Taking a Closer Look at 5 of the Most Beautiful Opal Inlays on the Market
Opal is an incredibly beautiful gemstone, which is why I chose to propose to my wife with an opal engagement ring (despite the superstition that it brings bad fortune). The opal’s range of color is simply unmatched in any other gem, making it the perfect option for adventurous inlays, but here’s the thing...opals are also quite fragile, which is why shopping around for quality inlay is essential.
At their strongest, opals measure 6-6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, which is roughly the same as glass, and at their weakest, they measure 3.5, which isn’t so tough at all. So, if you want your lovely opal inlay to last, you need to find the good stuff!
Fortunately for you, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks researching the best opal inlays you can buy, and I’m happy to share my shiny shortlist with you today!
Let’s get straight to the action and dive into some opal inlay reviews. Prepare to be dazzled!
OUR TOP PICK
This gorgeous opal crush shines with a deep red hue typically associated with more valuable opals, yet it’s available for a very reasonable price.
Most of the shards exhibit an astounding brilliance — picture crumbed dragon’s fire. But there are a few dull edges in the pack too, which only enrich the color profile, imbuing them with an almost lava-like aesthetic.
Collected from cultured opals, the fragments have a rating of 4 on the Mohs scale, which means they’re more resilient than the natural alternative mined from the earth. They also boast slightly higher temperature resistance, so if you live in a warm climate, they’re a great choice.
Conveniently packed in 2 or 5-gram jars, these glowing red shards are perfect for providing a touch of tasteful opulence to a ring, pendant, pen, knife, or, well...anything really.
- Cultured - More robust than natural opals.
- Price - You get a lot of gem for the money.
- Red Hue - Red is considered the most valuable color of opal.
- 4 Mohs Rating - Natural opals are typically 3-3.5.
- Crush Size - Only one available.
Here we have another synthetic opal, which means it’s hardy, temperature resistant, and will hold its color indefinitely, and speaking of color, these shards really earn their “Black Fire” title.
Primary hues include deep purple (almost black in places) and dark blue, with hints of different reds and oranges glinting through depending on the lighting.
The 2-3mm shards are a little larger than those in my top spot, which might make delicate projects a little tricky, but if you’re looking to fill in some serious space on a larger project, or perhaps fill a small, decorative receptacle, it’s absolutely perfect!
My one gripe here is it’s not as shiny and eye-catching as opals usually are, which may work to its favor defending on the project. It provides that low-key finish that's become such a popular facet of male jewelry design.
- Cultured - Very resilient.
- Colors - Nice mix with great reaction in different light conditions.
- Price - Not bad at all.
- 2-3mm Shards - Good for larger projects.
- Brilliance - Could be shinier.
This opal crush from Easy inlay has to be my favorite color of all time. I’d describe it as a deep pelagic turquoise, the sort of color that will have you arguing with friends over whether it’s blue or green for hours (it’s both, people).
Easy Inlay states that the primary color is deep blue, but there is an exceedingly prominent mermaid-hair-green fire that licks through to the surface, dominating in certain lights. I’d recommend using this inlay as an elegant embellishment on a fancy fountain pen or between dark borders on a ring.
As lab-grown beauties, you can look forward to all the standard benefits of synthetic opals, namely, a Mohs rating of 4 (nice and tough), lasting hue (no fade here), and a reasonable price tag (hurray).
- Color - Just magnificent.
- Cultured - More resilient than natural opals.
- Price - Cheaper than natural opals too.
- 4 Mohs Rating - Quite hard.
- Crush Size - Only one size available.
Opals are usually celebrated for their muted yet shiny, pastel colorings, the kind you’ll notice mingling in the fray of clouds on a bright winter’s morning, but if you want to go bold and brash with your next project, take a look at this pink crush.
Gleaming with what I’d describe as Barbie-Cadillac pink, the shards of this inlay are all about grabbing eyes with a piece of statement jewelry.
What I really like about Wapiti Designs’ offering here is that you have multiple choices of fragment size. You can go extra dainty with the 0.5mm shards, play it safe with the 1.5mm shards, or go BIG with the 2mm shards.
- Brilliance - Very shiny indeed.
- Color - Bright pink is super eye-catching.
- Lab-Grown - Tougher than natural diamonds.
- Shard Size - Lots of options.
ConsPack Size - Only available in 1-gram packs.
I’m finishing strong with a classic. This Moonbeam inlay is perfect if you’re going for the quintessential opalescent look. Despite their synthetic creation, these white fragments are positively electrified by the pink fire you’d normally expect from the highest quality natural opals.
Both understated and eye-catching, I’d recommend using this color in literally anything — no wrong answers. It’s a timeless finish, reminiscent of the shiny underside of shells and mellow afternoons reflected by undulant ocean waters.
As is the case with all of Easy Inlay’s products, the fragments are extracted from cultured opals, meaning their strong, temperature resistant, hold their color, and come at price almost as enticing as the gems themselves — yay!
- Brilliance - Lovely shine to it.
- Color - Classic opal hues.
