How do you know if an Opal is Real?

A word of advice from us as a reputable natural opal seller in the industry; always buy from a trusted, well known seller! We have seen people buy opals before and been ‘duped’ of large sums of money buying fake, synthetic opal that they believed was the real deal! The trust is, the market is flooded with fake, synthetic opal and the sellers of these types of opals often target ‘tourists’ with no prior knowledge of Australia’s national gemstone. It is okay for a seller to sell fake opal, providing that the seller says that it is synthetic, however some sellers are very dishonest and will try to trick people into buying something that they believe is real. So how do you tell if an opal is fake or the real deal?

To an inexperienced buyer, it may be easy to trust what someone is telling you as fact. That being that an opal is real when it is actually made of resin. When you don’t know much about opal, it is easy to fall into the trap of the beauty of arrays of colours that are found in synthetic opals. For an experienced buyer or someone who deals with opals a lot, it is quiet obvious when an opal is synthetic apposed to being real. Synthetic opals colours do look quiet unnatural in comparison to a genuine opal. They also do not usually contain any sort of imperfections, whereas a natural opal usually does; being mined from the ground its very hard to find an opal without some sort of minor imperfection. Also look at the back of the opal – often the potch has different shades of grey/black. Small sand spots or gypsum may also be present on the back of a lot of natural opals. If an opal looks ‘too perfect’ then there is a high chance it is man made!

synthetic opals

Examples of Fake / Synthetic / Gilson Opal

Synthetic Opal, also known as ‘Gilson Opal’, can also feel unnatural. It may feel a little bit too smooth. Also a plastic type feeling with a little less weight than you expect. You may also see tubular colors stacked within the opal in synthetic opals. If you are unsure when purchasing an opal; get a professionals opinion (ie an experienced gemologist or jeweler to look at the opal).

It is also important for buyers to recognise treated opals. Whilst treated opals are naturally mined, the color and brightness can be enhanced by a variety of different treatments applied to the opal. Two common types of treated opals in Australia are Fairy Opal – this is sandstone based boulder opal from Queensland (most common around Opalton). These are often boiled in sugar or oil to enhance the colours, and a lacquer is applied to make cheap pendants. Andamooka Opals are often treated in the same way. Other treatments include the smoking of Ethiopian Welo Opals to appear black, and other treatments do exist to Mexican, Indonesian and other opals from other regions of the World.

Be aware; it is against the law to sell any treated or synthetic opals without informing the buyer. One of the first things an opal buyer should do is to learn the difference between types of opals, and the difference between natural, treated and synthetic opals. If you are unsure if an opal is fake or real, or have any doubts… we recommend to not buy until you have it checked out by someone with knowledge of opals.

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