Opal Engagement Rings: The Soft Side of Elegance – Why They’re Not the Best Choice
Throughout history, opals have been seen as stones that hold significant and mystical powers. They’ve been revered by ancient civilisations, from the ancient Greeks who linked them with prophecy, to the Romans who believed opals symbolise hope and purity (ask any one of the Roman empire lads, they’ll tell you).
Opals have also been used as talismans, associated with love, and as symbols of protection. This rich history, steeped in symbolism and tradition, reflects the enduring fascination with opals and their continued popularity in the modern era.
Traditionally, diamonds have been the go-to choice for engagement rings due to their durability and timeless appeal and an array of shapes, ranging from traditional rounds to the unique character of a princess shape or emerald cut.
However, as couples seek unique and meaningful alternatives, gemstones like opal have gained popularity as well. While opals are undeniably beautiful, there are several downsides to consider when choosing them as an engagement ring stone. given you’ll likely be wearing it every day. We explore the potential pitfalls of opting for an opal engagement ring and provide some insight into making an informed decision.
Why is opal considered special?
Its allure primarily stems from a mesmerising play of colours, a phenomenon that’s even coined the term ‘opalescence’ which encompasses an array of hypnotic and ever-changing hues. This unique display is a result of combining diffraction and iridescence within the stone, the same effect you’ll often see on a bubble.
Beyond its aesthetic beauty, opal holds significant symbolism and cultural impact. It is often associated with hope, love, and purity, making it a favoured choice for those who like to express themselves through jewellery.
What further enhances an opal’s appeal is its diversity. They come in various types, each possessing distinct characteristics and colours, such as the fiery reds of fire opals, the deep, mysterious hues of black opals, and the milky whites of white opals, allowing you to choose opals that resonate with their unique tastes and preferences.
In essence, opal’s beauty, rich symbolism, and wide-ranging diversity contribute to its status as a special and cherished gemstone. However, does that mean it belongs on an engagement ring?
While undeniably beautiful, opals come with several downsides that warrant consideration.
They have a relatively low hardness on the Mohs scale, which makes them susceptible to scratches, breaks and damage, meaning frequent repairs and replacements will be needed. Opals are also sensitive to moisture, risking dehydration and loss of lustre when exposed to water. That will mean day-to-day activities such as washing your hands or doing the dishes would risk the integrity of your stone.
Their fragility requires careful handling to prevent chipping and cracking. Opals demand specific settings for protection, which may limit design options, and they require meticulous care and cleaning. Despite their unique allure, opals may not be the most practical choice for long-term, everyday wear as an engagement ring, and their selection should be made with awareness of these potential drawbacks. We believe that your ring is intended to be worn and treasured for a lifetime, therefore we exclusively craft with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, tourmalines and spinels due to their durability and quality characteristics. Opals don’t possess the same qualities, which is why they aren’t a part of our offering.
Three reasons why opals aren’t suitable for engagement rings
One of the primary drawbacks of opals as an engagement ring stone is their softness. On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which measures the durability of gemstones, opals score between 5.5 and 6.5. In contrast, diamonds, the traditional choice for engagement rings, score a perfect 10, making them one of the hardest substances on Earth. This significant difference in hardness means that opals are more prone to scratches, chips, and breakage in everyday wear.
Engagement rings are meant to be worn daily and can be subject to a fair amount of wear and tear. Simple activities such as doing household chores, exercising, or even accidentally bumping the ring against hard surfaces can significantly damage the delicate opal stone. The softness of opals makes them less suitable for long-term wear, and frequent repairs and replacements may be necessary, which can be both costly and inconvenient.
2. Vulnerability to Water and Moisture
Another downside of opals is their sensitivity to moisture as they consist of a significant water content, typically ranging from 3% to 21%. When exposed to harsh environmental conditions or prolonged contact with water, opals can become dehydrated, leading to cracks and loss of lustre. This vulnerability means that opal engagement rings should be removed when washing hands, swimming, or engaging in activities where moisture exposure is likely. This constant vigilance can become a bit of a bother and detract from the enjoyment of wearing an engagement ring.
3. Fragile Composition
Opals are often cut into cabochon shapes, which means they have a smooth, rounded, and polished surface without facets. While this cut showcases the unique play of colours within the stone, it also exposes the entire surface to potential damage. Unlike faceted gemstones like diamonds, which have edges and corners protected by metal prongs, opals have a greater risk of being impacted on their surface, which can lead to cracks and breakage.
Opals vs Diamonds
Diamonds have earned their spot as the top choice for engagement rings, and for good reason. They’re renowned for their exceptional durability and versatility which means that not only are they strong enough to withstand a lot of impact, but the myriad of settings, such as the solitaire setting, halo setting or three-stone designs, they’re compatible with means they have another layer of protection from the elements. These key factors are what should be front of mind when choosing an engagement ring, and as we’ve already discovered, opals are neither durable nor adaptable.
What is a good opal alternative?
Opals are so unique that they’re pretty hard to replicate. Something that does, however, match the visual interest of an opal is a star sapphire. It’s a cabochon stone which means it’s been polished but hasn’t been faceted – so they have more of a pebble shape and a very smooth rounded polished surface.
The cabochon sapphire features an optical phenomenon known as ‘asterism’ which has some nice symbolism and origins around it in terms of the Latin meaning of ‘astrum’. Due to the inclusions inside the stone, when the light enters the stone, it reflects in a very unique way that appears as a star. For fans of the opal, this stone could represent its vibe while offering much more durability.
A white star sapphire isn’t an exact aesthetic replica of an opal, but it does offer visual interest and uniqueness in a way which is more suitable for an item intended to be worn on a daily basis.
You can contact our Diamond & Gemstone Specialists who can quite literally search the Earth for you to find a unique gemstone, including a star sapphire, to suit whatever you’re looking for.
Choosing an engagement ring requires thoughtful planning and research. Not only do we want it to be personal, meaningful and to suit our tastes and style, but it needs to be crafted to last as well. Sometimes someone’s favourite gem or birthstone may not be right for this particular purpose, and that’s absolutely ok. There are plenty of alternatives to consider, and there’ll be plenty of other occasions to gift an opal necklace, bracelet or anniversary ring after the proposal.