Opal Vs. Opalite: Differences and Properties

Gemstones play an important role in the jewelry industry as they help enhance the beauty of some gorgeous jewelry items. Sometimes it can get hard to differentiate between each stone, and this is especially the case with opal and opalite. Their names sound similar and have similar use and appearance, meaning it’s easy to mistake them for each other.

What is Opal?

Opal Vs Opalite

Opal is a form of silicon dioxide, the same chemical formula as quartz. However, opal is unique because it’s highly hydrated, with its water content forming between 3 to 21% of the stone’s weight. Opal’s higher water content makes it a softer and more brittle stone than quartz. 

Opal is deposited at a relatively low temperature and may occur in the fissures of almost any kind of rock. The chemical makeup of the stone makes gemologists define it as an amorphous mineraloid stone, meaning that it has no defined crystal structure. 

Whereas a stone like quartz has a specific crystal shape, this stone is just scattered, and there’s no real pattern to the internal part of the stone. This scattered nature causes the color play that you see in beautiful opals. The light will enter the stone and reflect off the random particles inside, re-emitting the wonderful colors you see.

Opal can be transparent, translucent, or opaque depending on the circumstances under which it developed. White, black, or practically any other color in the visual spectrum can end up being the background color. Opals come in several colors, with black being the rarest and most valuable; white, gray, and green opals are the most prevalent.

The primary sources of opal are Australia and Ethiopia. However, finding out which of the two countries tops the market has been tricky because of accounts of extraction that contradict each other. Also, the different units of measurement make it hard to compare the output from both countries.

What is Opalite?

People use the term “opalite” to refer to two different things – common opal or man-made materials that look like opal. So an opal can be Opalite.

Natural Opalite (Common Opal)

Natural opalite is also known as common opal, a type of natural opal that doesn’t exhibit a play of color. As early as 1945, geology and gemology glossaries defined opalite as a common opal. This came before marketers used the term “opalite” to describe opal lookalikes.

Common opal is– as the name suggests– common, and can geologists have found them in many parts of the world. Most of it is a substance that ranges from white to yellow to brown and is typically not used to make gems. Some natural common opal specimens have gorgeous colors, accept a bright polish, and can be cut into extremely sought-after gems.

For ordinary opal to be used as a gem material, play-of-color is unnecessary. Some translucent common opal specimens have the color and purity to merit jewelers cutting them into faceted gems.

Man-Made Opalite

When most jewelers use the term “opalite,” they aren’t talking about common opal. Instead, what they have in mind are the artificial imitations and simulants of opal. Some jewelers correctly label them as “imitation opal” or “opal simulant.”

Opalite is a term used to describe various synthetic materials, including plastic-impregnated resins and glasses with a real play of color. They only resemble natural opal in appearance; they do not share its chemical makeup or physical characteristics.

How To Differentiate Opal And Opalite

As long as they are not advertised to consumers as genuine opal, manufactured opal imitations are acceptable goods. Any seller who makes no effort to make any disclosures is deceptive or fraudulent. You might run into some of them while trying to buy opal jewelry. Below are some ways you can differentiate between opal and opalite.

1. Check For Air Bubbles

Because most opalite is made from glass, you will occasionally see air bubbles in the stone, resulting from the formation process. Even opalites made from plastic aren’t immune to these bubbles too. You might need to use a magnifying lens on smaller stones to see the bubbles; natural opal doesn’t have these air bubbles.

2. Check The Refractive Index

The refractive index of a gemstone measures how light rays bend when passing through the stone. The refractive index of natural opal is usually between 1.37 and 1.47. The high resin concentration in opalite makes its refractive index different from natural opal. 

You can check the refractive index of a gemstone using a refractometer; you can get one like this at affordable prices. If the refractive index of your stone is wide off the mark, it’s most likely an opalite. 

3. Check The Stone Density

Most opalites tend to have a lower density than natural opal; this results from the high resin concentration. The density of natural opal is 2.09 g/cm3, and you can check the density of your stone using a water container that measures in milliliters and a scale that measures in grams. When you have the needed instruments, follow the steps below:

Step 1– Place the stone on a scale and record its weight.
Step 2– Record the quantity of water in your container at the start of the test.
Step 3– Place the stone into the water container carefully to avoid spillage and record the new quantity when the water settles.
Step 4– Subtract the original water quantity from the new measurement. 
Step 5– Divide the weight of the stone by the result you got above; the result you get is the density of the stone.

The formula for measuring the density is, therefore = Stone weight / (Quantity of water after – Quantity of water before). If the result is 2.09 g/cm3, your stone is likely natural opal, and anything else is opalite.

4. Leave it to The Experts

Common opal, imitation opal, and synthetic opal can all be distinguished by an expert gemologist or a gem identification lab. These renowned gem identification labs have highly-qualified gemologists and high-precision tools than a layman. The Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Society are two of the most popular in the United States.

Is Opalite A Real Gemstone?

The answer depends on what you mean by “opalite.” Some types of common opal are considered gemstones without having play-of-color. 

While most common opals do not qualify as gemstones, no sincere jeweler would ever call an artificial opalite a gemstone. Even if the stone has a play-of-color that rivals natural opal, it’s still only an imitation and isn’t as valuable.

Opal Vs Opalite Price

Most opalite is made from cheap materials like glass and plastic, so it isn’t shocking to find that you can see some as cheap as $3 per carat. Most of them aren’t measured in carats. They are sold as individual pieces that use conventional units like centimeters to measure them. 

On the other hand, opal is more valuable, which is determined by the scarcity and beauty of the type of opal. The most valuable type of opal is the black opal which is found only in Australia and can cost as much as $10,000 per carat. However, common opals like blue and pink can be as cheap as $7 per carat.

Color of OpalPrice
Blackstart from $60 per carat
(occasionally reach $6,000 -10,000 per carat for truly exceptional stones)
White$10 – 150 per carat
Fire$40 – 500 per carat
Blue$7 – 300 per carat
*it’s not a yellow color opal, it is a form of occurrence
For example, a sample 86 x 76 x 53mm, 1000 carats cost $15,000
The price for the sample can reach up to $500,000.
Red$10 – 200 per carat
Rainbo$10 – 1,000 per carat
Pink $7 – 300 per carat
Green$10 – 200 per carat
Source: How To Find Rocks

Read More: 5 Ways To Identify Raw Opal

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