The world of opals is quite diverse and if you have recently stumbled upon it, you would be surprised by the stunning array of options to choose from.
However, it may seem daunting to someone who is new to this. One of the most common reasons for this confusion is the fact that each stone is unique, and it simply means that there are a number of reasons for the differences found in this precious stone.
There are several aspects that you need to take into account, like the color, body tone, pattern, origin, and brightness. In addition to this, there are natural and synthetic varieties that you need to be aware of.
Among the different types of opals, there are man-made doublets, natural solid opals, man-made triplets, and synthetic opals.
The synthetics are quite fascinating and to be able to select the best one, you must know important details about them.
However, you may be wondering whether these can be a great replacement for natural ones? Or are they truly equally worthy as the natural gems? This guide is all about synthetic opals and how you can pick out the good ones.
Getting to Know Synthetic Better
Well, simply put, this is opal that has been made in a laboratory. It usually has similar physical and chemical properties as the mined or naturally found opal.
This carefully created and synthetically made kind is quite hard to differentiate from the natural one, especially if you have very little experience with them.
You need to understand that manufactured versions of this stone have bright and strong colors that may make them appear alluring but regardless, they cannot replace naturally mined ones.
However, synthetics are a worthy investment too and they can be purchased at a much affordable rate than natural ones.
With the synthetic options, you would have many varieties that range from imitation to those made of high quality, however, it would not be right to call any of them a 100% replacement for the naturally mined opals at all.
Synthetic Gems and Opals Differ
This is something that many often confuse with and tend to mix together. The synthetic gems and opals are two different stones, and you have to understand the difference carefully.
Generally, the synthetic stone or gemstone is something with the exact same composition as the natural stone, and this property qualifies it to be crowned as a synthetic gemstone.
On the other hand, when it comes to synthetic opal, it usually has a composition quite similar to the natural form.
This makes it unrecognizable as a synthetic gemstone at all. In much simpler words, the synthetic form is merely another name for another expensive imitation of the original stone but is quite beautifully built.
Another thing that you have to understand is that no matter how precious it may appear, the synthetically made stone is different from the natural one because it is man-made in a laboratory.
Although in the world of opals, the color changes matter more than anything because it is all about the opalescence that catches the eye and interest of an opal lover.
Why Go for Synthetic?
Well, the most obvious answer is that it is more about having an affordable alternative to natural opals but never fully replacing them. In the world of synthetic precious stones, the decisions are usually dependent upon the production cost.
Although both the chemical composition and the gemological properties of the synthetic form are similar to the natural ones, the structure of synthetic dye is much more different from those that are naturally mined.
The man-made stones contain several additives and resins that are uncommon for natural opals.
The kind that is quite popular is known as the Monarch. There are many other names to this artificial stone, one of them includes ‘polymer-impregnated synthetic opal.’ It contains about 20% resin and 80% silica, with a structure that resembles the skin of a lizard.
Even though its structure is almost identical to the natural opal, it has many preservatives and additives that are not present in the natural form.
Another one has about 15 to 18% resin and up to 85% silica composition. The composition percentages may vary depending on the manufacturer, however, it is usually of the same type with a slightly different resin percentage.
Synthetic vs. Synthetic Impregnated Opal
This might sound like a twist of words but these two stones have mere differences. Primarily, the synthetic impregnated opals have space (between the silica particles) or cavities that are filled with polymer (instead of silica).
These synthetic impregnated stones have different hardness, specific gravity, temperature resistance, and refractive index as compared to the plain synthetic ones.
To clearly distinguish the two types, the impregnated synthetic is commonly referred to with pattern descriptors, like directional or non-directional.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, the synthetic form must have predominant silica composition, submicroscopic bead structural formation, and gemological characteristics with an RI (refractive index) value of 1.37 to 1.47.
According to some, if it meets this criterion, it can be classified as a synthetic one, otherwise, it is merely an imitation of the natural opal.
How to Recognize a Synthetic Stone
According to the law, the seller is obliged to inform customers if the jewelry or opal is a synthetic form. The seller should inform the customer in a very clear manner that is absolutely unambiguous.
One way to easily recognize this form of opal just through observation is through its colors. You’ll notice that the colors are unnatural or artificially strong without visible sandy spots or rock debris.
If an opal has a sandy spot or a rock, it usually means that it is a natural stone. In addition, the natural form of the stones happens to have more unique and non-traditional shapes, as compared to the man-made stones that have a quite symmetrical and well-defined shape.
Synthetic forms have lizard-like, regular structures that are columnar in nature. They may also have unnatural weight and if you are looking at an impregnated synthetic opal, it will have a low specific gravity as well.
While sanding, you would smell plastic and the synthetic material would decrease quickly.
However, the best thing about these stones is the low price and distinctively bright colors. They also have a much-varied color selection and are available in large quantities.
Now for those who love opals, they can easily appreciate the complexity and dexterity that goes into producing their synthetic forms.
However, the world of opals is shifting constantly and evolving to be even more beautiful and while their synthetic counterparts cannot replace natural ones, they surely are a good purchase.