How to Polish Opals

Opal is a beautiful and delicate gemstone that requires special care and attention when it comes to polishing. Here are the general steps I use in polishing opal:

    1. Prepare the work area: Start by setting up a clean and organized work area. Ensure that you have all the necessary tools and materials readily available.

    2. Assess the opal: Examine the opal closely to identify any cracks, chips, or surface imperfections. It's essential to address any existing damage before proceeding with the polishing process. The gem torch and jewelers loupe will be great help.Opal rough

    3. There are different techniques of polishing, I use lapidary machine with diamond impregnated resin wheels. I did start with hand polishing and then pretty fast moved to rotary tool (Dremel specifically). Some people use flat laps as well. It really depends on your budget, space and time availability.

    4. I use set up of 280/600/1200/3000 grit and start with 280 grit to shape the opal, this process is called rubbing. During the rubbing process the color of opal get exposed and the shape of stone is determined.

    5. When the shaping of the opal is done, the opal is put on the doping stick. I use a special cabbing wax, other artists can use different adhesives, like super glue to attach the stone to wooden dowel. When opal is attached to dowel, it allows for more even shaping and polish.Opals on doping sticks

    6. Take your time with every step, 280 and 600 wheels will shape and even the opal, 1200 and 3000 will provide prepolish. Some artists stop and 1200grit wheel and move to cerium oxide polish next. I usually also use 3000 grit polishing wheel and then move to cerium oxide polish.

    7. Cerium oxide compound provides chemical polish. The compound is mixed with water, applied to felt wheel or rotary tool bit. It should be done carefully as it can burn the surface of the opal. 
    8. When polishing is done, I put opals in the freezer for five minutes, so its easy to take them off the dopping sticks. When they are taken off, I rinse them in warm water and dry with soft (not polishing!) cloth.

You can find an examples of shaping, dopping and polishing on my YouTube and Instagram pages.

Always remember, opals are sensitive gemstones, so it's crucial to handle them with care throughout the polishing process. If you're unsure or have a valuable opal, it's advisable to consult a professional lapidary or jeweler for expert assistance.