Proper Care for Ethiopian Opal Jewelry

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14kt Gold and Sterling Silver Heart Pendant by David Nugent of Evensong Jewelry. Set with a natural Ethiopian opal cabochon by Robert Lang of Arpaia Lang. Before setting the stone, Robert applied a layer of dark blue enamel to inside bezel mounting – the dark background enhances opal’s play of color.

About Ethiopian Opal

Precious opal was discovered in Mezezo, Ethiopia back in the early 1990s, but it was not sufficiently stable for jewelry use due to cracking.

In 2008, Ethiopia’s Wollo province became a source of white precious opal and crystal opal, and in 2013, Wollo also became a producer of dark and black precious opal.

Gem quality opals from the Wollo province are more stable, and have been steadily increasing market share in the jewelry industry due to very attractive play of color and price point.

Precious opals from Australia and several other known sources originate in sedimentary rock. Ethiopian opals originate in volcanic rock. The more porous structure of Ethiopian opal absorbs water in a manner similar to that of a sponge, and this “hydrophane” property affects the transparency of Ethiopian opal when immersed in water.

Care of Ethiopian Opal

It is the hydrophane nature of Ethiopian opal that is pertinent to its care as a gemstone.

At GIA’s 96th Gemstone Gathering in Bangkok earlier this month, Jeffery Bergman, Director and founder of Primagem based in Thailand, presented an examination of Ethiopian opal  as relates to possible treatments. Bergman is an American gemstone dealer with 40 years experience in the mining, cutting, and the wholesaling and retailing of gemstones and fine jewelry.

After preliminary research, Bergman concluded that contact with oils or other liquids may result in a reduction of play-of-color and possible permanent damage to Ethiopian opal. In particular, Bergman advised that Ethiopian opal beads should be worn only over clothing and should not come in contact with skin where they can absorb perspiration.

The beauty and affordability of Ethiopian opal are compelling. As we learn more about this wondrous gem, we will learn more about its recommended care.

In the meantime, prudence dictates that Ethiopian opals are best mounted in protective settings that keep these gems away from direct contact with skin. Also, Ethiopian opals do not benefit from a water bath, and in fact, could be damaged from immersion.

As with all opals, Ethiopian opals should not be cleaned by steam, in an ultrasonic cleaner, or with any harsh cleaning agents. In addition, Ethiopian opals should not be cleaned with warm soapy water because of its hydrophane nature – cleaning an Ethiopian opal with soapy water or other liquids could cause contamination of the gem if any residue remains in the opal after drying. Trapped residue could reduce play of color, negatively affect transparency, change the gem’s bodycolor, or cause internal cracking.

After every wear, the best cleaning method for Ethiopian opal jewelry is to use a clean, soft, dry microfiber cloth to gently remove fingerprints, dirt, residue, and oils. 

Short-term contact with plain water does not seem to harm gem quality Ethiopian opals. If a hydrophane opal gets wet from rain or other cause, simply dry off surface with a clean microfiber cloth and then let the stone naturally air dry for 24 hours – any absorbed water will leave the stone and its play of color should be restored to its previous state without any cracking. Do not attempt to speed up the natural air-drying process by applying heat of any kind.

Click this link to view video of Jeffery Bergman’s presentation on “Opal Treatments: Facts, Fears & Fairytales.”

On a final note: This post is meant to be helpful on a topic of general interest and may contain unintended inaccuracies. It is expressly not intended to give advice about the care of any particular piece of jewelry, and as such, this post should not be relied upon for that purpose. Any questions about jewelry care should always be directed to the manufacturer or place of purchase, as these parties are in the best position to give advice about the care and cleaning of the jewelry and gemstones that they sell in the wholesale and/or retail markets.

All gemstone jewelry by Arpaia Jewelry comes with a microfiber cleaning cloth, and care instructions are provided at time of purchase. Click this link for more detailed information on jewelry care.

8 thoughts on “Proper Care for Ethiopian Opal Jewelry

    1. Thank you so much for the great information. Unfortunately I did not no this. My Ethiopian Opal has lost all is sparkle from showering w it on. Is there anything I can do to make it get it’s color back? I haven’t worn it in 4 years. 😦

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      1. Good morning, Sarah. I am sorry that your Ethiopian opal lost its phenomenal beauty from showering with it on. While air drying typically will restore Ethiopian opal to its natural state of beauty/color, your stone was probably permanently damaged from soap or other products during showering with it on. Ethiopian opal’s play-of-color can return once completely air dried after contact with plain water. However, harsh agents such as soaps, shampoos, body cleansers and lotions, household cleaners, hand sanitizers, perfumes, hairspray, and other chemicals are harmful to soft and porous gemstones, such as opals and pearls, and can cause permanent damage.

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  1. I didn’t know that Ethiopian opals were both beautiful and affordable, and that they needed to be kept in protective settings so they don’t touch the skin. In my opinion keeping them in a setting could also be an extra reminder to the wearer of their value and that they’re important and should be cared for! I will definitely have to look more into Ethiopian opals and how to care for them!

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  2. Thank You so much for the info provided. I have some Ethipoian opal beads that I was going to make bracelets out of but because of your warning about skin contact I think I will make them into a necklace that can be worn on the outside of clothing. I also have some small chips I was going to set them together on a ring..my question is what type of glue could I use that wouldn’t damage them? I have always used E-6000 fo my crafting jewelry but am afraid it would be absorbed into the stones. thanks!!!!

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  3. Hi Elena! E-6000 is an excellent jewelers glue for so many tasks. I have not set Ethiopian opals using epoxy, so yours is a great question. You could try E-6000 on a small chip and give it time to see if there are any adverse results to the appearance of the stone. But the best option is to contact the manufacturer of E-6000. Manufacturers know their products better than any other source and are typically eager to have their products used correctly and without damage to other materials that the glue comes in contact with. Another good option is to contact your supplier for E-6000. For example, I have business accounts with Stuller and Rio Grande and contact them for assistance in working with gemstones, as well as, using tools, equipment, and other products such as adhesives that they sell. These suppliers offer exceptional tech support and your supplier might too. Best wishes with your jewelry projects!! And please do keep in touch with your findings and experiences with Ethiopian opals. I would love to hear the results of your query and work.

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