What is Synthetic Opal?

What is Synthetic Opal? | Seda Gems

To understand what synthetic Opal is, one would need a rudimentary grasp of what exactly naturally occurring Opal is. Natural Opal is a mineraloid that occurs in nature in an amorphous fashion and it contains exuberant colors of various shades and hues.  The term “amorphous” simply means that this solid, contrary to crystal, isn’t arranged in a lattice-like pattern, causing light to interact with it in an unusual way due to the regularly occurring layers of minute spheres.  Nevertheless, Opals are astounding in their breath-taking brilliance, as if someone captured the primal element of fire, in all its entirety, in a bottle.

Microphotograph-of-the-opal-surface synthetic opal
Microphotograph Of A Natural Opal

 

As you can see, Opals can be found in many different colors, again due to their amorphous nature and the way light reflects and refracts whilst contacting them. There are endless types of Opals each with their own unique characteristics. Even with this amorphous nature, scientists have found order in the chaos of Opals on an anatomical level, thus enabling humanity to replicate these beautiful gems synthetically, enter “synthetic Opal”.

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Synthetic Opal

Synthetic Opals are exact replicas of natural Opals. They poses the same chemical structure, the same amorphous structure and the same gemological properties as natural Opals. There is an important difference between a synthetic Opal and an imitation Opal. While synthetic Opals are replicas, imitation Opals are items that mimic the look of an Opal. Some example of imitation Opals include slokum stone which is glass made of tiny filaments inside.

Synthetic Opal - Imitation opal - Slocum Stone
Slocum Stone – This is an imitation Opal (Source Pinfire – Gems & Colloids)

Gilson Opal – The Most Famous Synthetic Opal

“Gilson Opals”, named in regards to Pierre Wilson, the man credited with their invention, are primarily manufactured in the Far East, Japan, to be more exact.  The only difference these synthesised Opals have from their naturally occurring counter-part is that they, for lack of a better phrase, are more common, more normalised, so to speak.  Not as appealing as organic Opal in the eyes of the gem connoisseurs of the world, are still a far cry from the baser “imitation Opal” that is also coined “Gilson Opal”.

Synthetic Opal - Gilson Opal

Monarch Opal – The Newest Synthetic Opal

Monarch Opal is a relatively new synthetic Opal that shows some very interesting patterns. They are famous for their black inclusion lines and this is one of the biggest giveaways that the stone is not natural.

Synthetic Opal - Monarch Opal

Comparison Of Opals

It can be difficult to tell the difference between natural and synthetic Opals but here are some tips to look for –

  • Look for columns of colour on the side of the Opal. This is an indication of synthetic Opal
  • Does the pattern look blocky and semi uniform? This is a good indication of synthetic Opal
  • Does the back of the stone have sand? If it does this is a very strong indication that it is a natural Opal.

When appraised, synthetic Opals aren’t found nearly as valuable as organic Opals and many articles of jewelry tout “natural Opal”, when in fact, it is synthetic Opal. Some gemstone labs will even report that these stones are natural because of their lack of knowledge with Opals.

One should pay careful attention when purchasing “organic Opal”, so as to avoid the over-priced purchase of a “fake”.  Even a triplet or doublet Opal will not be considered “organic”, but aren’t necessarily fake, due to their containing a combination of both real and synthetic material. As you can see, it could be difficult to differentiate between an organic and a synthetic Opal, but with the proper application of knowledge, one can prepare themselves.  Synthetic Opals though not naturally occurring Opals are still amazing gemstones, only in a more frugal and cost-effective package.

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