While I love a quirky tale as much as the next person, opal myths can start to sound like facts if repeated often enough. I’ve gotten consistent emails for years now questioning an opals strength; can I get it wet? Can I wash my hands? Can my ring get soap on it?
In today’s video, I defend the honor of our beautiful Australian gemstone by debunking some common opal myths. That, and I just really wanted to play scientist again.
Let’s see how it handles the cocktail of chemicals I’m going to douse it in!
Let’s put an opal to the test
I’ve chosen an opal that has a crack in it as today’s subject to show you that, even if these liquids get right into the heart of it, your opal won’t change.
I’ve actually been busting this opal myth for years now by putting opal into methylated spirits as it’s helpful in getting the wax off the stone. Used as a solved and a cleaner, methylated spirits can be used on opal as it is a sedimentary opal and close to the structure of glass. The silica spheres that stack together to make opal are stacked so tightly that no liquid gets absorbed.
What do you get when you cross an Australian opal and an ultrasonic cleaner? A clean opal and a terrible punchline.
My jeweller has been cleaning the opal I send him in his ultrasonic machine for the past 30 years. As you can see, putting an opal into an ultrasonic to clean it does not make the opal crack! It remains completely the same, aside from a bit of extra sparkle.
Side note: there is one exception to this rule for Australian opal and that is some types of boulder opal. Boulder opal with a sandy type of ironstone host on the back could crumble in an ultrasonic although I want to put emphasis on the could. It may not, it just has the potential to.
Shellite and hand sanitiser
Let’s ramp it up by making a little concoction and seeing how the opal copes! I mixed some Shellite, a fuel and cleaner, with hand sanitiser, a commodity worth its weight in gold right now, and dunk my opal in for a swim.
What happens? Does it explode? Does it start bubbling and oozing like an evil scientists lair?
Sorry to be the bearer of boring news, but no. The opal has no reaction and, on close inspection, is as good as ever!
Since we haven’t had any excitement from our previous contenders, let’s bring in a heavyweight. Hydrochloric acid eats away at skin, concrete, and algae on surfaces. Let’s see what it does to my opal!
… Nothing. Well, isn’t this anticlimatic. I throw a rusty nail in there to show you how powerful this acid is; the nail is bubbling away, being eaten by the acid, while the opal sits there unharmed.
What shouldn’t I do with my opal then?
Opal is impenetrable to liquids but not indestructible. Whatever you do, do not hit your opal with a hammer or rub it against something abrasive, like a brick! Opal can smash and it will get scratched, too.
What do you mean when you say the opal hasn’t changed?
When I say the opal hasn’t changed, I am referring to Australian opal as it’s close to glass from the tightly stacked silica spheres that do not allow anything to be absorbed. This doesn’t apply to hydrophane opals, such as Ethiopian opal. For an explanation on the difference between sedimentary opal and hydrophane opal, check out this short video.
What if I wear my opal every day?
If an opal is porous, like hydrophane opal is, it will constantly be absorbing liquids and oils from your body, drying out, and absorbing again. Over time, this process makes the opal look dirty. This doesn’t happen with sedimentary opal, like Australian opal, as the opal doesn’t soak anything up!
There’s one more opal myth to bust…
We get this question a lot… is opal bad luck? You’ll have to tune in to see the answer to that one!