Thursday, December 11, 2008

Opal Fire Patterns

I wanted to continue our series on opals today. We've talked before about some of the general terminology of opals. In this article I wanted to try and define the terms used to describe a precious opal's fire pattern. Every opal is different but opal dealers have put them into categories to make descriptions easier. There are seven generally accepted categories used in the opal trade. The most common are "pinfire", "broadflash", "flashfire",and rolling broadflash. There is also what are referred to as harlequin. And others are categorized as rare patterns or picture stones.
Here is a description of each:
  • Pinfire opals have tinyl pinpoint circles of fire.
  • Flashfire has larger areas of fire that are irregular in shape. The splashes of fire can be fairly large but no one area would cover more than 50% of the surface of the opal.
  • Broad Flashfire displays sheets of color covering large sections or all of the stone's surface.
  • Rolling Flashfire has sheets of color which roll across the surface of the stone as it is moved in the light. These are highly sought after and almost impossible to accurately photograph.
  • Harlequin. A true harlequin opal has square or angular blocks of fire set closely together. They are extremely rare and very valuable. Patterns that are not regular are also especially valued but not true harlequins.
  • Picture Stones are opals that have an unusual pattern that resembles a picture of something, kind of like with picture jasper.
  • Rare patterns, as you might imagine, is kind of a catch-all category for everything else.
Opals can be very difficult to photograph and even harder to describe. Hopefully knowing these terms will make it a little bit easier to visualize what an opal looks like when you read a description and easier for you to describe one to someone else.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What is the December Birthstone?

That seems like a simple enough question. But the answer isn't that easy. It depends on who you ask (and maybe what they are selling!). Different cultures at different times have adopted different versions of what stones go with which month. In ancient India the December birthstone was Ruby. Among the Mystics of Tibet it was Onyx. In western societies the traditional December Stone was Turquoise or sometimes Lapis Lazuli. In more recent times it was declared by the Jewelers of America to be Blue Zircon. In 2002, the American Gem Trade Association added Tanzanite as a Birthstone for the last month of the year. Some listings also include Blue Topaz as an option. Discounting the ancient Indians and Tibetans, the common denominator is that it is something blue. If none of these work for you, there are also birthstones assigned for the zodiac symbols and for the days of the week!

The bottom line, to me, is that it doesn't matter. Some people feel obligated to wear stones or give somebody stones based on their birth month. Buy or give gemstones because you like the way they look or make you feel or because they go with what you are wearing. Don't worry about what
AGTA or your jeweler or some Tibetan Monk says you should wear.

Chart of the Traditional & Modern Birthstones

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Spectrum Award Winners Announced

The American Gem trade Association has announced their winners for the 2009 Spectrum Awards. The AGTA Spectrum Awards are widely considered to be the most respected and prestigious creative award in the jewelry design industry. This was the 25th anniversary of the awards. The piece in this picture is the best of show, "Enchanted Stallion" brooch, featuring a handcarved turquoise with diamonds, demantoid garnets and 18K gold. To see a complete list of winners and pictures of some fabulous jewelry and gemstones go to the JCKonline Website.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Opals Discovered on Mars!

Its true! NASA has just announced that an orbiting space probe has discovered large deposits of opal on the planet Mars in a canyon region known as Valles Marineris. The greatest significance of the discovery is that it indicates that liquid water existed on Mars much more recently than previously believed. It kind of makes sense to look for opals on Mars. Like Australia's famous opal fields it is remote, dry and red. Read the whole article here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Common Opal, Precious Opal, Fire Opal or Potch

In this post we're going to talk about some more opal terminology. In fact we'll back up and talk about opals in the most general terms. What is meant by opal, precious opal and fire opal.

Opal is noncrystalline hydrous silicon dioxide. In other words it has the same chemical composition as quartz, but contains 1-2% water and it is not crystallized. It is composed of alignments of tiny spheres which form a compact, three-dimensional network. It is the play of light off of these tiny spheres that often gives opal its unique internal iridescence which is called "opalescence"!

If that opalescence is present, the opal is considered precious opal or sometimes noble opal. Precious opal is generally the most sought after and expensive opal. It is what most people think of when they speak of opal. I

If the opal doesn't display this internal iridescence, if it is just semi-opaque to translucent it is called common opal or potch opal. Common opal sometimes has a somewhat attractive, porcelain-like appearance and is suitable for beads.

In some cases common opal is very translucent to transparent with a bright red, orange or yellow color. This makes very beautiful gemstones and is called "fire opal". That term can be a little confusing because the "opalescence" in an opal is often referred to as its fire. But fire opal doesn't necessarily have any "fire"! Fire opal comes mainly from Mexico. They can be cut into cabochons or even faceted. In some specimens there will be some internal iridescence, therefore qualifying it as precious opal.

