04/02/13

 

Zanzibar offers our clients an excellent selection of Australian Light, Medium, and Boulder Opal Jewelry including Opal earrings, Opal pendants, and Opal bracelets at very affordable prices.

Please note:  as of June 2012, we are having difficulty sourcing natural opals and no longer carry Australian Opal Jewelry for the time being.


   What are opals?           Types of Opal Jewelry             Where our Opals come from  

           Caring for your opals          Where does Zanzibar buy our opal jewelry?  

Opals are notorious for not being easy to photograph, and these photos certainly don't do our AFFORDABLE yet excellent quality Opal Jewelry justice.  All the opals we sell are natural stones including both solid stone, natural and man made overlays and doublets.  We do not sell synthetic (lab created opals) or imitation opals.

Zanzibar offers precious natural opal pendants, earrings and bracelets.  100% of the opals we sell are NATURAL Australian Boulder Opals from Queensland, Australia and Solid Light Opals from the Coober Pedy mines in Central Australia with some Medium opals coming from Lightning Ridge, Australia.  An interesting note:  Coober Pedi is Aboriginal for "White man digging/standing in a hole".

Most of our jewelry are either natural or made made overlays or doublets - that is, they are 1-2mm thick slices of the finest natural opals backed with natural potch opal or ironstone (the same material opals are found in) and set into sterling silver by our talented craftsmen.  These overlays or doublets are usually clearer, brighter and show more flash, color and fire than solid opals do (and are considerably less expensive).  About 15% of the opals we sell are "natural doublets" or solid stones.

Zanzibar is proud to offer one of Sacramento's largest selections of Opal Jewelry.  We usually have DOZENS of earrings, pendants and other items to choose from in sterling silver with select pieces in 14-18k gold.

Prices start at just $20 and go to over $300, with an average price under $100!

What are Opals?

Opals have been cloaked in magic and mystery for centuries. They are set apart from other gemstones because of their characteristic appearance and vibrant rainbow of colors, which change and flash as you turn the gem in your hand or wear it.  

Opal can exhibit a full range of hues from the rainbow that appears as confetti-sized to large swatches of various colors that appear to float against either a light or dark background.   As the stone is moved, the colors change; different flashes of rainbow-like colors can be seen from different angles. This play-of-color is caused by the diffraction of light in the spherical crystal structure that is unique to Opals.  Opals will appear different in different lighting - honestly the very best fire is usually seen with indirect sunlight, however common indoor lighting including fluorescent and incandescent lighting also makes opals look amazing.  It is truly the "living gem".

Opal is the modern October birthstone and the accepted gem for the 13th wedding anniversary.

 

 

The word ‘opal’ comes from the Greek word opallos, meaning “to see changes of color”, although the Romans are said to have based their name opalus on the Sanskrit word for precious stone, upala. Millions of years ago, silica seeped into crevices and cracks of the earth’s sedimentary strata and through eons of time and through nature’s heating and molding processes, the silica hardened and can today be found in the form of brilliant precious opal. Sand, glass, quartz crystal and many other semi precious stones (such as amethyst and chalcedony) are also made up of silica.

Most opal is 50-65 million years old, dating back to the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Opal formed as silica from decomposing rocks mixed with ground water which formed a silica gel that collected and hardened in underground cavities and fissures.   Scientifically, opal is known as SiO2·nH2O

Opal is unique in that instead of the silica being arranged in organized crystals, opal consists of small silica spheres arranged in an organized pattern. Think of a jar of clear marbles.  The flash or fire is caused by the array of silica spheres diffracting white light, and breaking it up into the colors of the spectrum. Smaller spheres produced blue and green flashes, while larger spheres produce yellow, orange and red color. These spheres are not technically a solid, but are actually suspended in a gel-like semi-solid, thus opals contain four to ten percent water (and can contain up to 20%, however the larger the amount of water, the less stable the opal is).

All of the opal Jewelry that Zanzibar carries is Australian boulder opal from the mines of Queensland, Australia and Light Opals from Coober Pedy, Australia or Medium Dark Opals from Lightning Ridge, Australia. Coober Pedy is in central Australia, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement and is an inhospitable desert. The name Coober Pedy is actually Aboriginal for “White man standing in a hole/digging a hole.” We hand pick each piece of opal jewelry from a good friend who deals exclusively in opals and who hand picks each stone, matches and designs each one-of-a-kind piece and has it set into sterling silver.

Do we sell FIRE OPALS?

