Tips For Buying Opal

For over 18 years Gray Reid Gallery has been sourcing the finest quality opals from around Australia for both tourists and local clients alike. From the rare Harlequin opal and black opal to the more affordable white opals.

In the past 3 years we have noticed, not only visitors to Australia, demanding the fine gem grade opal but we have seen a significant increase in Melbourne locals wanting a piece of this ‘Stone Of The Gods’. This fact was then further brought to our attention when we had our opal exhibition ‘The Art of Opal - Stone of The Gods Revealed’.

Something else we have noticed is that we are seeing, over and over again, people being misinformed about how to buy opal. Things such as what to look for in an opal, how opal is valued as well as human intervention and the longevity of the opal product. Unfortunately various shops in Melbourne (and all around Australia) do not seem to help clear the confusion and assisting customers make the right choice when purchasing an opal so we decided to do a blog on ‘How to Buy Opal’ and reference a few helpful websites

Firstly the types of opal – The GIA (Gemmological Institute of America) states that there are 5 main types of Natural opal.

"White or light opal: Translucent to semitranslucent, with play-of-color against a white or light gray background color, called bodycolor.

Black opal: Translucent to opaque, with play-of-color against a black or other dark background.

Fire opal: Transparent to translucent, with brown, yellow, orange, or red bodycolor. This material—which often doesn’t show play-of-color—is also known as “Mexican opal.”

Boulder opal: Translucent to opaque, with play-of-color against a light to dark background. Fragments of the surrounding rock, called matrix, become part of the finished gem.

Crystal or water opal: Transparent to semitransparent, with a clear background. This type shows exceptional play-of-color.”

This list does not include one of the most commonly seen opal in shops across Australia, the composite opal.

The National Opal Collection’s website describe these opals as follows

“The triplet:

Triplets and doublets are a combination of natural opals and artificial veneers.

A triplet opal is a thin veneer of precious light opal bonded to a black backing with a protective crystal dome glued to the top.

 The doublet:

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

A doublet opal is a layer of precious light opal bonded to a black backing, simulating black opal. Doublets are usually more expensive than triplets because more opal is used.”

There is also another type of composite known as mosaic opal. This is where tiny chips of opal are assembled and put together using the above process creating a mosaic effect.

Here are 3 of the most frequently asked questions we get asked about opal and what we would 

What do I look for when buying and opal? We would recommend going for a solid opal, matrix opal or boulder opal.

Why buy solid opal? Solid opal, matrix opal and boulder opal are all natural forms of opal and are un adulterated by humans. The absence of glue, added crystal (or plastic) and added backing means that you get an opal in all its natural glory.

Why are composite stones inferior? Composite stones are often considered to be inferior because over time due to heat, moisture and general life span of the glue holding these pieces together means that it will eventually break down so the life span of these often beautiful pieces is shorter to its solid natural counterpart.

Black opal, sapphire and emerald bracelet by Cartier Paris.  Image courtesy of

Black opal, sapphire and emerald bracelet by Cartier Paris.

Image courtesy of

Black opal is the most sought after type of opal and is predominantly mined in Lightening Ridge NSW. It is not opal with a purely black colour as some may think but rather a variety of opal with a dark or grey body colour. Black opal shows off a play of colour including darker reds, greens, purples and blues. These colours are accentuated by its darker body colour. A red play of colour is considered the most valuable.

We would recommend having a look at a few types of solid opal (black or white), matrix opal or boulder opal.

At Gray Reid Gallery we are able to source a wide range of opal of varying prices to show our clients so that the client gets something that is truly beautiful and suited to their individual needs. Anyone interested in purchasing an opal should make an appointment to come in and have a look over our collection.