- Price - No need to smash your piggy bank.
- 4 Mohs Rating - Nice and strong.
- Crush Size - Only one fragment option.
Best Opal Inlay Buying Guide
Okay, so we’ve established that opals are breathtaking, but there’s more to them than sheer beauty. In fact, opals are quite complex minerals, so there’s plenty to learn about before you dedicate yourself to one particular inlay.
Cultured vs Natural
As is the case with most gemstones, there are two main types of opal, cultured and natural.
Natural opals are formed underground over the course of 5-6million years. They’re the product of ancient rains and floods picking up silica from sandstone as the water travels deep into the Earth, eventually finding rest in cracks and voids.
Over time, the water evaporates, leaving behind the beautiful, technicolor deposit we know as opal. These shiny stones are then mined from the earth, cleaned up, and sold on, predominantly as embellishments in jewelry.
Often referred to as man-made, simulated, or synthetic opals, cultured opals are created in a lab, but they’re by no means fake. They’re every bit as real as the gems found in the ground.
Scientists use the same substances found in natural opals and speed up their creation using specialized laboratory techniques. They take just over a year to mature and develop their wonderful colors, then they’re ready to beautify all your favorite items.
Are Natural or Cultured Opals Best?
Natural opals are far more expensive than their lab-grown counterparts, as they’re finite. Once current opal deposits in the earth are exhausted, we’ll have to wait another few million years for more to develop.
Cultured opals, on the other hand, can be created continually, lowering their price, but it’s not just the money you stand to save that makes cultured opal inlay a better option.
Although their composition is almost identical to natural opals, less moisture is used in the formation of cultured opals, making them a far more robust gem, with higher heat resistance.
And as a bonus, lab-grown gemstones - except for diamonds - are far greener than their cousins that are found in the ground.
That’s right, folks; the creation of cultured opals involves zero mining or invasive action, uses 50% less energy, 86% less water, and reduces carbon emissions by a whopping 95%. So, although it can be neat wearing an ancient raindrop that may have splashed to the ground from a dino’s brow, cultured opals are the logical choice.
Opals can have a red, pink, yellow, orange, indigo, green, blue, or violet hue, so you have plenty of room to experiment when it comes to inlay, but the color of opal can also dictate its worth.
For instance, red opal is considered to be the most valuable opalescent shade, closely followed by orange, then yellow, blue, green, pink, indigo, and violet.
Prepare yourself to spend a little more depending on the shade you settle on, especially if you decide to take the natural rather than cultured route.
The brilliance of opal also has a significant effect on the overall value of a stone or inlay, even to the extent that it will trump the color. For example, a dull red opal won’t be considered as valuable as a brilliant blue or green opal.
Generally speaking, the shinier an opal is, the more you’ll end up paying.
When it comes to inlay, there are a few other things to consider, so I thought I’d include this brief secondary guide to steer you in the right direction.
Inlay packs are measured in grams, so it can be difficult to envisage how much you’ll need to finish a project.
Typically speaking, a 2-gram pack of opal shards will stretch 30 inches over an area with an ⅛ of an inch width, and a 5-gram pack will stretch 75 inches.
Your next port of call is to decide how large you want the shards to be. Smaller shards are more fiddly to work with, but they can adorn far more delicate projects.
Larger fragments are quicker to work with, but if you’re dealing with a particularly sinuous object, it can be difficult to avoid gaps between the shards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we part ways and you get busy finishing your beautiful objects with some of these amazing opal inlays, let’s bring things to a close with an informative opal inlay FAQ segment.
Q: Is lab-grown opal harder than natural opal?
A: There are two methods of creating opals in a lab, one of which uses polymer impregnation, while the other involves pressurizing silica particles.
The former creates opals that rank at around 4 on the Mohs hardness scale, while the latter creates opals that rank from 5 to 6.5. Natural opals usually only rank between 3 and 3.5 on the hardness scale, so yes, lab-grown opals are nearly always harder than their earthbound counterparts.
Q: Is synthetic opal real?
A: Synthetic opals have more or less identical chemical and physical properties as opals mined from the earth, so technically speaking, yes, they’re real. The only difference is in how they’re formed and how hard they are.
Q: What is the rarest opal?
A: Black opals are the rarest of all, but they’re not actually black. Their dark body is caused by a natural backing known as potch. When viewed under a certain light, you’ll see them scintillate with all the colors of the rainbow, as any other opal would.
Q: Are opals unlucky?
A: Historically, opals were thought to bring good fortune. The Romans, in particular, celebrated these wonderful stones as symbols of hope.
It’s not known exactly why they have gradually made the transition from good to bad omen, but some historians believe Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 novel, Anne of Geierstein, or The Maiden of the Mist is a large part of the gem’s fall from grace.
That’s your lot from me, friends; were there any opal inlays that caught your eye on this list? I think it’d be hard not to vibe with at least one of them.
All that’s left for you to do is pick out your favorite, make something beautiful, live well, and disprove the preposterous notion that these beautiful gemstones are in any way unlucky!