Here's the most common mistake made with opals:  Most people ask if we sell "FIRE OPALS" - and we do.  However, when we show them "FIRE OPALS", they are shocked to learn that "FIRE OPALS" are an orange-red non-flash type of opal from Mexico.   "Fire Opals" only come from Mexico (and are usually yellow, orange or red and have little or no flash), however all precious opals are often referred to as fire opals, especially if they have a significant amount of red color.  Technically, the FLASH of color that you see in an opal is called "FIRE", but true FIRE OPALS rarely have this!   So educate yourself and know that what you're looking for is precious opals with FIRE and not necessarily Fire opals!  There are several types of opals that we offer - see below for detailed descriptions. 

Types of Opals?

There are a wide range of opals found in many places on the planet.  Most opals are common opals (also called Potch) and lack the play of color, flash or fire that most people think of when they think "opal".  Precious opals primarily comes from Australia.  "Fire Opals" only come from Mexico (and are usually yellow, orange or red and have little or no flash), however all precious opals are often referred to as fire opals, especially if they have a significant amount of red color. 

In Australia, depending on where the opals are mined, opals have different names and different qualities.  There are black opals, boulder opals, light opals, medium opals, opalized fossils, synthetic (lab grown) opals, imitation opals (fakes usually made with glitter or foil in plastic or glass). 

For an extensive explanation of the different types of opals, click here

Zanzibar carries only precious opals.   At Zanzibar we carry both solid opals as well as opal overlays and doublets. Most opals sold today are overlays or doublets.  Opals formed when liquid silica seeped into cracks and crevices of various stones. Solid opal is just that, a solid piece of opal.  Often these solid or natural doublet stones (except in the very best, prohibitively expensive stones) have a cloudy appearance while the doublets are clear and have more flash, color and brilliance.

Solid Opal

Doublet Opal

Triplet Opal

A doublet or overlay is a 1-2mm thick slice of opal that has been cut to show off the maximum amount of color, flash and brilliance and has been attached to a natural ironstone back* (ironstone is the material that opals form within and are actually made from the same chemical composition as opals - so its opal material, just not precious opal - often this is called potch). The two pieces are fused together using an adhesive that if cared for properly will last many years. There are natural doublets as well (and we sell these, too!) Unlike solid opals, care should be taken to not submerge your doublet jewelry in water for extended periods of time or expose them to excessive heat.  Some jewelers leave the back open to save silver, showing the ironstone back while others enclose it. 

*Some cutters/jewelers attach the opal to a glass or plastic or other stone backing as well. 

A third type of opal setting available is called a triplet (Zanzibar does not sell these). To create a triplet, a micro-thin sheet of opal is sandwiched between a dark back (usually plastic) and a clear domed top of glass, crystal or plastic.  Triplets are less expensive and typically lower quality than doublets.  We do not sell triplets and honestly we can only recommend them for rings.

There are also opal mosaics - where small pieces of precious opals are cut and then put together in a jig-saw like pattern and glued or affixed to a backing.  Some are quite pretty, however they are usually much more delicate than a good overlay or doublet. 


Caring for your Opal Jewelry

Please consider your opal jewelry as fine jewelry. You should avoid exercising, strenuous activities or doing gardening wearing your jewelry and you should take care not to submerge it in water for extended periods of time or expose it to soaps, oils or cleaners.  Do not expose your opals to excessive heat (such as storing it in a hot car or in an attic) or rapid temperature changes.  Do not store opals in very dry conditions such as safety deposit boxes at a bank!   Don't worry - if you get your opal wet in the rain or from a quick cleaning - its only prolonged exposure to water that MAY cause harm to certain opals. 

Opal is considered a soft stone (about the same hardness as glass), however unless it is mistreated it should not chip or scratch. When storing, store your opals in a cool, dark place and do not store loose with other jewelry that might scratch it.  Other stones can scratch or even break opals, so be sure to store opals separately.  When storing opal jewelry, keep them in separate plastic or cloth bags.  When storing earrings, place each earring in its own bag, separated.  Do not store in safety deposit boxes or under very dry conditions.  If you live in the desert, its a good idea to put your opals in a plastic bag.  Some people put a slightly moistened piece of cotton or paper towel in the bag.  The opal won't absorb this water, however it could (?) keep the opal from losing water under very dry conditions.  MOST opals are very stable and won't lose moisture except under very harsh, dry conditions. 

NEVER use chemical cleaners, steam, sonic or mechanical cleaners, toothpaste or other compounds on your opal jewelry. To polish the silver (or gold), just use a soft cotton cloth free of polishing compounds.  We highly recommend IONIC cleaners (NOT SONIC!).  If you have a fair amount of silver jewelry, consider investing in one of these amazing cleaners!  Contrary to popular belief, you should NEVER apply any type of oil to your opals.

