Australian Opal gems and jewellery are perfect for pendants, rings and earrings and, like all gems, require care and attention to ensure that they are as beautiful in 100 years as they are the day you purchased them!
As Opal is such a valuable gemstone Opal (approximately 5000 times rarer than Diamond) you may want to consider the following measures to help take care of your opals, opal rings, opal pendants and opal necklaces. The following information will help you take care of Opals that are to be placed in storage and some tips if repair is needed.
Just like any other gemstone, Opals should be stored separately to your other gems. You may be surprised to learn that the two most common causes of damage to all jewellery items are actually:
You may be surprised by this but you would be amazed how much you move around while sleeping. Wearing jewellery while sleeping is risky as it can cause the items to be crushed or damaged as body weight is pressed down upon them, or you can unconsciously knock your ring against hard surfaces (walls, bed edges) while completely unaware and perhaps dreaming.
The other area that is surprising is bunching jewellery together in a jewellery bag. This inevitably leads to the diamonds (the hardest stones) and the gold settings scratching against the Opals, or sapphires scratching pearls, or simply the chains, clasps and findings all scratching against each other. Every time the jewellery bag moves around all of these jumbled items wear and scratch each other and, over time the damage can be substantial.
So keep your jewellery items individually wrapped and then you can place them all together in your jewellery bag without risk of damage.
To adequately protect your precious Opal jewellery make sure that you individually wrap your gems in soft protective cloth and moisten this in water before long-term storage. Opals can be stored in a safe but make sure that there is moisture in the air, or in the packet it is being stored in or the cloth used to wrap the Opal.
While safes and lockboxes are secure they are usually airless and have very little humidity. Opals have a 6–10 % water content and (like many other gems) will “dry out” and form cracks if they are subjected to extended dry storage. If you need to store your opal away for a period of time, simply place it in a padded cloth bag for protection and moisten the cloth with water before you store it away. For longer storage periods, place your opal in cotton wool with a few drops of water, then into a sealed plastic bag just to be safe. The water is not intended to soak into the stone (even though microscopic molecules may) but if it is exposed to very low humidity environments (for example, zero humidity storage safes) it will provide the much needed ambient moisture.
This is the reason why you will often see a small glass of water in the showcase at your jewellery store. This water compensates for the bright hot display-lights heating up the atmosphere and the gemstones, providing ambient moisture in the atmosphere. Without this added moisture most gems will develop inclusions when left to ‘bake’ under a hot display light.
Opals “love to be worn” and the ambient mosture found in every-day wear, with skin and contact with water is all your Opal really need to keep them “healthy”. Placing your Opal in a glass of lukewarm water for 15 minutes every 12 months is another way to prevent it from drying out especially if the Opal has been exposed to very dry conditions.
Opals can be cleaned using professional jewellery cleaners such as an ultrasonic machine however the machines often use caustic chemicals as the agent to clean the products. It is these caustic chemicals that must be avoided (as these are great for cleaning Gold and Silver but not so good for Opals, Pearls, Coral and some other gemstones). It is also important that any ultrasonic cleaning is completed ‘properly’. This means using the cleaning baskets, hanging racks or separation compartments in the cleaner to avoid any gem experiencing direct contact with the ultrasonics metal surface as the repeated vibration hammering away at the surface of a gem could cause a gem to form crack. SO do not let a jeweller just ‘throw’ your jewellery into the cleaning machine.
Steam cleaning machines are very effective also, but Opals (along with any other gems) need to be kept basically room temperature and a steam cleaner can heat a gem very quickly if you are not careful. Steam clean Opals in very short 1-2 second bursts, remembering that steam is at ‘boiling point’ temperature and will heat any item very quickly if not monitored closely.
Any gem, even a diamond will develop cracks and inclusions if it is heated too much too quickly (unfortunately “too much” is not an exact science as every gem is different).
It can be just as effective to use soft, soapy, warm water. A soft toothbrush followed by a hand polish with a soft cloth is a great way to clean Opals and Opal jewellery. Just be careful and take your time. Remember that harsh and abrasive
cleaners (polishing wheels or abrasive cloths and materials) will actually wear down the thickness of the gold over time. This can cause “claws” on a ring to become very frail and gems can fall out if a weakened claw breaks.
The saying is “Opals love to be worn”. The moisture from the skin and atmosphere as well as natural cleaning from showers using warm water and a soft cloth to remove surface dirt and oil is a good monthly habit for Opal jewellery care. But what Opal jewellery loves the most is to be hand-polished with a soft cloth or chamois.
Opals should be polished with a soft toothbrush or a cloth to maintain their finish and even a little toothpaste with water can restore the opal to its original brilliance (toothpaste contains talc which is a very light abrasive). Another trick is to use dental floss to get into the difficult areas in a ring or pendant to give them a clean.
There are cleaning agents available online to assist with this, however, the best item to use is a professional jewellery polishing cloth. These cloths are impregnated with appropriate cleaning solvents that will never harm, strip or otherwise damage the Opal.
All gemstones will chip, crack or shatter if hit hard enough or heated long enough, this goes for all gems (even Diamonds will crack or chip if you hit it with as hammer!), so common sense care will lengthen the life of your gemstones. Don’t wear them if there is a chance they may get hit with hard objects like when gardening or playing sports. If you do damage your Opal, if you chip it or crack it, please contact us first. We have years of experience in repairing every sort of Opal and you would be amazed what can be saved.
We advise also you to insure your gems against damage or loss.
Doublets and triplets have multiple layers, and at Australian Opal Cutters our doublets and triplets have a lifetime guarantee against delamination. “Delamination” is when the layers of Opal separate due to water penetration dissolving the glues. Prior to 1970 this was a very real issue and Opals were known to “turn white” as the Opal layers separated and the crystal (now separated from the Black Opal “potch” base), revealed it’s true colour as a ‘white’ or ‘crystal’ colour or tone. Post 1970 silicon based glues became available. These are the same adhesives that
have been used on space shuttle missions. These glues are silicon based so, when applied to the Opal, have the same “coefficient of expansion”. This means that the Opal and the glue will expand and contract at the same rate in cold or heat. For this reason Australian Opals can guarantee that an Opal Doublet or Triplet will never delaminate! We have tested Doublets and Triplets by submerging them in water for up to 12 months with absolutely no delamination!
So if your Opal has been chipped, cracked or damaged we offer an amazing service and will save and/or repair most damaged items under warranty or ‘at cost’. Just ship everything back to us and we will work out the best way to re-cut damaged Opals or we can email your similar Opals to re-set into your beloved jewellery.
By the way, if you have ever heard the myth that Opals are unlucky, we just thought you should know that it is alleged that this was invented by the Diamond industry, as Opals were once the engagement ring of choice. For more information see "The Diamond Invention".