Opals in Australia

This item appears on page 51 of the October 2010 issue.

In the letter from Nanci Scheithauer titled “Opals vs. Triplets” (Aug. ’10, pg. 25), regarding her dissatisfaction with a purchase of opals in Australia, it appears there was a problem of language.

While not an expert, I have studied gemology and purchased precious and semiprecious stones all over the world for more than 40 years. I can’t say anything for certain without knowing the color and size of the stones that Nanci purchased, but I suspect she actually got a good deal.

I have not priced loose opals for some years, but the set opals I saw in Australia in February-March ’10 were very pricey. Still, all the shops in which I looked, even the “discount” shops, were very up front about indicating which ones were solid, doublets, triplets or boulders. (A doublet is a thin slice of opal that has been attached to another piece of stone. A boulder opal is an opal within a rock.)

I suspect the problem arose when Nanci used the term “pure” when she meant “solid.” The opals she bought are probably pure, in that they had not been adulterated in any way (by heat or dying, for example, as is done with some other stones), but she wanted solid opals.

Australia produces more than 90% of the opals in the world, and wherever they are sold in the world the terms used are the same. The price is commensurate with the kind of stone, with solid being the most expensive and a doublet, triplet and boulder each less expensive.

Opals are classified according to color, as well — white, black, fire, blue, etc. — which affects the price. It is possible that the stones of the size and color that Nanci bought would have cost 10 times what she paid if they were solid stones.

The letter and its headline in ITN imply that a triplet is not an opal, but it is. It simply is not a solid opal.

A telltale sign — with loose stones, all doublets, triplets and boulders that I have seen were obviously not solid opals because the back of each was not the same as the front.

As with all purchases contemplated to be made abroad, a little homework before departure would save a lot of grief.


Contributing Editor, ITN