Opals have been around for millions of years.  There is a lot of misconceptions about opals and whether or not they can or will dry out.  There are two thoughts - that they are essentially impervious and will not dry out under normal conditions - and that they can dry out and or crack under extremely dry conditions.  Better to be safe than sorry, so we say be cautious.  Opals may sometimes dehydrate shortly after being mined, causing the surface of the stone to craze, which means to crack or developing webbing.  From our experience and that of the miners and our buyer, If the opal survives several months without crazing, it is likely to last.  Some opals have maintained their beauty for centuries. 

To help protect your opal, avoid high heat, direct sunlight, hot showcase lights, desert conditions, low humidity bank vaults (safety deposit boxes, for example), or other extremes. Rapid temperature changes can also affect your opal. Some experts believe opals may crack if subjected to very dry conditions or rapid changes in temperature.

Caring for overlays or doublets or triplets is a little different to caring for solid opals.  Because doublets and triplets consist of multiple layers glued together, prolonged exposure to water may eventually cause lifting between the layers and the infiltration of water.  DO NOT SUBMERGE YOUR OPAL JEWELRY INTO ANY LIQUID for a prolonged time.   A doublet or triplet MAY take on a 'foggy' or grey appearance if this happens. This does not mean your opal will be ruined if you wear it in the shower once, or are caught in the rain.  It usually takes prolonged exposure to cause water damage to a doublet or triplet.  Usually a quick dip in a non-corrosive cleaning solution or rinse won't harm an overlay or doublet.  We recommend using a soft polishing cloth WITHOUT polishing compound or if necessary, an IONIC cleaner (not sonic!). 

Solid opal should be cleaned gently with mild detergent in warm water and a soft toothbrush or cloth. Avoid bleach, chemicals and cleaners. Doublets & triplets may be wiped with a damp soft cloth and mild detergent, but should never be soaked or immersed.
 

Where does Zanzibar buy our opal jewelry?

Zanzibar owners Scott and Josh hand pick each piece of Australian opal jewelry that we sell.  We don't travel to Australia and hand pick the stones - we leave that to a good friend of ours who only deals in opals.  Our friend hand picks each stone, designs the jewelry, matching both opals and often other precious gemstones such as peridot, amethyst, garnet, ruby or blue topaz then has these set into sterling silver by talented silversmiths in Indonesia.  Most of the opals we sell are either Boulder Opals from Queensland, Australia or Light solid opals from the mines at Coober Pedy, Australia.

Scott and Josh carefully review thousands of unique, one-of-a-kind Australian opal jewelry pieces to select the few pieces we offer for sale.  We select pieces for their flash, color or "fire" as well as for their shape, complementary design and stones and price point.  We think you'll be very happy with our selection and quality of opal jewelry. 

To learn more about the places where our opals are mined, visit our page on Opals from Australia.

Ever wonder why opals are so expensive?  

Not all opals are expensive.  At Zanzibar we carry a wide range of colors, sizes and styles of opal jewelry with great flash and fire and a considerable amount of our jewelry is under $200!  So why are opals so expensive?

Well, precious opals are rare for one!  While opal bearing rock isn't necessarily uncommon, what most of us think of when someone says "opal" is actually precious opal.  Precious opal has the flash, fire and play of colors that people think of when they hear the word opal.  While common opal can be found in many locals, this opal is usually common opal or potch opal and it lacks any flash or color play.  There are exceptions, including the rare Peruvian opal and Mexican "fire" opal, however. 

About 95% of all opal mined from the opal fields is common or potch, that is opal that is basically one colored, i.e. white, grey, black, and is only suitable for backings for doublets or triplets.  Of the 5% that has some color or flash, about 95% is only of mediocre grade - therefore only approximately 0.25 per cent has any real value at all.  

Opals are usually found in remote, dry areas such as the mines at Coober Pedy, Australia as well as Queensland, Australia.  These environments are often inhospitable to humans and are often hundreds of miles from the nearest regular settlements.  To see where our opals are mined, visit our page on where Zanzibar's opals come from.

Certain opals, such as black opals are the most sought after and thus the most expensive.  Single stones in the tens of thousands of dollars is not uncommon.  Brilliance or luster is one of the primary factors that determines an opal's value.   An opal with strong intensity and color play adds more value.  Certain colors and size of the flash or arrangement of the colors also play a factor.

Even though most precious opals are found in Australia, few are actually cut in Australia.  Most raw opals are sent to gem cutting centers in Asian countries such as Hong Kong or Singapore to be cut.  When they are shipped BACK to Australia, the Australian government imposes an import duty on the cut stones.   Thus, sometimes opals are more expensive in Australia then they are in other countries (the U.S. for example does not have an import duty on fine jewelry). 

