How to Care For Opal Jewelry. Advice from a Jeweler, Opal Miner, Opal Cutter and Polisher.
By Gary Hocking
By Gary Hocking
Today one of my customers who had bought a $1,000 opal ring from me told me that her friends had told her to keep her opal ring in a solution of clear mineral oil.
Hmmm! Please don’t do that. I have also heard lots of other advice such as keep your opals in water, vinegar, and other solutions. Rub soluble oil on them is another terrible thing that I have heard given as advice.
Some twelve years ago I spent about three months with George Roberts who still cuts and facets gemstones for a living like he has been doing for a very long time. George is a miner and gemologist so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to opals.
When George put an opal in a small ultrasonic machine I was horrified. All that I had heard was that this would surely destroy the opal. George told me that he had never broken one this way.
As a rule I don’t tempt fate by doing that anymore but I did some experiments on opals because I wanted to see first hand what would happen when I did.
I got every conceivable solution that I thought people might put opals in and I put them in jars. I put a couple of opals in citric acid, a few more in vinegar, some more in oils, in pickling solutions, numerous solvents such as acetone, then petrol, methylated spirits and the list goes on. I left them there for weeks, months and years and some are still in their solutions.
The result? Nothing happened to the opals! Or, at least on a level that I could perceive.
As an opal miner I can tell you that when you are lucky enough to find opal it is in dry opal dirt, not soggy wet stuff. The mines are generally dry and the temperature is pleasant. The opals have been there like that for millions and millions of years so why should anyone think that they need to be put in oil or some other solution?
As an opal cutter I can tell you what I have been taught to do. In order to cut an opal you need to put it on a stick so that you can hold it to the grinding wheel. We heat the opal up a little and apply hot wax and push the stick and the opal together. After cutting we put the opal in the freezer for a couple of hours so that the wax and the opal contract differently and come apart. In my opinion that is pretty harsh treatment but the opal survives all of this and survives in those horrible solutions that I experimented with.
Here is what my research eventually led me to believe is the best way to care for opal jewelry.
1. Keep it apart from your other jewelry so that it does not get scratched. Abrasion of metal against an opal stone will surely scratch and damage it.
2. Occasionally clean it with a soft brush, perhaps the softest toothbrush in a solution of luke warm water and very mild detergent. Then rinse and lightly dry with an absorbent cloth but don’t rub it dry.
3. If your opals are doublets or inlays then they are held in place with glue so wash them only when necessary.
4. Don’t bother putting any solutions on your opals as what ever you use will be absorbed into the stone and may do more harm that good.
But they are reasonably hardy and they can be repaired and re-polished so enjoy them. People say they like being worn. I think that’s true as they are exposed to temperatures and conditions that your body is used to and this suits opals as well.