Urgent Opal questions

This morning all I needed to do was set was set an opal into a ring
to finish a custom job. The opal has a red/brown body with
red/orange flashes of color.

I set it in an 18K bezel which I’d soldered into the ring. I did the
final polishing and used a soft tooth brush to clean off the final
layer of polishing rouge. I thought I was ready to celebrate the end
of this job. But after drying the ring I see that the opal now looks
like a cab garnet!!! The only time the flashes of color show are
when the ring is tilted sideways. In all the years I have made
jewelry, I have never had one “lose” it’s fire like this. I’ve also
never set such a dark opal.

2 questions…

  1. The surface of the opal is not dull but I did BRIEFLY AND LIGHTLY
    polish the ring with rouge on the buffing wheel. I always do this
    without affecting the opal. I know not to bear down and to keep the
    contact minimal. The surface does not look dull. But I need to
    know…did I cause the problem??? If so, what do I use to
    lightly re- polish it?

  2. I made the bezel so the seat is open to the finger. In other
    words it is not in a solid base. I did test the stone on and off a
    solid base before I made the bezel. The color flashes were not
    affected by either style.

  3. Is it simply the nature of this opal that it must be set in a 4
    prong oval head if the color is to be appreciated?

I am so bummed! The customer expects to have this ring by her
birthday which is on monday the 28th. All she talked about were the
beautiful red/orange flashes of color. She is not going to be happy
with the final result and believe me I have put a lot of time/work
into this ring.

Any recommendations/opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much
Highland Goldsmiths
NW Oregon

Well, after feeling just sick about my “dead” opal. I spent an hour
reading Orchid Archives about opal and about repolishing and about
water and soap and…

I decided to take the opal ring out of the ziplock bag and see if
there was anyway that I would be lucky enough to find that the opal
color had been affected by getting wet. Guess what? When I took it
out of the bag I found that it was already improved. Where before I
could barely find a flash, even when I took it outdoors, there is
now fire showing. I have hope that by this afternoon the opal will
look almost as good as before it was set [I don’t think it will ever be as flashy as when it is unset].

I learned so much while reading the archives. I am very appreciative
of all the that is offered here.

I’m going to go do a “happy dance” now.

Highland Goldsmith
NW Oregon

         The surface of the opal is not dull but I did BRIEFLY AND
LIGHTLY polish the ring with rouge on the buffing wheel. I always
do this without affecting the opal. I know not to bear down and to
keep the contact minimal. The surface does not look dull. But I
need to know...did I cause the problem??????  If so, what do I use
to lightly re- polish it? 

If you’re saying that you touched the opal itself to the polishing
wheel, you did cause the problem. Rouges are not fine enough grit to
polish opal, and will absolutely dull the finish. Tin oxide or
cerium oxide on leather or felt will polish opal well. Wetting the
stone will temporarily bring out the play-of-color, but only until

James in SoFl

Is this a Mexican opal? Ethiopian? It sounds as though it’s been
faceted? Is that correct? After you set it, were you looking at it in
the same kind of light as before? Many times, especially with Mexican
Fire Opals, the kind of light you use makes a huge difference in the
intensity of the fire.

If you had actually removed any of the surface and lost the fire, no
amount of repolishing would bring it back. I don’t think this is the
case, however. Assuming this is a Mexican opal, that it’s faceted,
and that you had tested it against a dark background before setting
it, it might very well be that setting it in a bezel rather than
prong setting affected the appearance of the fire. In a bezel
setting, the light doesn’t have the opportunity to bounce around the
crown or pavilion and back out the way it can with a prong setting.
Without knowing more about the source and cut of the opal, however,
it’s tough to speculate.


I have cut opal that has totally clouded over {mexican} and returned
to it’s before condition, I have also dealt with opal that is
beautiful as it is being polished, lost it’s color during the final
buff and returned a couple hours later, I have also had opal cut for
ten years suddenly begin to cloud over and lost half the fire. Opal
is affected not only by moisture content in the atmosphere but also
sea level and barimetric pressure changes { lost a 200 carat peice
of crystal opal because baggae compartment was not pressurized} upon
return it had crazed beyond belief! so sometime if you lose the
surface fire a light ‘‘no heat’’ polish will return the opal luster!
heat and driving the water from cutting into the opal lattice makes
changes also.


I’m not sure about the Mexican Opals, but some of the Ethiopian
material has hydrophane properties and actually loses its colour
when wet. Some of it is a light brown toffee colour and if you soak
it in water it becomes almost transparent. As it dries out the brown
colour comes back and the colour play returns. Very strange material

Also the clear crystal type Ethiopian Opals whether faceted or
cabbed definitely show better colour play when set on a black or
dark background.

Shaun Pearton

I have replied to those people who responded to me directly. I also
want to let everyone know that the most fitting explanation of what
I was dealing with is that the opal is a type called Hydrophane.

I’ve not yet read the Orchid Archives for more but am
looking forward to it. I’ve been told that Hydrophane opals lose
their color when wet. It seems like the only explanation for the
fact that when I posted my question the opal was totally
dead…just a garnet colored cabochon with no flash of color
within. Two hours later it looked flashy and bright. Another hour
passed and it was perfect.

My customer picked up the ring on friday evening and was thrilled. I
am looking forward to reading about Hydrophane opal. I’ve given the
customer on how to care for her opal but now I wonder if
there is more to know and share with her about this stone.

Ever since I started making jewelry, I’ve known I’ll never “know it
all” and sometimes I’ll learn the hard way. This is the thing I hate
about working with customers and their stones versus doing my own
pieces for gallery sales. I’m thankful that this situation turned
out well.

I really do appreciate all the responses I received from Orchid

Highland Goldsmiths
NW Oregon