How to Care for Opals
Opal gems are delicate and require a little extra care compared to other gems but the uniqueness of opals are well worth the care.
Because opals are more delicate than other gems, hardness of 5.5 to 6, opals are easily scratched or even break by other stones and hard objects. Like all gemstones, opals should be kept in a soft cloth bag away from harder substances like other jewelry.
Since opals can contain up to 20% water and considered a “living stone”, opals may become brittle due to water lost. When opals lose water, the gemstone will fracture internally, known as crazing, and the iridescence, or play, of the gem will diminish. Thus, it is important to avoid high heat, direct sunlight for long periods, hot showcase lights, desert conditions, low humidity bank vaults or air tight containers, and especially rapid, sudden temperature changes as these conditions may cause your opal to craze.
For example, moving from a warm house out into the freezing cold, during winter, will cause the opal to craze. If in a very dry climate or dehumidified room, keeping opals in a tight plastic bag with a damp piece of cotton or fabric will prevent dehydration.
On the other hand, because opals contain some water, opal jewelries should be worn often as possible because opals, being porous, will absorb the needed humidity from the air and from the skin of its wearer. However, remove any opal jewelries, especially rings, when exercising, playing sports, and gardening as to avoid scraping and damaging the opal. Do not wash dishes and shower with opals as well because the sudden temperature change can cause the opal to craze.
To further help keep moisture and prolong the beauty of the gem, soaking the opal in water for several hours from time to time will protect the opal from crazing. Do not use oil, soaking or wiping, on the opal as oil can potentially damage the opal by causing the opal to lose its prized fire over time.
Opal gemstones can be simply cleaned with plain warm water or soapy water with a facial tissue or piece of silk. Be mindful that dust, which may contain quartz with hardness of 7, can slowly reduce the polish by simply wiping off the dust. Clean doublets and triplets the same way but do not soak them. Do not use ultrasonic and steam cleaning methods, as those methods may be too harsh for opals.
Doublet and triplet opals should not be exposed to extended periods of bathing or swimming because it is difficult to predict how the glue will react under such conditions. This includes washing dishes as the detergent can weaken the glue.