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Know Your Stone: What is Ethiopian Opal?

opal engagement rings in rose gold with diamond wedding band set by La More Design Jewelry
A Brief History of Opals

Australia has been the main source of supply of precious opals worldwide for over a century, producing more than 95% of the world opal production. Today, the world opal market has changed due to the availability of Ethiopian opal. Though first discovered in the early 1990s, Ethiopian opals hadn't started to take off in the fine opal jewelry market until around 2008 due to a major opal discovery in the Wollo Province of Ethiopia. Sometimes called "Welo Opals," these opals have translucent to transparent body colors with vivid play-of-color in a variety of patterns. This unique type of opal is rapidly trending with millennial brides-to-be due to its one-of-a-kind look and reasonable and affordable price.

At La More Design, our opal rings are made with natural, solid opals from the Wollo province of Ethiopia!

opal engagement rings in rose gold by la more design jewelryRings shown in the image above are our Luna Halo Opal Ring, Grace Solitaire Opal Ring and Vintage Floral Oval Opal Ring in rose gold (from top to bottom)

Natural Properties of Ethiopian Opal

"Specific gravity" is the term used to express the relative density of a gemstone. A 1-carat stone with higher specific gravity will appear smaller than a 1-carat stone with lower specific gravity. Opals typically have a lower specific gravity than other gemstones due to their porosity, resulting in a lighter weight stone for the same stone size. For example, a 9x7mm oval shaped Ethiopian opal is approx. weighed around 0.90 ~ 1.00 carat (depending on the cutting) while a 9x7mm oval shaped diamond is approx. weighed around 1.60 ~ 1.80 carats. To conclude, an opal stone and another gemstone of the same stone size will not always weight the same due to their respective specific gravities. 

Due to their porosity, most Ethiopian opals are considered "hydrophane opals." The word "hydrophane" has Greek roots that mean "water-loving," meaning naturally adsorbent of water or liquids. Hydrophane opals have the ability to absorb water or liquids, similar to a sponge, resulting in a change of color that may turn the opal translucent yellow or brown and the play-of-color to disappear temporarily. Don't panic though! The color will return once the opal is fully and naturally air-dried. 

The below images show you how water can take away the beautiful color of Ethiopian opal and how the color can be restored once it is fully air-dried:

demonstration of how Ethiopian opal changes color

Image 1: Beautiful natural Ethiopian Opals with amazing play-of-color before they are soaked in water.

Image 2: We soaked the opals in Image 1 in a glass of water for 8 hours.

Image 3: After 8 hours, we took them out. As you can see, the play-of-color is gone and the body color has turned into a light brown-ish green similar to a clear transparent crystal!

Image 4: The magic in restoring the opal's color is to let them fully dry naturally (air dry) *.

* DO NOT try to speed up the drying process with a hair dryer or under hot sunlight, as opals do not like extreme changes in temperature. The extreme change in temperature may cause opals to crack. 

Special Care Info for Your Ethiopian Opal Ring

Now that you know more about the natural characteristics of Ethiopian opals, it is essential you know how to take good care of your Ethiopian opal ring!

(1). Keep Your Ethiopian Opal Ring Dry (Key: away from water and liquids):

This is the most  important thing to keep in mind when taking care of your Ethiopian opal jewelry (especially opal rings). Remove your opal ring when washing your hands, cleaning dishes, taking a shower, relaxing in hot tubs or Jacuzzis or going swimming. Any activity or setting that involves water or liquid, please keep away from your opal ring!

As you can see from the images above, if your opal ring gets wet from water and the fire and color of the opal are gone, don't panic. Immediately use a soft microfiber cloth to dry the surface of the opal and simply let your opal ring dry naturally for about 24 hours. The drying process may take a few minutes to weeks, depending on how much water the opal has absorbed. In our demonstration, the opals were soaked in water for 8 hours and it took more than 24 hours to restore the play-of-color. Please avoid using a hair dryer to speed up the drying process.

Also never clean your opal jewelry by soaking it in a bowl of water with soap or house cleaners or by placing them in an ultrasonic cleaner or steamer! Remember, Ethiopian opals do not like water! Instead, clean your opal jewelry with a dry and clean soft cloth to gently remove dirt and buildup.

(2). Avoid Liquid Chemicals on Your Ethiopian Opal Ring

As seen in the images above, the play-of-color will restore if the opal is contacted with plain water. However, liquids or oils like soap, shampoo, body oils, hand sanitizer, perfumes, hairspray, house cleaners, or any chemical liquids can stain the opal permanently ! Please remove your opal jewelry before doing any activity involving these chemical liquids or oils.

(3). Avoid Heavy Physical Activities When Wearing Your Opal Ring

On the Moh's Scale of Hardness which rates gemstones' ability to resist scratching from 1-10, opals rate 5.5 to 6.5, putting them below Amethyst ranked at 7 but above pearls ranked at 3.5. Therefore, please remove your opal ring when doing any heavy physical activities such as weightlifting, exercise, housekeeping, or gardening. When you are not wearing your opal jewelry, we recommend storing it individually in soft cloth jewelry pouches or sealed plastic bags to prevent tarnishing and scratches.

opal ring bridal set in rose gold vintage floral diamond ring setting by la more design

Ethiopian opals are truly one-of-a-kind yet delicate natural gemstones, but with a proper care your opal jewelry should be in beautiful condition for years to come. 

Read more Blog Posts to discover the latest jewelry trends, product launches, and more!