Buying "Black" Opals on Ebay- a warning to consumers about treated Smoked Opals sold as na
THIS POST UPDATED FEBRUARY 2015.
By now you have all seen the beautiful opals coming out of the Welo ("Wollo") Province in Ethiopia: beautiful crystal, jelly, and white based stones with amazing play of color. Most of us in the gem world know about the smoke treatment of Ethiopian opals- they are being treated with an age-old smoking and heat process which darkens the stone making it appear black. See the report by CLICKING HERE. You can also read about Welo opal on Rapaport Magazine HERE. Did you know they are being sold by the thousands on Ebay as natural black opals? Most people new to the opal world are unaware of this. In the winter of 2014 GIA reported on the occurrence of natural black opal from Ethiopia, south of Wegel Tena. However, don't expect to get these stones for cheap on Ebay (most "black" opal from Ethiopia sold on Ebay has been smoked or treated).
I recently had a regular customer come into the Art Gallery where I show and sell gems and minerals on consignment. We live in a smaller midwest town. This very nice customer asked to see the opals, and I pulled them out. The customer remarked that the prices were too high, and that I needed to lower them for my black opals. She wanted a 1/2 inch gem quality black opal with top fire in the $50.00 USD range. I said that would not be possible as the top grades of black opals go for thousands of dollars per carat and I would not lower my prices as they were already below wholesale. She exclaimed to me, "well I can buy one on ebay for fifty dollars or less". I didn't know what to say except that "Well if you find a natural stone like that on ebay for that price you're getting a good deal."
I use Ebay quite frequently, and have seen some treated black opals on there before. When I got home and found some extra time, I went onto Ebay and searched for natural black opal, and sure enough- from $0.99 cents and up, there they were. And they were NOT naturally black (natural opal yes, but...), there were THOUSANDS of them, and they were, aside from some natural stones, mostly smoked welo opals being sold as natural black opals. (To see what I saw, CLICK HERE). Very frustrating as I am an opal cutter and opal miner myself and I used to own black opal mines in Nevada. To say the least, what do you do? I have heard complaints about this before, but thought the activity stopped. I then read posts on various forums about how knowledgeable opal cutters and dealers have complained to Ebay, with no intervention. This is affecting the worldwide industry of reputable opal dealers.
I created several collections on my Ebay page, including one called "SMOKED AND TREATED BLACK OPALS" to warn consumers about these treated stones and to show them the difference between smoked and natural black opals on Ebay. I also wrote a guide about buying black opals on Ebay. It seems many people have complained about this practice but nobody stepped up to the plate to warn consumers on Ebay, so I did. Perhaps Ebay needs to add a special checklist on the sale of opal stones under treatements for "Smoked" material. Many dealers are selling these treated opals as natural black opals, others are saying they are natural black opals treated with heat, and only a few mention the smoking process. Either way, the wording is all smoke and mirrors. When you read the item descriptions, a normal consumer or someone who is not familiar with opals and treatements will not know any better from what these sellers are describing, at what I can say is, very deceptive. At least one (or more) of these Ebay sellers is/are marketing the material as Lightning Ridge Black Opal!! Even worse, there is evidence to show many of these opals have been impregnated with a resin, which none of the ebay sellers are disclosing. To see the excellent video explaining this by Justin Thomas of Black Opal Direct, a reliable Australian Opal dealer, CLICK HERE. These Ebay sellers marketing the smoked opal all have very high and good feedback ratings which makes matters worse- the public thinks they are credible and so buys from someone with good feedback. In an honest world, thats the way itssupposed to work. But it is not working on Ebay. Don't get me wrong, I love Ebay and have found some great deals on there, and there are a good number of reputable gem and mineral dealers on Ebay. I'm not against the sale of Ethiopian treated black opals, on Ebay or elsewhere, so long as the buyer knows what they are really getting. After all, if you want to pay hundreds or thousands for a smoked opal knowing it is treated, that is your preference, and if you know of the treatment then all is well with whatever you decide for yourself. A real black opal, regardless of where it is from, is going to cost good money. Remember that!
So, if you are new to opal, educate yourself and be aware of the smoke-treated opals on Ebay being sold as natural blacks.