Opals have long been treasured for their captivating play of colors and ethereal beauty. However, not all that glitters is naturally occurring. The world of gemstones offers a plethora of options, including opalite and opal, two gems often mistaken for one another due to their shimmering appearances and similar names. While they may share a resemblance, they are fundamentally different in terms of origin, composition, and properties.
Opal: A Natural Marvel
Opal, known for its mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic colors, is a mineraloid composed of hydrated silica. What sets opal apart is its unique internal structure, which consists of microscopic spheres or layers that diffract light. This diffraction of light creates the iridescent play of colors, or “fire,” that opal is renowned for. The colors within opal can range from a spectral display of reds, blues, and greens to a gentle play of pastel hues.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of opal is its formation. Natural opal is created over millions of years through a process involving water and silica. It often occurs in fissures or cavities within rocks, where silica-rich water infiltrates and slowly deposits silica spheres. This delicate process gives each opal its unique pattern and colors, making it a truly one-of-a-kind gemstone.
Opals come in various types, including precious opal and common opal. Precious opal displays the remarkable play of colors, while common opal lacks this phenomenon and is more commonly milky or translucent. Some famous types of opals include black opal, white opal, and boulder opal, each with its distinct characteristics and value in the world of gemstones.
Opalite: A Man-Made Imitation
Opalite, in contrast, is not a natural gemstone but rather a synthetic creation. It is a type of glass that is often used as a substitute for natural opal due to its resemblance to the genuine article. Opalite exhibits a milky, opalescent sheen, which is the source of its name and its likeness to opal.
The manufacturing process of opalite involves combining various minerals, including dolomite, quartz, and metal to create a glass-like material with a bluish or milky appearance. To enhance its opalescence, opalite is often treated with metal coatings or dyes. This artificial method of production allows for more consistency in appearance compared to natural opal.
One of the significant differences between opalite and opal is their composition. While opal is composed of silica with a unique internal structure, opalite is primarily composed of glass, making it less durable and more susceptible to scratching. Genuine opal is a relatively soft gemstone on the Mohs scale, but opalite is even softer, making it less suitable for everyday jewelry.
Value and Rarity
The differences between opalite and opal extend to their value and rarity. Natural opals, particularly those with high-quality play of colors, can be extremely valuable and sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. Their scarcity, unique beauty, and history of being regarded as a precious gem contribute to their high worth.
On the other hand, opalite, being a man-made imitation, is generally less valuable than natural opal. It is often used in costume jewelry and decorative pieces due to its affordability and consistent appearance. While opalite may capture some of the visual allure of opal, it lacks the intrinsic value and rarity associated with the natural gemstone.
In conclusion, opalite and opal, despite their visual similarities, are worlds apart in terms of their origin, composition, properties, and value. Opal is a natural wonder, formed over eons with a unique internal structure that creates its mesmerizing play of colors. In contrast, opalite is a synthetic glass, manufactured to mimic opal’s appearance but lacking its natural beauty and rarity. When choosing between the two, it’s essential to consider your preferences and budget, as well as your appreciation for the genuine beauty of natural opal or the affordability of opalite’s imitation charm.