Opalite vs Opal – The Similarities and Differences (With Photos)

By Keith Jackson - Geologist

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Opalite vs Opal – The Similarities and Differences (With Photos)

By Keith Jackson - Geologist


At first glance, opal and opalite might seem like twins. In reality, they’re more like distant cousins. Even so, comparing opal vs opalite can be both intriguing and a tad confusing.

Opal, with its natural play-of-color, has been a gem enthusiast’s delight for ages. Its brilliant flashes and dance of hues have made it a favorite in jewelry and collection circles.

On the other hand, opalite, with its dreamy, milky glow, has its own unique charm that draws attention.

As we explore their characteristics, we’ll uncover the things that make each of them unique and also the things they have in common.

Opal vs Opalite – The Major Differences

Opal and opalite might look similar, but they’re actually quite different. For example, one is a natural gemstone, while the other is man-made. Let’s dive into their differences to understand them better.

Appearance – Opal has that famous play-of-color

oval faceted opal with play-of-color that includes greem, blue, red, yellow, and purple
Opal provided by HouseofGEMsCreations

Opal and opalite, though occasionally mistaken for each other, have distinct appearances that set them apart. Opal’sbest characteristic is its amazing play-of-color.

Opal’s beauty lies in its unique ability to showcase a kaleidoscope of colors within a single stone. Depending on the stone’s quality and type, it can present vibrant shades of blue, green, red, yellow, and even fiery orange.

These colors can change with the stone’s orientation and lighting. It’s as if a rainbow got captured inside, dancing and shimmering with every movement.

On the other side of the spectrum is opalite, which offers a simpler charm. Unlike opal, opalite typically displays a consistent color. Most commonly, it has a milky blue or clear hue.

Sometimes, especially when held up to the light, faint hints of orange or pink might appear. But, by and large, its color remains steady and doesn’t vary as dynamically as in opals.

Luster – Opalite has a consistent vitreous luster

seven milky white opalite stones
Opalite provided by VSMINERALS

Luster describes how light interacts with the surface of a mineral or gem. You can tell opalite vs opal by the way they shine.

Opal has a versatile range when it comes to luster. It can display a waxy appearance, which means its surface can seem like it’s coated with a thin layer of wax.

This is often seen in common opals, which may not possess the fiery play-of-color.

Moving along the spectrum, some opals show a pearly luster, giving them a soft, glowing sheen. Other opals can have a vitreous luster, making them look more like polished glass with a radiant shine.

Opalite, in contrast, is quite consistent with its luster. It has a vitreous luster throughout. This is a direct result of its glassy nature.

When light hits opalite, it’s reflected in a manner similar to how light would bounce off a piece of clear glass. This gives opalite its characteristic shine, which is both bright and glass-like.

Chemical composition – Opal is made partly of water

rough blue opal with some green and pink swirls
Opal provided by Harekrishnagems

Diving into the chemistry of opal and opalite reveals the basic differences between these two captivating materials.

At their core, both have a relationship with silicon dioxide, but the way they incorporate this compound and other elements sets them apart.

Opal’s chemical makeup is primarily that of hydrated silica, which means that it has silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The “hydrated” part indicates that there’s water trapped within the silica structure.

This water content can vary, but it’s an essential component of opal, giving the stone its unique characteristics.

The presence of water molecules, combined with the structure of the silica, leads to the fascinating play-of-color that opal is so famous for.

Opalite, however, has a bit of a different story. While it’s primarily made up of silicon dioxide, similar to opal, there’s a twist.

Opalite often contains other added elements to achieve its specific appearance. Being man-made, the makers of opalite have the freedom to introduce various materials to give it that ethereal, milky glow.

This deliberate addition of elements ensures a consistency in appearance across different pieces of opalite.

Density – Opalite is heavier than opal

milky white opalite obelisk
Opalite provided by StonedInSedona

Opal and opalite have subtle but noteworthy differences in their densities. Density, in simple terms, is how much mass is contained in a specific volume.

It can give insights into the makeup and structure of a material, helping differentiate similar-looking substances.

Opal, with its unique composition of hydrated silica, has a density of 2.09 g/cm³. This value indicates the amount of mass (in grams) packed into every cubic centimeter of the gemstone.

