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What is Ethiopian Opal?

From the Video

Above you can see Steve Moriarty, the owner of Moregems.com, talk about Ethiopian Opal. Below you can find the transcription from the video.

Video Transciption

Hi, I'm Steve Moriarty from Moriarty's Gem Art in Crown Point, Indiana. We represent ourselves online as MoreGems.com.

Today, I'd like to discuss with you a new source of opals from Welo, Ethiopia. Once in a decade, a new discovery of gems presents an opportunity to buy extremely high quality at very low prices. This has been the case in the past with many gems, including peridot from Pakistan in 2001, bicolor tourmaline from Brazil in the early 1990s, sapphire from Madagascar in 1997 just to name a few.

When they are found, for a couple of years they are very inexpensive because of the quantity available. As with most finds, the quantity is finite and, as quickly as it is found, it disappears and the price inflates rapidly. This situation is compounded as we see more material on the market. The popularity increases because of this exposure to the public, and this demand also inflates prices.

Ethiopia vs Australia

Today, we have one of those unique opportunities to buy extraordinary opal from Welo, Ethiopia, discovered in 2008. The quality is finer than any I have purchased from Australia, up until now considered to be the finest opal source. This Ethiopian opal is top crystal material, meaning it has high transparency, generally considered to be the finest quality opal. The transparency allows you to facet carve, or cab these Ethiopian opals.

The colors are evenly spread through the entire gem, and the intensity of the color is unreal as they seem to float in the gem and project from the surface. The number of colors in a single piece is only rarely seen in Australian material, and occasionally we even see violet, which is so unusual in opal from any source. The color patterns are highly varied.

The large sizes available also make this material unique. We have cut gems over 40 carats with the average stone well over five carats.

Being Hydrophane

Much of the material is hydrophane, meaning it can soak up water. If placed in water, the material will become glass clear, and when removed, it will get milky, and after several days, the material will return to its original beauty. What this means is you shouldn't swim with it, while washing your hands will have little effect. The benefit of this material is that the riskiest part of traditional opal from other sources is drying out and cracking, called crazing, whereas this material will not craze from drying out.

One way to identify hydrophane opal is the characteristic of feeling sticky to the tongue or your finger. This characteristic also affects the weight, which can change with humidity.

The porous nature of Ethiopian opal has brought the charlatans out who are trying to change the colors of the opals through use of dyes and smoke treatments. We have seen violet colors from dying, and, although black opals occur naturally in Ethiopia, many are enhanced black color with smoke treatments. The color can and often is enhanced by enameling the back of the opal, which enhances the color of the Ethiopian opals that are highly transparent. This treatment is easily removed and has its benefits. This is an acceptable practice, assuming it is stated when sold.

Toughness is another characteristic of Ethiopian opal, which outperforms other locations. Tests by the Gemological Institute of America has shown that this opal is capable of withstanding drops to concrete from four feet without damage. All other sources failed this drop test.

Welo Ethiopian opal is unique, durable, and currently plentiful, and we highly recommend this gem as a best buy at this time. You can see our entire collection of Ethiopian Opal here.