Precious opals are one of the most unique colored gems types in the world, but unfortunately, they are also one of the most fragile and most delicate gem types commonly seen today. If you happen to own opal jewelry, or if you are considering having your opal set as a ring, pendant or as earrings, this article can help you keep your delicate opal gem in good condition for many years to come.
There are two main reasons why opals require such special care and one of them being that opals have a hardness rating of 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, which is considered to be relatively soft in comparison to other precious gems. This means that opal can easily be scratched; opal stones can even be scratched by common dust, which contain particles of silicon dioxide and silicon dioxide has a hardness level of 7 on Mohs scale. Secondly, most opals will contain a significant high amount of water content, usually in the range of 5-10%. This means that opal stones can easily dry out, which can result in cracking or crazing of the gem, especially in low humidity environments. Extreme or sudden changes in temperature alone can cause a delicate opal gem to crack.
The best way to preserve your opal gems is by taking preventive measures. You can avoid scratching your opal by making educated decisions before you have it set as jewelry. Because opals are softer and considered delicate, they are best suited for use as earrings or pendants, because they will be less likely to come into contact with hard objects that could potentially damage the opal. If you still desire to set your loose opal gemstone into a ring or bracelet, it is highly recommended to use a protective style setting, such as a bezel style. An opal ring is really not designed for everyday casual wear, but more as an occasional wear ring (as long as care is exercised). Frequently worn opals will more than likely require re-polishing every few years.
Opal gemstones should be cleaned on a regular basis. Using a mild detergent in warm water and wiping them with a soft cloth is suggested. Be sure to avoid using any bleach or chemicals and do not attempt to clean them with an ultrasonic cleaner, because the vibrations can cause the gem to crack. If you happen to live in a very dry climate, or should you decide to store your opal for an extended period of time, it is suggested to store them in a plastic bag, sealed with a moisture source, such as a damp piece of cotton. This will prevent the eventual dehydration of your opal.
Because opals gemstones are quite porous, you should avoid contact with any chemicals, cosmetics or household cleaners while wearing your opal. It is not suggested to wear opals during any harsh physical activity, such as sports or gardening.
Damaged opals are very difficult to repair and current repair methods are simply experimental, since nothing has been made official. Most new experimental methods will involve impregnating the opal with polymers. Typically it is far better to purchase a new replacement, rather than try to repair a damaged opal, assuming the cracked opal does not carry any sentimental value.