The presence of water molecules within its structure, along with the silica arrangement, results in this specific density.

On the other hand, opalite’s density sits at around 2.5 g/cm³, a bit higher than that of opal. This difference stems from opalite’s glassy nature.

Being man-made, opalite has a consistency in its composition. Glass, inherently, tends to have a compact structure, which contributes to its slightly higher density.

In practical terms, if someone had equal-sized pieces of opal and opalite, the opalite piece would feel just a tad heavier.

This difference in density, while seemingly minor, is one of the many distinguishing factors that help gem enthusiasts and experts tell these two apart.

Fluorescence – Opal glows under UV light

oval opal cabohon with orange, yellow, and green swirls
Opal provided by Aimstones

Fluorescence is a captivating property of some minerals and gems, making them glow under UV light. There’s a clear difference between opal and opalite in this regard.

Opals exhibit a variety of fluorescence behaviors, depending on their type. The play of colors and the body tone of opals aren’t the only fascinating things about them; their response to UV light adds another layer of intrigue.

For instance, opals with black or white body color can range from being inert (showing no reaction) to emitting light blue, green, or yellow glows under both long and short wave UV lights.

These opals might even phosphoresce, continuing to glow for a short period after the UV source is removed. Common opals can show strong green or yellowish-green fluorescence, while fire opals might display a moderate greenish-brown glow.

Opalite, on the other hand, keeps things straightforward. Given its man-made origins and the specific elements it’s made from, opalite doesn’t typically show fluorescence.

It remains largely unchanged under UV light, not producing the intriguing glow that some opals do.

Formation – Opalite is man-made

collection of polished blue opalite stones
Opalite provided by StonesOfHansel

Opal and opalite, while visually similar to the untrained eye, have origins that couldn’t be more different. 

Opals owe their existence to the unique dance of nature. These gems form over long periods when a silica-rich solution finds its way into cracks and cavities in rocks.

With time, as the solution evaporates, it leaves behind a deposit of tiny silica spheres.

These spheres, layer upon layer, combine to create the opal’s structure. Natural elements, temperature, and pressures come together in this lengthy process, eventually giving birth to the beautiful gem with its captivating play-of-color.

If you’re wondering where to go rockhounding for opal, try exploring dry desert regions or areas with ancient volcanic activity. These are prime spots for this gem.

Opalite, meanwhile, doesn’t share this long-winded natural journey. It’s a product of human innovation. Instead of waiting for nature to take its course, opalite is crafted by combining dolomite and metal.

This mixture, when melted and cooled in a specific way, results in the milky, iridescent appearance that opalite is known for. Its creation process can be controlled and replicated, ensuring consistency in its look and feel.

Price – Opal is more expensive

oval green and pink opal with yellow swirls
Opal provided by Aimstones

There’s a clear difference between the price tags of opal and opalite, mainly due to their origin and rarity.

Opals, being natural gems, can carry a hefty price tag. What makes them pricey is the unique play-of-color, which can range from mesmerizing rolling flashes to pinpoint sparkles of color.

The rarity of certain colors and patterns, combined with other factors like clarity, size, and overall appearance, can increase the price of opal. For instance, black opals with a vibrant play-of-color are among the most valuable.

Furthermore, the mining process, the source location, and the labor involved in extracting and crafting these natural wonders add to their cost.

Opalite, with its dreamy and consistent appearance, is not bound by the whims of nature. Being man-made, its production can be controlled, ensuring a steady supply.

This, combined with the fact that it doesn’t have the natural variations and unique characteristics of opals, makes opalite much more affordable. For those who love the look of opals but are on a tighter budget, opalite can be a beautiful alternative.

Location – Opalite is made in factories and workshops

rough opalite showing blue, orange, and yellow hues
Opalite provided by elfkendalhippies

Opal and opalite, with their distinct origins, hail from very different places on our planet. Opal’s journey starts deep within the Earth, and where it emerges tells tales of geology and time. 

Australia is the leading name when it comes to opal sources; in fact, it boasts a lion’s share of the global opal market, with places like Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge offering some of the most exquisite specimens.

But Australia isn’t alone in this; Ethiopia has risen as a significant producer of opals in recent years, particularly from regions like Welo and Shewa.

