Water in opal – what can it tell us?

International Colored Gemstone Association
Publication Type:
Journal Article
InColor Magazine, 2019, (41), pp. 62 - 69 (8)
Issue Date:
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Opal is a hydrous silica composed of predominantly silicon dioxide and water. The chemical composition of opal is normally described by the general formula SiO2.nH2O. The formula indicates that opal contains water and the value of ‘n’ is variable so the water content is variable and is known to range widely. Such a simple formula hides much of the important characteristics of how water is contained in opal and the variability in the water content and states of water is intricately involved in the formation of opal and may influence properties of the opal as a gemstone. The understanding of the states of water in opal is therefore of importance. The way in which the water is contained provides clues to the mechanisms of formation of opal. The water contained may also be used as a probe to help elucidate the complex microstructure beyond the sphere array structure in which precious opal, in particular, is described. This article will outline the types of water present in opal that displays play-of colour (POC) and how these types have been determined using chemical and physical laboratory characterisation techniques.
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