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Natural vs. Synthetic Opals: Everything You Need to Know

The opal stone is a widely beloved stone with an appearance that promotes a classic and timeless beauty. Commonly used in everything from opal earrings to opal rings for women, there are several types of opals worldwide. But what is opal? Opal is a hydrated amorphous (lacking a crystalline structure) form of silica with a water content ranging between 3 and 21% by weight, most typically coming in at between 6 and 10%. To this day, opal stone is arguably one of the more unique, beautiful, and diverse gemstones.

What is Special about Opals?

Because it does not have a defined crystalline structure, opals come in many different shapes and colors, making them stunning and unpredictable stones. While some gemstones and crystals are found in more of a targeted area, opal stones can be found worldwide. Most notably, they are sourced from Australia, containing 95% of the world’s supply. In turn, it is Australia’s national gemstone. Other countries from which opals can be found include Honduras, Brazil, Mexico, and the Western United States.

Also known as the October birthstone opal, this primarily white or colorless stone can have several hints of color, including but not limited to red, blue, yellow, green, pink, and aqua. The reason opals are so highly favored is that within them you can see every color of the rainbow. Finally, the opal meaning represents several things, including, hope, purity, love, truth, and harmony. Thanks to the undying popularity of the opal stone, it is used in many forms of jewelry. This includes the opal bracelet, opal necklace, opal ring, and everything in between.

What about Synthetic Opals?

Synthetic opals are crafted in a laboratory and they contain the same physical and chemical properties are natural mined opals. So, to make a long story short, synthetic opals ARE real opals. And much like the alternative, synthetic opals are also available in several colors. Their two primary colors include white and black, with the white opal typically costing a bit more due to its more natural appearance. Moreover, synthetic opals can also be found in the crystal and fire varieties. Much like natural mined opals, synthetic opals are a considerably popular choice for all varieties of jewelry.

Natural vs Synthetic Opals - What’s The Difference?

Beginning with synthetic opals, they are naturally less expensive than natural opals. Synthetic opals are incredibly similar to natural opals as we mentioned earlier, containing the same chemical and physical properties. In turn, distinguishing between the two can be a challenge. While they are no more durable than natural mined opals, synthetic opals come in an endless array of colors, giving them the edge in terms of variety. Lastly, perhaps the biggest drawback of synthetic opals is their lack of any game of light–something that is admired in natural opals.

When it comes to the naturally mined opal stone, the first major benefit is its overall appearance. Because while they are beautiful and quite similar in the way they look, natural opals catch light in a way that exposes a splendid variety of unique colors and patterns. These colors occur because the light that enters the opal ultimately passes through the gaps in silica. Once the light passes through, it must bend to fit through. It is this bending effect that splits the light into different areas of the color spectrum.

Caring for Your Opal Jewelry

Whether your opal jewelry has monetary value or it just means a lot to you, it is a good idea to keep up with the proper maintenance and care to ensure it lasts a lifetime. Whether it be an opal wedding ring, an opal birthstone item, or something with an opal crystal, failing to care for your opals will not only reduce their beauty, but you also risk causing harm to the integrity of the jewelry. So, when going to clean your opal, keep in mind they are soft and should be handled with care. Second, remove the jewelry when participating in an activity that could scratch or damage it. Another thing to keep in mind is that very high temperatures or low humidity can cause irreparable damage and should be avoided whenever possible.

To clean your opal properly, you should opt for warm water, a mild detergent, and a cloth or soft toothbrush. Always avoid using bleach, chemicals, and cleaners, and be careful not to immerse them for long. Last but not least, don’t ever clean your opal jewelry in an ultrasonic cleaner–its intense vibrations could cause cracking or water penetration.


Do lab created opals require maintenance?

Much like its natural alternative, synthetic opals do require some maintenance and care. This means removing the jewelry before physical activities and cleaning it regularly.

Is a synthetic opal better than a real opal?

Whether a synthetic opal is better than a real one depends entirely on the person. A few things to keep in mind, however, are that synthetic opals are more flexible and softer to cut. Additionally, they can be set into various settings and styles. Last but not least, they are typically more affordable.

What is the best opal color?

The best opal color in terms of value is determined by several factors, including brightness. Ultimately, the brighter an opal the better, and orange and red are the rarer, most valuable opal colors.

Can you wear opal jewelry regularly?

The answer is a definitive yes. Opal jewelry is a timeless classic that can be paired with either a little black dress in the form of an ornate opal necklace or jeans and a t-shirt in the form of opal earrings. It is, however, more delicate than other gems, so make sure to take extra care.

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