Then there’s Mexico, home to vibrant fire opals, with their translucent to transparent body and warm, fiery colors.

You can also find some opal deposits in the US. Consider visiting a gem mine near you, especially if it’s in an area known for volcanic history or desert conditions.

Opalite, on the other hand, doesn’t share such a diverse geographic tale. Since it’s synthetic, it’s “made” rather than “found.” Factories and workshops in various parts of the world can produce opalite.

Because of this, opalite isn’t tied to a specific region’s geology but instead to places where production facilities exist.

Opalite vs Opal – The Similarities

Opal and opalite have some things in common that can be pretty interesting. Even though they come from different origins, they share certain traits. Let’s explore what makes them alike in some ways.

Streak – Opal and opalite both have a white streak

white opal cabochon with green, orange, and yellow swirls
Opal provided by Beautifuljewelleryco

Streak testing is a traditional method used by mineralogists to identify minerals. It involves rubbing a mineral against a piece of unglazed porcelain to observe the color of the streak it leaves behind. 

Interestingly, even though opal and opalite have distinct origins and properties, share a similarity when it comes to their streak.

Opal, with its play-of-color, might lead you to expect a colorful streak. However, this isn’t the case. Opal consistently leaves a white streak when dragged across unglazed porcelain.

This means that a mineral’s streak color can often be different from its apparent visual color.

Opalite, despite its synthetic nature and varied hues, is like opal in this regard. When subjected to a streak test, opalite also leaves a white mark.

This shared characteristic between the natural opal and man-made opalite is a reminder that appearances can be deceiving, and underlying properties can sometimes reveal unexpected similarities.

Hardness – The two gems have a similar hardness

two translucent cushion cut opalite gems
Opalite provided by GemsCutterArt

Hardness is a measure of how resistant a material is to being scratched, and the Mohs scale is commonly used to rank minerals based on this property.

It’s interesting to note that opal and opalite, despite having a lot of differences, share a close range in hardness.

Opal sits between 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. This means it’s somewhat resistant to scratches but softer than many other popular gemstones, like quartz or diamond.

If you were to compare it to everyday items, it’s somewhere between the hardness of a knife blade and a steel file.

On the other hand, opalite, a product of human craftsmanship, boasts a similar hardness. Because it’s essentially a type of glass, opalite generally registers around 5.5 on the Mohs scale.

This makes it quite comparable to opal in terms of resistance to scratching.

Cleavage – Neither mineral breaks cleanly

several pieces of rough opals with different colors
Opal provided by EmisCrystalHeaven

Cleavage in minerals and gems refers to the tendency of a material to break along distinct planes, which are related to its internal crystal structure.

It’s an attribute that often concerns gem cutters and jewelers because materials with pronounced cleavage can be tricky to work with, and they can be challenging during the cutting and setting processes.

Opal does not exhibit any natural planes of cleavage. It breaks in a manner that doesn’t align with any specific, predictable pattern.

This is because of its amorphous crystal structure, which means it doesn’t have a regular, repeating internal structure. 

Opalite works in the same way because its molecular arrangement is also amorphous. Because it doesn’t have a defined internal structure, it also doesn’t have natural planes where it would split or break.

This shared feature between opal and opalite makes them somewhat more straightforward to handle in certain jewelry applications.

Without having to worry about cleavage planes causing unexpected breaks or splits, both can be shaped or set with a bit more flexibility.

Crystal structure – Each of the two has an amorphous structure

heart-shaped transparent and colorless opalite stones
Opalite provided by StonesOfHansel

The crystal structure of a material reveals a lot about its properties and appearance. Interestingly, both opal and opalite share a common trait in this aspect: both are amorphous.

Opal is not built on a regular repeating crystal pattern, unlike many other well-known gems. Instead, it’s formed in a more chaotic arrangement. This means that its molecules don’t fall into a regular lattice.

This amorphous structure is part of what gives opal its captivating play-of-color, where tiny spheres of silica scatter light in a unique way.

Opalite, despite being a man-made glass, follows a similar amorphous pattern. Like opal, it lacks a regular repeating structure, with its molecules arranged in a more random fashion.

This is typical of glass and contributes to opalite’s translucent to semi-transparent appearance, with its soft, glowing colors.

