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Ethiopian Opal

Ethiopian Opal

“Welo opal” is named after the Wollo Province of northern Ethiopia.

Author: , Ph.D., GIA Graduate Gemologist

The New Opal Heavyweight

Australia has been the dominant force in the opalmarket for over 100 years. During that time as much as 95% of the worldwide opal production has been mined in Australia. Today, Ethiopia is on its way to becoming the second heavyweight in the opal market

Australia has been the dominant force in the opalmarket for over 100 years. During that time as much as 95% of the worldwide opal production has been mined in Australia. Today, Ethiopia is on its way to becoming the second heavyweight in the opal market

A small discovery in 1994 put Ethiopia on the worldwide opal map. This was followed by important discoveries in 2008 and 2013. These are now producing beautiful precious opalfire opal, and black opal with spectacular play-of-color in a variety of patterns and body colors. 

Ethiopian opals are not only beautiful, but they generally cost less than similar-quality opal from Australia. People now go to the store looking for “Welo opals” or “Ethiopian opals.” They also use the internet and search for these opals by name. This surge of public awareness has developed in just a few years without a major mining company or jewelry brand spending millions of dollars to promote them. This popularity is being driven by the beauty of Ethiopian opal and their current attractive prices.


About Ethiopian Opal

Buy Ethiopian Opal

Ethiopian Opal direct from the mines of Africa. In this category you will find thousands of individual Ethiopian opal for sale as well as rough Ethiopian opal, Ethiopian opal parcels and matched pairs of Ethiopian opal.

Ethiopian Opal direct from the mines of Africa. In this category you will find thousands of individual Ethiopian opal for sale as well as rough Ethiopian opal, Ethiopian opal parcels and matched pairs of Ethiopian opal.

In the early 1990’s a new type of Opal surfaced in Mezezo Ethiopia Africa and it is stunning. Ethiopian opal quickly became popular because of its extremely bright colors and relatively low price.

Ethiopian opal is a type of precious opal which means that it shows amazing play of color. Ethiopian opal is found in large nodules that are broken open to reveal the opal color.

If you are looking for loose individual Ethiopian opal be sure to navigate to the Ethiopian opal stones category on the left. This will show you all of the Ethiopian opal that can be used for jewellery or just for admiring.

Ethiopian opal is a volcanic type of opal that is found in deposits high up in the hills. The mining of Ethiopian opal is extremely difficult because of the dry conditions and tough terrain.

To make your search easier, we also have Ethiopian Opal carvings which show off the beautiful color play of Ethiopian opal while being in a beautiful carving. Some of these pieces are amazing so be sure to check them out.

Ethiopian opal specimens is another category that you should be sure to check out. These specimens show how Ethiopian opal has formed in its natural state. Perfect for collectors or those who are just interested in what natural can produce.

A unique property of Ethiopian opal is that it lends itself to being faceted. Not many opals look good when faceted but Ethiopian opal is unique in that respect.

Ethiopian opal pairs is a category where you will find matched pairs for use in earrings. It is extremely difficult to find a pair of Ethiopian opal because the colors and patterns are so diverse. Generally Ethiopian opal pairs will be cut from the one stone so that the stones look the same.

If you are looking to purchase a large lot of Ethiopian opal we have a dedicated category. The Ethiopian opal parcels category has parcels of opals which can help reduce the overall price of the stones.

A Short History of Ethiopian Opal

Precious opal mined in Ethiopia began entering the gem and jewelry market in 1994. This opal originated from a discovery made in the Menz Gishe District in the northern part of the Shewa Province. Opal from this area occurs in a wide range of body colors. Much of the opal has a brown, red, or orange body color; however, yellow, white, and clear body colors are also found.

Shewa Province opal is found in stratified igneous rocks such as rhyolitetuff, and ignimbrite. Although much of this opal has crazing problems, stable material enters the gem and jewelry market. These opals are often called “Shewa opals” or “Mezezo opals” after their locality of origin.

The most important opal discovery in Ethiopia to date was made in 2008 near the town of Wegel Tena in the Wollo Province in the northern part of the country. This opal can have vivid play-of-color flashing from a body color of clear, white, yellow, orange, or brown. It is more stable than the North Shewa opal. This material quickly became known in the trade as “welo opal,” but the names “wollo” and “wello” are also encountered.

Much of the welo opal is produced from a single area of stratified volcanic rocks. The main vein is an opalized rhyolitic ignimbrite up to one meter thick that overlies a base of clay. The opal likely formed as silica-bearing waters accumulated on top of the impermeable clay. Silica gel precipitated in the pore spaces of the ignimbrite and was later transformed into opal.

The seam outcrops along steep valley walls, where short horizontal tunnels are excavated to mine the opal. Underground mining here is very dangerous work, as the ignimbrite is often fractured, friable and poorly lithified. The seam can be traced along the valley walls where it is being mined, but its full geographic extent is unknown because the opal-bearing stratum is covered by up to 350 meters of stratified volcanic deposits. However, the deposit may extend over several kilometers and could become a major source of gem-quality opal. [1]

A third deposit was found in 2013, again in the Wollo Province, but about 100 kilometers north of the Wegel Tena area. Much of the opal in this deposit has a translucent gray to black body color. [3] It occurs in a seam of mineralized ignimbrite. The seam is in an extensive sequence of stratified volcanic rocks. It is up to 60 centimeters thick and rests atop of an impermeable clay. This deposit is also poorly defined but the seam can be traced along the steep valley walls. Current mining is by horizontal tunnels dug into the seam’s outcrop on steep hillsides.

