Is Fire Opal Real ? Is It Natural Or Man-Made ?

You’ve seen and heard of opals, and know that these beauties usually have a milky body with play-of-color throughout them, and it’s the only thing that could be called ‘fire’ about them. But what’s this about fire opals ? Do they have the same play of color as regular opals ? Are they real opals ? Can you wear them every day, like in a ring or bracelet ? How do you know it’s real fire opal and not a dupe ?

All this and more, coming right up ! Fire opals are not very well understood by most people, so we’ll do our best to explain all of this.

fire opal

Is fire opal real ?

Yes, fire opal is a real type of opal that has a deep orange-red body color and doesn’t usually feature play of color. What it does, the color is usually green-gold, and those specimens are very expensive.

There are many, many types of opal and most are described by the color of their body, hence the name fire opal for the orange-red ones. These are usually mined in Mexico, and can also be found under the name Mexican opal.

So yes, fire opal is a real opal you can buy, but beware ! There are many dupes on the opal market and they can look very convincing, mostly because few people have seen real opals to compare them to. So let’s discuss what a natural fire opal should look like first.

Read also: Emerald VS Ruby

Are fire opals natural ?

Fire opals are natural gems, they are not man-made. They are not crystals, rather they are made of hydrated silica microspheres that have grown in layers upon layers, forming a sort of grid. As the light passes through those tiny spheres, the light is split into different colors.

The reddish color of a fire opal is the result of larger microspheres of silica that have formed the grid and layers, thus bending the light like in a red diamond (due to its crystal lattice).

Pear-shaped fire opal and diamond halo necklace, set in platinum. See it on Amazon.

How can you tell if fire opal is real ?

You can tell if your fire opal is real by looking at several factors. First, how is the play of color ? A true fire opal rarely displays play of color, it is usually a beautiful orange-red body with no real color shift to speak of.

The ones that do have play of color are highly expensive, usually passing the $2,000 per carat mark, while those without  play of color are around $100 per carat. So you can also look at the price. Is it a very colorful, beautiful stone for $15 ? It’s most likely a fake.

Here’s another way to see if it’s real or not. In the case of synthetic or counterfeit opal the play of color is not everywhere all at once, it doesn’t flow evenly on every facets you turn it. Instead it seems like it was painted on, and then has another layer of opal glued on. If you turn it in your hand it can disappear completely from view. True fire opal that has play of color will reveal it form any angle you look at it.

Read also: What Gemstones Are Red ? 

Fire opal vs regular opal

Wondering what is the difference between fire opal and regular opal ? The two biggest differences are the body color and the play of color.

Regular opal is best known as Ethiopian opal, as that is where the biggest opal mine is. It also produces the clearest opals with very strong play of color. The usually body color is translucent white, with occasional light cream specimens, and milky-blue ones that are still translucent. All of them have a strong play of color ranging in all colors, but predominantly green, gold, and pink.

Fire opal rarely has play of color, and when it does it’s nowhere near as impressive as regular opal. Fire opal is appreciated for its beautiful body color, a deep orange-red that is translucent most of the time. It’s rare to find one with high clarity.

Is fire opal expensive ?

Fire opal can be very expensive if it show play of color and the market is very agitated. The price range for fire opal ranges from $80 per carat to over $5,000 per carat, depending on demand, the opal’s body color, play of color, and the size of the opal. So fore opals can be very expensive but also affordable, depending on what you are looking for.

Read also: What Gemstones Are Orange ?

Can you wear fire opal every day ?

No, fire opal cannot be worn every day since it is a very soft gemstone. Fire opals score from 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale, depending on where they were mined from. The Mohs scale goes up to 10, with diamonds the only gems that score a 10. Any gem under 7 is deemed too soft to safely wear every day, such as in a ring or in a bracelet because it will chip, scratch, and crack quite easily.

Fire opals make for very beautiful center stones in rings but should only be worn on occasion. In fact it is far safer to wear your fire opal as a pendant or a pair of earrings. There is much less danger of hitting the opals this way.

Keep in mind that fire opals are still opals, so they have up to 20% water content. Keep them away form direct sunlight, and also out of water, except when cleaning them.

Fire opal substitutes

If you’re looking for something that will have a very similar color to your fire opal, then there are at least two options you can try. Both options will show you a beautiful orange-red color but are made of entirely different materials than fire opals so they will behave differently. Here they are.

Orange sapphire – perfect color substitute, tougher gemstone

Sapphires come in various colors, depending on what trace elements are present in the corundum. In the case of orange sapphires, there is iron (yellow) and chromium (red). Some orange sapphires may show a deeper, more fiery orange while others may display a more mellow, golden orange. Choose according to your own preference.

Orange sapphire and diamond ring, set in 14k gold. See it on Amazon. 

These sapphires do not sparkle, which is very similar to a fire opal. But they are a far stronger gemstone that can safely be worn in rings and bracelets and even on a daily basis without fear of hurting them. These gems score a 9 on the Mohs scale, far tougher than fire opals.

One downside is that you will have to pay extra for an orange sapphire. These usually cost around $2,300/carat for a vivid color one, less if the color is a little less saturated.

Spessartite garnet – perfect color, lower price tag

Spessartite garnet may sound exotic but it is simply the name for orange garnets, including those that nearly cross into red territory. These gemstones are just as pretty as orange sapphires, but they come at a much lower price tag – $50 per carat !

Double pendant necklace with orange garnet and diamond, set in 14k gold and 925 silver. See it on Amazon.

The downside is that they’re not as strong as orange sapphires. Where a sapphire scores a 9 on the Mohs scale, a garnet scores a 7 on that scale. Anything at 7 or above is officially good to wear every day, but we do not recommend you wear garnets in rings or bracelets as they will eventually scratch and chip, it may just take up to a year. If you’re fine with re-buffing the stone or replacing it every now and then, then orange garnets are definitely an option.

Both spessartite garnets and orange sapphires are easier to get a hold of than fire opals.