ETHIOPIAN OPAL

The exciting arrival of gem quality solid opal from the Welo district of Ethiopia is taking the gem world by storm. Some are confusing the Welo opal, discovered circa 2008, with the original Ethiopian opal discovery in 1994 at Yita Ridge in the Shewa province, which is prone to cracking. Contrarily, once cut, the Welo opals have proven to be as stable as Australian opal or Brazilian opal where only a small percentage may craze or crack. Australian opals are sedimentary in nature, forming in ancient sea beds, whereas Ethiopian opals originate from volcanic activity. All volcanic opal is called “hydrophane opal." The term hydrophane comes from the Greek words meaning “water-loving” and describes their ability to absorb water and change from opaque or semi-translucent to translucent or transparent. Sometimes this highlights the color play – others will just become transparent or opaque, with no color when hydrated. Hydrophane opals vary widely from source to source, so it is important to learn the characteristics of gems from a particular mine rather than consider all hydrophane opals to be alike in both looks and properties. The good news is that tests by GIA and others have shown that opal from the Welo province in Ethiopia will revert back to its original state, once dried, with no adverse reaction such as cracking.

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