Ethiopian Opals are one of the newest additions to the opal family, only discovered in 2008 in the Wollo Province of Ethiopia. They are sometimes referred to as Welo Opals or African Opals.
Ethiopian Opals are usually light in colour and the high grade opals display mesmerising, at times, almost neon flashes of fire. As beautiful as these opals are, they are very temperamental and require special care and handling.
Ethiopian Opals are "hydrophane", which makes them thirsty for water. If the opals come in contact with water, they will absorb it like a sponge. If the opals are left in water and allowed to soak it up, they may lose their fire temporarily and turn yellow or brown. But don't worry, the fire and colour will come back once the opals have fully dried, which can take a few minutes to weeks, depending on how much water they managed to absorb.
Opals are sometimes referred to as "living gems" due to their ability to soak up liquids. Ethiopian opals handle gradual temperature changes well. So when drying an opal that has managed to soak up water and lose its fire, let it dry naturally. Do not try to speed up the process by placing the opals under a hot light or hair dryer.
Because of the opal's "thirstiness", liquids like perfumes, soaps and cleaning products can stains your opals and change their colour. If that happens, try washing them with warm water and wiping with a soft cloth before allowing them to dry on their own.
A lot of jewellers use ultrasonic cleaners to clean gemstone jewellery. While some gemstones can withstand it, Ethiopian opals are more fragile and may crack. To clean your opals, simply wipe away with a soft cloth.
When wearing opal jewellery, you should remember its moderate hardness and toughness. It rates 5.5 to 6.5 on Moh's scale of hardness. This puts them below quartz (7) and emeralds (7.5 to 8) and above pearls and coral (3 to 4). This means that it is best to take off your opal rings and bracelets when trying to build an IKEA bookshelf or weed your garden!
I know that this all seems like a lot of work and it may be easier to just buy jewellery featuring a tougher gemstone. But just look at this:
Personally, Ethiopian opals are one of my favourite gemstones. Their beautiful flashes of fire in all colours of the rainbow makes them so magical and unique. And if you take care of them properly, they can last you a lifetime and more.
P.S. You can see Pearlberry's range of Ethiopian Opal jewellery here.
2022 UPDATE: After working with Ethiopian Opals for 7 years I have decided to stop using them in my jewellery - they are too unstable when it comes to colour and too soft on the Mohs hardness scale.