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How to Buy Opals - a guide to purchasing opals

FAQ : What to look for in an opal - What is a doublet? What is a triplet? How do I buy opals? What are the different types of opals? How can I get value for money when I'm buying an opal?

If you're not an expert, buying an opal can be a very daunting task. To help you out, we've put together this little guide, which will hopefully help you make the right choice for your needs.

Educate Yourself

Read as much as you can about opals so you know what you're getting. One of the missions of our website is to provide as much information as possible about opals so our customers can educate themselves until they feel satisfied.

Before buying, determine whether you are looking at a doublet, a triplet, or a solid opal. Doublets & triplets consist of a very thin slice of opal, cemented onto a black backing. This causes the stone to be dark & bright in colour (the idea being to replicate the highly valuable black opal). The advantage of buying a doublet or triplet is a lower price (they are much cheaper to produce) - however the disadvantage is they may eventually be destroyed if repeatedly immersed in water. Solid opals are therefore considered much better - they're 100% the "real thing" and are a quality, long-term investment.

Types of opal

Black opals, boulder opals, white opals and crystal opals - these are all different types of opals, the difference being that they are found in different parts of Australia, and each have very different appearances.

In summary;

  • Black opals are the 'Rolls Royce' of opals, and often have a certain price attachment associated with their status and rarity. Black opals are generally considered to be the best in the world due to their dark body tone.
  • Boulder opals are the much lesser known cousin of the black opal, but they can have equally stunning colour. The opal forms in thin veins on an ironstone backing (hence the dark colour), therefore the price is generally much less per carat due to the ironstone content of the stone. Be wary of people selling boulder opal at a price 'per carat', leaving a heavy ironstone back on the stone. This is a sneaky way of boosting the price of the stone. Boulder opals are the most 'hardy' of all opals due to their very hard ironstone backing.
  • White opals have a 'milky' white body tone, and are much more common. The white body tone often causes the colour to be less bright, however by the same token, high quality white opals can be captivating.
  • Crystal opals - this is any type of opal with a translucent / transparent quality. This quality can add value to a stone when combined with good colour.

Selecting an opal

Pick a stone that appeals to you! Each stone has an individual personality, much like people, so nobody can tell you what your opal should look like. Red on black is most valuable, but if you like blue, go for a blue stone!

Consider what you're going to be using the stone for. Shape and size is an important factor when considering the setting for jewellery. If you are buying a high quality stone, consider matching it with a high quality setting. 

Consider the brilliance - A brilliant stone is good, no matter the colour or body tone, but you'll pay more. Stones classed as 'bright' are still beautiful, and even subdued stones can still be amazing.

Colour values - red is the most valuable, followed by orange, yellow, green, and then blue being the most common. 

Certificates of Authenticity - always ask for a signed certificate of authenticity with your opal. Not only is it good for insurance purposes, and re-sale value, you are also making the dealer accountable. 

Learn how opals are valued - read our article on how opal is valued. Educate yourself on the general principles of opal valuation and compare stones. There is no 'formula' for figuring out the value of a stone, although people have tried and are still trying to formalise this process. There is no substitute for years of experience mining, cutting, and valuing stones. Buy from someone who has a good reputation, preferably someone who cuts or mines the stones themselves.

Cracks and faults - Any opal vendor worth their salt will clearly state any inclusions or faults within a stone which are visible to the naked eye. Natural inclusions and faults are OK, but don't buy a stone with cracks. If you are inspecting the stone in person, make sure it's dry, then hold it up against a lamp to inspect it for cracks. Be careful not to mistake natural formation lines in opal for cracks (eventually you will be able to tell the difference). A cracked stone is virtually worthless. The person you are buying the stone from has an obligation to make you aware of any cracks or faults in the stone before you purchase it.

 

GST & prices - GST (Goods and Services Tax) is a value-added tax of 10% added on most goods and services transactions in Australia. Prices on our website are shown in both inclusive and exclusive GST prices. If you are an overseas customer, you do not need to pay this tax. Exported goods are tax-free and not subject to Australia's GST. Opals Down Under passes this benefit onto our international customers and internet purchases shipped overseas are accordingly tax-free. Customers who reside in Australia however will be charged this tax at the rate of ten per cent. Please select the correct tax bracket when submitting your order.

 

Buying opals over the internet - it's understandable that some people will be concerned about doing business over the internet. Here are some of the questions we've received over the years:

  • How can I be sure I'm getting what I see in the photos?

Good question. Opal photography is by no means an exact science, and everybody has a different method, camera, conditions, and experience when it comes to photographing opals. Irresponsible sellers looking to make a quick buck can easily enhance their pictures to make the stones look better, so you need to trust who you're dealing with.

In our experience, there's no way we can 100% accurately portray the beauty of a natural Australian opal on a computer screen, but we think we get pretty close. Each item has several photos and a short video to give you the best possible idea of what you are buying. We are obsessive about taking photos which accurately represent our stones, and take our photography very seriously. If we tried to rip people off, we'd have been out of business many years ago. As a safety net for you, we provide a 100% money back guarantee - if the opal arrives and you're not happy for any reason, just send it back for a full refund. End of story. You have complete protection from receiving a product which does not meet your expectations.

  • Do I really want to give my credit card details to someone I have never met?

Truth be known, there will always be a certain amount of trust required for conducting business over the internet. We continue to build on our forty-five year reputation in the opal industry by doing business the only way we know how - openly & honestly. Our integrity also has the right technology to back it up - all credit card details are processed through a secure, high-level encrypted SSL server. Your credit card details are not transmitted via email, and kept highly confidential. 

I hope this guide has been of some use to you. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.