Opal Types

Blacks, Whites, Crystals, Pictures...

Black opals are perhaps the most famous type of opals. However, opal is a versatile gemstone that comes in many forms. On this page we introduce those types of Australian opals that we cut.

Opal types

Precious black opal consists of a layer of colourful precious opal on black potch opal.

Crystal opals are transparent opals with colour an and/or in the stone.

White opals have a lovely white or very light body tone.

Precious dark opal consists of a layer of colourful precious opal on dark grey potch opal.

In picture opals the colourful opal is mixed with potch, forming pictures and patterns.

Precious Black Opals

The base colour of black opals are, as their name suggests, black or very dark grey. However, that doesn’t mean that the stone is totally black. In fact, an opal that is just black is worthless. Precious Black opal consists of a layer of precious opal (i.e. opal that has play-of-colour) on a very dark grey to black potch opal. The gemstone is still entirely opal and has formed naturally as a single solid piece. The dark base makes the colours on the black opal glow and really stand out.

In general black opals are the most valuable of all opals and found almost exclusively from
Lightning Ridge Australia. Some limited production also comes from Mintabie and Allan’s Rise in South Australia. The prices of black opals vary from approximately 100 euros to tens of thousands of euros per carat.

A body tone scale has been developed to grade the black opals. Only opals that have the body tone of N1 to N4 can be called black opals. The body tone is determined by holding the stone face up on the scale and compairing its overall body tone to the shades on the scale.

The body tone, however, is only one factor that influences the value of a black opal.  It must be noted as well that the body tone scale as a valuation tool only applies to black and dark opals. White opals and their body tone should be graded differently. Being on the other end of the scale doesn’t mean white opal is lower quality than black opal.

Body tone N1 black opal
Extremely rare harlequin pattern black opal
A ring with a black opal
Opaalikoru, Tiffany, 1929
L.C. Tiffany opal necklace from 1929. Large black opal from Lightning Ridge set in yellow gold.

Dark opals, sometimes called as semi-black opals, are formed in the same way than black opals, with a layer of precious opal over grey colourless potch opal. The body tone of dark opals is either N5 or N6 on the body tone scale.

Often dark opals are more affordable than black opals. However, the body tone is only one factor affecting the pricing of a stone and the over all aesthetics and quality of the stone is what determines the price.

Tumma opaali Lightning Ridgestä
Gem grade dark opal with N6 body tone

White Opals

The best white opals mainly come from the Coober Pedy mining area in Southern Australia. The colours, pattern and the play of colour on a white opal can be just as amazing as on black and dark opals.

On white and light opals the colour can be over a light base opal, similarly to black and dark opals, or the stone can be entirely formed of white opal that is full of colour, often called as white crystal opal.

The sophisticated elegant beauty of white opals suits especially well to Scandinavian and European taste. White opals are also often larger than black opals and therefore they offer more options for necklaces, pendants and bracelets. Large white opals are often also significantly more affordable than black opals in the same size range.

Coober Pedy White Crystal Opal
White crystal opal - Coober Pedy Australia
Coober Pedy jalokivi opaaliraakakiveä
Rough white opal from Coober Pedy, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Michigan, USA
Valkoisia opalisoituneita simpukkafossiileita Coober Pedysta
Opalized Cyrenopsis fossil bivalves from Coober Pedy
Koru valkoisilla opaaleilla ja siperian ametisteilla
René Jules Lalique Necklace, c. 1895-1905, gold, enamel, Australian opal, Siberian amethysts

Crystal Opals

Unline most black, dark and white opals, crystal opals are transparent. They can be as clear as glass or opaque, with or without a body tone. The body tone of a crystal opal can vary from white to black. Black crystal opals are very rare and sought after.

Crystal opals are definitely one of our favourites due to their versatility. The colour in crysta opals can be on top of the stone and/or embedded deep into the stone, creating layered vivid colour play. Often on crystal opals the colour play is lively and attractive. In static photographs this play of colour don’t show and therefore photographs often don’t do justice to crystal opals. The photo and video of a same stone below demonstrates this well. In our shop we always provide a video of a stone to present it as well and accurately as possible.

Crystal opals can often be cut to be double sided, so that the stone can be set both ways or to an open setting where the stone is visible on both sides.

Setting and background of a crystal opal can have a big effect on the aesthetics of the stone. Therefore, special care should be taken when choosing settings for crystal opals. Often crystal opals look lighter live than on pictures. Skin is often a very appealing background for them. If the stone has sand or other inclusions on the background it’s advisable to set it on a solid, non transparent, background.

Pictures don’t always do justice to opals. The play of colour only shows when the stone is moved. When the stone is worn on a piece of jewellery, it’s constantly moving and the colour play on the opal really gets to show itself.

Below, a picture and a video of the same opal are shown side by side. This example shows how little a picture alone tells about an opal. On the video the lovely rolling colour displays itself. One can just imagine how this stone would look in a ring.

Picture Opals

In picture opals, the colourful precious opal is mixed with the colourless potch opal, forming pictures and patterns. Picture opals can be very attractive and interesting stones that leave room for imagination.

Picture opals are usually significantly lower priced than the other solid opals as the colourful precious opal doesn’t cover the whole stone. On the other hand, it makes these stones especially interesting.