See opals at

Visit my Squidoo Page on Opals

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What is Meant By Opal Doublet or Triplet

Virtually everyone loves opals, but they are different from every other precious gemstone. Their beauty doesn't come from their clarity or purity of color. It comes from the "play of color" that is created when light refracts and reflects off of their unique internal structure. More on that another time. Because they are different, different terminology is used to describe them. If you are new to opals you will need to learn some new vernacular.

When you start shopping for an opal and trying to compare one to another, you will hear the terms doublet, triplet and solid used a lot. The difference here are important to the beauty, value and durability of the stones.

Solid opal simply means that the stone is all opal. All other things being equal, that is the best and the most valuable. An opal doublet on the other hand is not all opal. A layer of opal is bonded to a layer of dark colored stone, usually ironstone. Then the stone is cut and polished. The benefits of the doublet are that a thinner piece of opal can be used that otherwise would be too thin. The backing stone gives it added depth and strength. Also, the black background makes the colors of the opal stand out more and look brighter, like a much more expensive opal. So you can own an opal that looks better than your budget could otherwise handle.

A triplet has three layers. It has the backing layer, then the opal layer and then a clear layer, usually quartz. Opal is a relatively soft stone. The quartz top is very hard and gives the stone added resistance to scratches and chips.

The picture above is a solid opal. You can see some doublet opals, triplet opals and solid opal here, on my website at

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Garnets have been one of the world's most popular gemstones for many centuries. Although gem quality garnets can be some of the most beautiful of gemstones, most are relatively affordable. There are some varieties, like tsavorite and spessartite that can be very expensive, but most are modestly priced. They are mined in almost every county on the planet. Though most of us think of garnets as a red gemstone they come in many colors and shades, including orange, green, and pink! Garnets are not actually a single species of gemstone but are a whole family of gems that share certain physical properties including crystal shape and chemical composition. They are generally grouped into six garnet species: almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite and uvarovite.

To complicate matters even more, garnets are never just one species, but are a blend of two or more of these.
They are usually named for the species that is most prevalent. A garnet that is described as "pyrope", for example, may actually be 80% pyrope, 15% almandine and 5% spessartine. Some specific blends have also been given names of their own. For example, a garnet that is about 2/3 pyrope and 1/3 almandine is called a Rhodolite. Other names you may encounter for types of garnets include mandarin (yellow-orange spessartine), demantoid (usually green), malaya ( may be pink or reddish orange) , hessonite (usually cinnamon brown or yellowish) or tsavorite(green).

Learning, identifying and describing the seemingly endless varieties of garnets is challenging, but they also provide a wide range of prices and colors for every taste. Garnets also provide a source of great beauty and endless fascination for gem lovers and mineral collectors alike.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What is Mystic Fire Topaz?

Mystic Fire Topaz, often just called Mystic Topaz, is genuine topaz. They are not synthetic stones or simulants! They start as natural, colorless topaz, usually called diamond topaz or white topaz. They are first faceted and then carefully treated with a patented process called "vapor deposition". This process deposits a translucent layer of color on only the back surface of the stone. Color passing through the colorless top of the stones hits the coating on the back (pavilion) and is refracted and reflected back to your eye. The result is a dazzling multicolor effect unlike anything else!

Top quality Mystic Topaz starts with only the finest topaz rough. The cut stones are 100% eye clean. This means that they have no eye visible inclusions. The finished stones are carefully inspected with a 10X loupe to insure that they have no scratches, chips or flaws. The original Mystic topaz have a predominately green hue, but also show flashes of violet as well as pink, blue, yellow and just about every color of the spectrum as they are turned in the light. Other colors have now been developed including pink, blue, "Sunset", “Sea Mist” and "Casiopia". Unset stones should be handled with care, as a scratch on the back surface can easily mar the appearance. Once mounted however, so the back is protected, they are very durable. Topaz is an 8 on the Moh’s hardness scale, making it one of the hardest gemstones. If it is a genuine Mystic Topaz (stones treated by Azotic Coating Tecnology, Inc. or their licensee.) it can usually withstand ultra-sonic cleaning. However, with some of the cheaper knock-off stones, usually treated in China, the coating may begin to flake off. Make sure you are buying the real thing (Ask your gem dealer or get a guarantee.) or don't risk ultra-sonic cleaning. See more Mystic Fire Topaz here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bali Beads

I just bought a large parcel of Bali style Silver Beads at a great price. I am listing them on my website, now at below wholesale prices! These are Sterling Silver (.925) beads and I'm selling them just barely above the spot silver price. If you do any beading, you should check these out. The page still isn't finished so it isn't linked to my homepage yet, but it is on the server. So you can go directly to and get a jump on everybody else. I've got several Kilos of beads, but some styles are very limited in number. First come, first serve. The page will probably be changing daily. In a few days, I'll be tying it in to the rest of the site so everybody will have access to it.