique opal has contracting elongated squares or diamond shapes that repeat in the pattern. It is very rare to find in nature.

Classes of harlequin patterns include 

  • Peacock Harlequin
  • Hexagonal Harlequin
  • Flagstone Harlequin
  • Checkerboard Harlequin

List Of Opal Patterns With Pictures

With other opal patterns there is more flexibility when it comes to definition. Some opals may have two or more patterns or colors ,so there are no exact wording for opals with combination of patterns .

Some names can be very Creative when the owner falls in love with their opal. We have included the following images as good examples of each pattern in alphabetical order 

Bamboo Leaf Pattern

Bright Veins of color like bamboo shoots that can be formed naturally in potch or full opal 

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Block Pattern

Large patterns form square, rectangular or freeform shapes that cover majority of the opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Broad flash

This pattern has large flashes of color that are predominant in the opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Cats eye

Rolling cats eye pattern is rare, as the opal must have a high cabochon shape. The flash of color will form a thin line scross the Opal when it is rotated

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Cathedral Pattern

Rare pattern in Boulder opal and mostly formed by wood or vegetation matter 

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Chaff Pattern

These are lines that look like straw storks as chaff lines in different directions  

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Chinese Writing

As the name suggests these opals have what looks like Chinese writing and are in natural formations

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Dragon Skin

This description is used with Ethiopian and Boulder opals with pattern like snake skin. 

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Floral Pattern

Described with flowing patterns like flowers and is mostly multiple colors like a flower patch

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Fern Pattern

 Formation like plant ferns with prongs from central stork

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Feather Pattern

Similar pattern to peacock feathers. Feather pattern starting at central position radiating out as feathers

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide


This is one of the top sought after patterns for Ethiopian opals and the shape and size can vary greatly in the honeycomb pattern. It looks like a bee hive and mostly hexagonal shapes with seamless pattern 

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Mackerel Pattern

Beautiful rare rolling patterns as in mackerel fish that rolls and twists. Ribbon mackerel is a flowing connected pattern like mackerel

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Galaxy Pattern

Similar pattern to images of constellations with small bright colour hues.

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Neon Flash

This must have top brightest of B1 to be considered neon, so it is a rare flash pattern that covers the whole opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide


As the name suggests it is multiple patterns in the one opal and are closely related patterns that resemble quilt designs

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide


Small bright patterns of mostly different colors. It can also be the same color as small pin headed dots that have a columnar structure. The pattern is visible from all directions.

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Puzzle Pattern

Used on Ethiopian opal to describe a mixture of patterns that complement each other to fit just like jigsaw puzzles

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Ribbon Pattern

This formation is like rolls of ribbons formed on opal in different colours 

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide


Skin to skin is the term used in Brazil where crystal opal is sold on top as the bottom and can be clear or with potch. In Australia it refers more to rough opal that displays predominately opal more than potch

  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Snake Skin

This description is used to describe pattern on Ethiopian opals like snake. Boulder opal can also have snake skin pattern but is rare

Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Jigsaw Pattern

Is used for top black opals with incredible colours with no systematic pattern.

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Sheen Pattern

This is considered an over similar matching pattern of all equal colour with no distinct pattern

Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Spider Web

This pattern looks like spider webs and is white potch lines in the opal or can be colored veins also

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Star Dust Pattern

Small patterns like galaxy of stars

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Veined Patterns

Several veins of similar or different colours in horizontal or vertical lines, commonly used in boulder opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide


In the opal industry, you will hear these words spoken to describe an opal. 

Multi fire

There are two or more colors that complement each other, can be directional or flashy.  Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Pastel Red

Or Pastel Pink. This color can be soft red colour to pinkish colours Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Picture Stone

Some stones have mixed formation and sometimes an image or landscape scenes can be seen in the opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Double Sided Colour

Different colours on both sides

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Black Crystal

These opals are formed mostly as pure crystal opal with no or little potch but have dark body tone N1. Most crystal opals have body tone N5 to N7 so it is rare to have dark body tone in crystal opals



Many miners use this terminology, if the opal is full Color or pattern

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Dark Opal

This can refer to semi black opals from Lighting Ridge to dark colored Ethiopian opal. As Ethiopian opals have not been classified as black by gemmological associations.

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Painted Lady

These opals are from Andamooka and are natural, they are not hand painted

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Palette Opal

This has been used as colour but it actually refers to shape of the opal as in an artists palette

Smoked Black

This term describes Ethiopian crystal opal that has been treated, commonly known as smoked opal

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Electric Blue

This formation describes colour brighter than normal sea blue.

 Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Fingerprint Pattern

This pattern is very rare. We have only ever seen it on one Mexican Opal Opal Patterns - The Ultimate Guide

Flash Fire

This is not a pattern but shows strong fire colours when the opal is moved. 


This formation means the opal only faces strong fire when in a certain position, so these opals are ideal for pendants

Rolling Flash

This describes how the colors can be visible when you move the opal. A pattern would be Rolling broad flash pattern 


This relates to crystal opal and can be semi-transparent

Common Opal

Very basic with little colour or pattern, low grade. 

Cherry Opal

Some Mexican opals have cherry colour and is creative description for this opal. 

Lemon Opal

This opal displays lemon hues and is mostly found in crystal opals. 

Milky opal

Milky Opal is coined for a milky white Common Opal and used mostly in South Australian opals. 

Rainbow Opal

Precious Opal where the play of colour is seen in curved bands, like a rainbow. 

Yowah and Koroit Opal Patterns

koroit and yowah opal patterns

How Are Patterns Formed In Opals?

Sometimes potch lines can make unique patterns such as those discussed above. These potch lines can even divide two distinct colours or can make pattern in opal that has predominantly one colour. Opal is formed and composed of minute silica in sphere pattern and these are arranged in a 3-dimensional grid. It’s the spaces between the spheres and size that helps diffraction, and affect the colour and pattern so the size of the sphere is paramount for a good pattern.

What is Diffraction?

Diffraction and refraction both mean the bending of light. Diffraction is blending out of bands of different wave lengths of a beam of light or the scattering of light. The pattern’s  shape does greatly affect the price of an opal in rarity and the top values are mostly Harlequin, mackerel, chaff, rolling cats eye.


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10 people found this article helpful



excellent review and descriptions thank you

31st Dec 2020

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