Welo “Precious Fire Opals”

Much of the opal produced from the Wollo Province has an orange, yellow or reddish body color along with play-of-color. The orange, yellow or reddish body color meets the definition of a fire opal, and the play-of-color meets the definition of a precious opal. Meeting both criteria, these opals could be called “precious fire opals.”

The orange body color opal in the accompanying image is an example of one of these “precious fire opals.” It has an orange body color, and if played in the light it has a play-of-color that flashes between electric green and purple. It is a beautiful example of Ethiopian opal.

This type of opal is quite abundant in the production currently coming out of the Wollo Province. It is transparent, like the example shown here, and that enables play-of-color deep within a bead, cabochon, or faceted stone to be visible.


FEW COMMON QUESTIONS

Ethipoian Opal vs Australian Opal?

Ethiopian opal is hydrophane which prevents crazing which in Australian is caused by drying out of the water content which creates hairline cracks. Ethiopian opal is more available and generally has a wider variety of color especially reds.  Ethiopian Prices are lower and the sizes are much larger than Australian. Ethiopian opal is more durable resisting breakage better than all other opal including Australian.

Ethiopian Opal Price Per Carat?

The price per carat of Ethiopian opal ranges from 10-250 per carat based on the intensity, variety and patterns of color.  Top quality gems will have color over the entire surface free of visible inclusions on the top surface of the opal.

What is Value of Ethiopian Opal? What helps value? How is supply effecting the value?

There is a large quantity of Ethiopian opal available which has kept the price low.  Like most gems the top quality material is quite rare and commands a high price.  The intensity of the color is what makes this opal valuable as the best Ethiopian opal have colors that are described as unreal looking like colored L.E.D. lights.

How to do you care for Ethiopian Opal? How is the stability?

Ethiopian opal once cut is highly stable.  Being hydrophane it is absorbent and chemicals including hair products, dyes, oils and lotions should be avoided. Change in body color to more reddish orange in highly transparent slightly orange Ethiopian opal has been seen on rare occasion.

What is a honeycomb welo opal?

Honeycomb is a hexagonal pattern like the bees honeycomb.  The reason it is valued is because the colors in the pattern are often incredibly intense.


ETHIOPIA VS AUSTRALIA

today, we have one of those unique opportunities to buy extraordinary opal from Welo, Ethiopia, discovered in 2008. The quality is finer than any I have purchased from Australia, up until now considered to be the finest opal source. This Ethiopian opal is top crystal material, meaning it has high transparency, generally considered to be the finest quality opal. The transparency allows you to facet carve, or cab these Ethiopian opals.

The colors are evenly spread through the entire gem, and the intensity of the color is unreal as they seem to float in the gem and project from the surface. The number of colors in a single piece is only rarely seen in Australian material, and occasionally we even see violet, which is so unusual in opal from any source. The color patterns are highly varied.

The large sizes available also make this material unique. We have cut gems over 40 carats with the average stone well over five carats.

BEING HYDROPHANE

Much of the material is hydrophane, meaning it can soak up water. If placed in water, the material will become glass clear, and when removed, it will get milky, and after several days, the material will return to its original beauty. What this means is you shouldn’t swim with it, while washing your hands will have little effect. The benefit of this material is that the riskiest part of traditional opal from other sources is drying out and cracking, called crazing, whereas this material will not craze from drying out.

One way to identify hydrophane opal is the characteristic of feeling sticky to the tongue or your finger. This characteristic also affects the weight, which can change with humidity.

The porous nature of Ethiopian opal has brought the charlatans out who are trying to change the colors of the opals through use of dyes and smoke treatments. We have seen violet colors from dying, and, although black opals occur naturally in Ethiopia, many are enhanced black color with smoke treatments. The color can and often is enhanced by enameling the back of the opal, which enhances the color of the Ethiopian opals that are highly transparent. This treatment is easily removed and has its benefits. This is an acceptable practice, assuming it is stated when sold.

Toughness is another characteristic of Ethiopian opal, which outperforms other locations. Tests by the Gemological Institute of America has shown that this opal is capable of withstanding drops to concrete from four feet without damage. All other sources failed this drop test.

Welo Ethiopian opal is unique, durable, and currently plentiful, and we highly recommend this gem as a best buy at this time


What’s the Future of Ethiopian Opals?

The future is very bright for Ethiopian opals. They are becoming much more visible in the gem and jewelry market, and the gem-buying public is becoming aware of them. All of this has occurred without a major mining company or jewelry brand spending millions of dollars to promote them. They occur in a variety of translucent to transparent basecolors with vivid play-of-color in a variety of patterns. They currently sell for very reasonable prices when compared to similar-appearance material from Australia. Significant amounts of Ethiopian opal are being produced and the country might become the first important challenger to Australian opal, which has dominated the world opal market for over 100 years.

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