Appraising Opals

Opals are unique gems with their own unique terminology. Learn the modern standard system for classifying and appraising opals used by major gem labs.

6 Minute Read

Appraising Opals: Terminology

In 1997, the Gemmological Association of Australia (GAA) recommended a new nomenclature for opals that has been accepted by major gem labs around the world.

Body Tone

Central to the GAA nomenclature is the body tone description. Body tone is the base color of the stone, without taking the play of color into account. All opal tones, from black to white, receive a value from N1 to N9, rather than the 0 to 10 values for colored gems.

body tone - appraising opals

Under this system, any opal with a body tone of N4 or darker can properly be called a black opal. Those gems with a tone of N5 or N6 are termed dark opals. N7 and N8 are termed light opal, while N9 is reserved for white opals.

Note that some opal body colors have a distinct hue, not just something measured on a gray scale. These are still graded according to the standard above. However, you should add the hue to the description. For example, an opal with an orange body color and N6 in tone would be described as a dark orange opal. An opal N8 in tone with blue body color would be described as a…

Donald Clark, CSM IMG

The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”

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