Magnetism – Both minerals have no magnetism

rough opal with orange and green hues
Opal provided by Azbagemsjewels

Magnetism is a fascinating property that some materials possess, either attracting or repelling other materials based on their magnetic fields.

However, not all substances display this trait, and both opal and opalite are in the non-magnetic camp.

Opal, nature’s kaleidoscope of shimmering colors, does not have any magnetic properties. This means that if you were to place an opal near a magnet, it wouldn’t be attracted or repelled.

Its unique visual characteristics arise from its internal structure and the way it interacts with light, not from any magnetic attributes.

Opalite, even though it has similarities with opal, has a different composition. But both opal and opalite aren’t magnetic.

Being a type of glass, opalite doesn’t hold any magnetic properties. Just like opal, it remains indifferent to the pull or push of a magnet.

Conductivity – Neither mineral can conduct electricity

oval pink translucent opalite pendant in a silver setting
Opalite provided by LavenderandSmoke

Conductivity, the ability of a material to transmit electrical currents, varies widely among different objects.

In the realm of gemstones and decorative materials, conductivity often takes a backseat to aesthetics. But it’s still an interesting facet to explore. 

Opal is not particularly known for conducting electricity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being composed mostly of hydrated silica, opal doesn’t allow electrical currents to pass through it easily, making it a poor conductor.

Opalite is also resistant to the flow of electrical currents. Glass, by nature, doesn’t allow electricity to pass through it readily, placing it in the category of poor conductors alongside opal.

The Easiest Ways to Tell Opal and Opalite Apart

Even though opal and opalite can look similar, there are ways to tell them apart. It’s like being a gem detective! We’ll look at the clues that show us which is which.

Look for color play

polished green oval opal  with bright green, yellow, blue, pink, and purple flecks
Opal provided by CutOpal

Spotting the difference between opal and opalite can be a fun exercise, especially when observing their colors.

The play-of-color is one of opal’s most enchanting characteristics. As light hits the opal, it scatters among the silica spheres within the stone, creating a vibrant display of shifting colors.

Depending on the angle and light source, one might see a cascade of blues, greens, reds, and even more shades all in a single stone. It’s like a rainbow captured within the gem.

Opalite, while beautiful in its own right, doesn’t offer this dynamic show. It predominantly exudes a milky blue glow. In certain lights or angles, there might be a hint of pink or orange, but it’s more of a gentle shimmer than a kaleidoscopic dance.

The luminescence in opalite is soft and predictable, a stark contrast to the unpredictable and vivid display in opals.

Check the luster of the stone

two pendants, each made of four round green opalite stones
Opalite provided by GemsCreationINC

Differentiating opal vs opalite based on their luster is one of the simpler ways to identify them.

Luster describes how light interacts with the surface of a mineral, and for these two, their respective lusters are notably different.

Opal can exhibit various lusters. Sometimes, it might display a waxy luster, making it appear as if the stone is lightly coated with wax. Other times, especially in higher quality stones, the opal might also demonstrate a pearly or vitreous shine.

Opalite, on the other hand, is consistently glass-like, reflecting its origins. This means that it has a vitreous luster, making it look shiny and glassy, just like a bead of clear glass would. The uniformity in its shine is one of its defining features.

Examine the stone under UV light

pear cut opal cabochon with green, yellow, orange, red, and purple swirls
Opal provided by Aimstones

Using UV light is a nifty trick to differentiate between many gems and minerals, and opal and opalite are no exceptions.

When exposed to UV light, certain opals can fluoresce, producing a visible light emission. Depending on the type of opal, the colors of fluorescence can vary.

Black or white opals might glow in shades ranging from white to light blue, green, or even yellow. Common opals can exhibit strong green or yellowish-green colors.

Fire opals might shine in greenish-brown tones. Some opals may even phosphoresce, which means they continue to glow for a brief moment even after the UV light source is turned off.

Opalite, on the other hand, tends to remain inert under UV light. This means it doesn’t typically show any fluorescence. This lack of reaction makes it stand out from genuine opals that exhibit some degree of glowing.

About Keith Jackson - Geologist

Keith Jackson is an avid rockhound who is constantly exploring new sites to expand his collection. He is an active Geologist with a wealth of experience and information from across the country that he loves to share with the Rock Chasing crew.

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