The ethereal glow of the opal has captivated people throughout history. It’s a stone with deep mystical significance and no two ever look the same. An incredibly unique gemstone, it’s no wonder opal engagement rings are on the rise in popularity. Its incredible beauty makes it a natural choice, and you will find opals commonly used in vintage engagement rings, but there are other features about the stone that lead us to not recommend opal engagement rings. Learn why they’re not a good choice and how to use them in a safe way if they’re a must for your engagement ring.
Why We Don’t Recommend Opal
What Is an Opal?
Opal is essentially a form of silica, a natural compound abundantly found in nature. The gemstone is created from seasonal rain that drenches dry ground in regions of semi-desert, similar to Australia’s outback. The rain soaks deep into underground rock, carrying dissolved silica with it. When the water evaporates it leaves behind solid deposits of silica in cracks between layers of sedimentary rock. These deposits form opal.
Opal is known for coming in a rainbow of colors that display flashes called play-of-color. There are five main types of opal categorized by their body color: white or light opal, black opal, fire opal, boulder opal, and crystal or water opal. The most favored opals in all of these categories exhibit a radiant iridescence and play-of-color. People liken this mix of features to fireworks, galaxies, or lightning in a stone.
History & Mythology of Opal
Many cultures throughout history have credited opal with supernatural origins and powers. Opal gemstones have long been used for protection against evil spirits and ancient Romans specifically used opal to summon good luck, especially in love. Romans gave it the name opalus, meaning “precious stone.”
Arabic legends say that opal fell from the heavens in flashes of lightning, and the ancient Greeks believed opals imbued the gift of prophecy and guarded their owners from disease. Europeans regarded the gemstone as a symbol of hope, purity, and truth. The Victorian era heavily favored opals as Queen Victoria was enamored with them and accumulated many fantastic opal pieces. Cleopatra and Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, also famously loved opals.
Known as “The Queen of Gems”, opal is recognized as the birthstone for October and associated with the zodiac sign of Aquarius. Opal marks the 14th wedding anniversary and is commonly seen as a symbol of a couple’s devotion.
Rose Gold Engagement Ring with Opal Side Stones
Opal Hardness & Wearability
On the Mohs hardness scale, opal is placed at about a 5.5 to 6.5. Compare that to the hardest gemstone, diamond, coming in at a 10, sapphires and rubies at a 9, and emeralds at a 7.5 to 8. This means that opals are a soft gemstone making them very susceptible to scratching and breaking. One of the main reasons they’re so soft is that they can contain up to 20% of trapped water in their silica structure.
Due to the features and characteristics of opals, we do not recommend them for engagement rings. An engagement ring must meet the needs of standing up to everyday wear for a lifetime. Opals simply cannot do that. Opals are fragile and easy to break and require a higher-than-usual level of maintenance. But if your heart is set on an opal for your engagement ring, we have some suggestions to make it a safer, and still special, choice.
How to Use Opal in Engagement Rings
Because of its fragile nature, we only recommend opal to be used in engagement rings as an accent stone. While it may not be center stage, it can still provide a lovely complement to many different center stone options. And with so many color options for opal, you can really get creative with the finished look. Just remember that while very affordable for a gemstone, black opal and fire opal are pricier than white opal, boulder opal, and crystal opal.
Just about every opal you see will be in a cabochon cut. This cut is known for its symmetrical, slightly domed top and flat base. The cabochon cut enhances the vibrancy of the stone from all angles. The softness of an opal means it is not an ideal gemstone to facet. If you do see a faceted opal, it’s going to be much more susceptible to breaking or cracking when set in an engagement ring, even as an accent stone.
When setting an opal, there are ways to help it be more protected and secure in your engagement ring. A bezel setting will provide the most secure placement of an opal, but you can also consider a prong setting. And while we do recommend opals be used in a smaller size as an accent stone, you should keep their placement to the top half of the ring. Opals used on the bottom half of the ring are in prime position to crack or fall out from repeated contact with everyday items like door handles, steering wheels, and shopping carts.
To really accentuate their ethereal and dreamy nature, rose gold is often the metal of choice. It’s definitely our favorite way to feature an opal, as you can see with our Laura, Kaipo, and Percy. Each of these rings feature double accent opals flanking the center stone, making an ultra-feminine engagement ring with subtle, glistening color.
Caring for Opal Engagement Rings
As a softer gemstone, opals require more delicate care as you clean them through the years. Opals should never be submerged under water, so if you clean your ring at home, be sure it’s with a light touch and no soaking. No harsh cleaning agents should ever be used and no machines like an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. But in terms of long term protection of your ring, taking it to an expert jeweler for cleaning is always the best choice.
Opals have an elegant mystique with their soft and subtle look and stunning plays-of-color. If you have an adventurous style and love a statement-making look that isn’t obvious, an opal engagement ring where the gem makes an appearance as an accent stone could be just right for your special piece!