Opals are also notoriously difficult to cut and set.  While not overly fragile once they are set, a typical jeweler may chip seven out of ten (7/10) opal stones setting them.  Now think about that for a second.  If you want a nice pair of single opal stone earrings (a total of two stones) - a jeweler may have to damage beyond repair five or six other stones.  Our jewelers are very experienced and only chip usually two out of every ten stones.  Thus, you're not only paying for the stones that are in your jewelry, but all the stones that the jeweler damaged in making the jewelry, plus the time it took to set those stones.  Thus, the less stones damaged or chipped, the less expensive the seller can sell you the jewelry (and that's where our experienced jewelers come in!)

Depending on the rarity and current demand (supply vs. demand) of opals, prices do fluctuate.  Currently solid black opals are the most expensive and are very popular in China and Japan.  Individual stones can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Good quality solid white or light opals can be as expensive as black opals (more expensive than the rarest diamonds per carat) and yet most natural light opals are cut into doublets which are equal to or superior in color and flash to most black opals and can be very affordable.  Mexican and Brazilian "fire opals" as well as Peruvian opals are gaining in popularity.  Mexican and Brazilian fire opals can range in color from yellow to orange to deep red, however they usually lack the flash or fire that Australian precious opals contain.  Peruvian opal lacks any flash or fire and is known for its blue-green color shift within individual stones.  Small quantities of precious opal or fossilized opal (usually in the form of petrified wood) can be found in Nevada Oregon and Idaho, USA. 

Today, MOST of the opals we see set into jewelry is either synthetic (lab grown) or imitation opal.  Synthetic opal can be very pretty and yet is very affordable - and it is REAL opal, its just not natural.  It took a few months to grow in a lab versus millions of years in nature.  Zanzibar does not sell synthetic or imitation opal.  Zanzibar only sells authentic, natural opals.

What you pay for opal jewelry also depends on where you purchase it.  Trust who you purchase opals from and make sure they know something about the opals and where they come from.  At Zanzibar, we guarantee the quality and source and natural nature of our opal jewelry. 

We have earrings starting at only $20 and pendants starting around $42.  We obviously have an ever changing inventory so please visit our gallery for our current selection.  Keep in mind that a pendant might cost $50 but a matching pair of earrings with similar size stones will cost around $100 - because there are two stones and twice as much silver in a pair of earrings as there is in the single stone pendant.  Seems obvious, but many clients don't recognize this simple fact.  If you have ANY questions about opals, feel free to come in and talk to us or contact us!

Tips for buying opals

First rule of thumb:  Buy what you like and buy what you can afford.  Don't be caught up in buying for investment purposes - buy something you are going to wear! 

Trust is important in any relationship - especially when buying jewelry.  If you buy from someone off eBay or online, you're probably not going to get what you want - opals are notoriously difficult to photograph and its quite easy with a little photoshop skill to make a so-so opal look FANTASTIC. 

Selection is important.  Most jewelry stores only carry a very few opals - while at Zanzibar we often carry hundreds of pairs of earrings and dozens of pendants - set into sterling silver and 14k gold. 

Buy opals during the day.  What?  You heard me.  Don't go shopping at night.  Don't go to a mall.  Sure that opal looks great under the $100 halogen lights at the mall or your department store - but where will you be wearing your opals?  Under those lights?  Nope. 

Buy from someone who is willing to let you view the opals under various light conditions:  incandescent, fluorescent, halogen lighting, natural indirect sunlight, direct sunlight and various degrees of shaded sunlight.  What does that mean?  Walk the opals outside!  You'll be amazed how the same stone or piece of jewelry looks under different lighting conditions. 

Solid Black opals vs. overlays, natural and man-made doublets and triplets:  Price is a factor.  Solid, good opals with amazing flash and lots of colors are expensive.  Similar appearing opals that are natural or man made doublets or overlays can be very affordable.  Triplets usually aren't that great - and frankly we don't recommend them. 

Silver vs. Gold:  Most opals are set into Sterling Silver.  Why?  Well, most people prefer Silver vs. Gold.  That aside, also remember that Silver (as of early '08) is about $16 per ounce while gold is hovering around $900 per ounce.  What does that mean?  Well, the same pair of earrings in Sterling Silver that sells for $65 might sell in 14-18k gold for $400-$600. 

  

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Australian Opal Jewelry

 

We know many of you will miss us over the summer (historically our slowest sales months of the year) and we hope to see you once we re-open! 

 

 

 

 

This site was last updated 06/15/12