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Floating Opals Quick Guide

— FAQS —

COPYRIGHT© 2010-2014 MEG ANDREWS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

What is a Floating Opal?
A floating opal is a small glass housing (usually an orb or teardrop) in which small chips of genuine opal float in liquid.  If the opals do not move, it is NOT a floating opal. Many man-made opals (also known as Mosaic, Captured, and Frozen opals) are erroneously called floating opals

 

What is the liquid in floating opals?
The liquid used in vintage floating opals is glycerin, the same colorless liquid that is widely used by the cosmetics industry. Other liquids have occasionally been used, but it is generally glycerin (not mineral oil or water) that is found in the vintage floating opals.

 

When were floating opals made?
The floating opal was invented by Horace H. Welch and first patented in 1922. Additional patents were issued to Welch in 1929, 1931 and 1932. Floating opal jewelry continued to be made through the 20th
century and is still manufactured today.

 

Are there other floating opal patents?
Yes. Samuel Stonberg, the founder of Opalite, Inc, of Philadelphia, has several. His patent 1,912,602 was approved in 1933. In it he claimed several improvements including but not limited to: a “diaphanous” housing with a translucent rather than transparent liquid, and the use of a “plurality” of gems with different specific gravities so they would float at different rates.  Stonberg’s other patents date to the 1950s and 1960s.  From the 1950s through the 1970s, Opalite was an industry leader in floating opal production.

 

What other companies made floating opal jewelry?
After Horace Welch’s last patent expired in 1949, many companies (including H.H. Welch under new ownership) made floating opals. Although I’m sure there were others, some of the names that come to mind are Opalite, Iris, Coro, Van Dell, Amco, and Milano.

 

Can the makers of vintage floating opals be identified?
Sometimes, but not always. The earliest floating opals were manufactured by H. H. Welch and can be identified using the marks described on the previous page. Some of the later manufacturers (1950s-1980s) marked their jewelry, but not consistently. Although some manufacturers did use 14 karat gold occasionally, the use of gold filled and sterling silver metal was predominant. Marks of 1/20 12K G.F. and STERLING serve as good, though not foolproof, indicators that a piece is vintage. Iris floating opal pendant caps are marked with an “I” (sometimes mistaken for an “H”) in a teardrop hallmark. Opalite’s name is sometimes found on their findings. Other manufacturers sometimes marked their jewelry if room allowed.

Using the pendant caps as identifiers can be moderately helpful. While the tulip style caps were used by all of the manufacturers, there appear to be slight differences that, with further study, could lead to more definitive attributions. Filigree caps were first used in the 1970s and continue to be used today. I have also recently noted floating opal pendants with an antique style cap marked “925” being sold as vintage. They are not.  Sterling silver caps on vintage floating opals are marked “STERLING.”

 

Is there other vintage floating opal jewelry besides orb or teardrop pendants?
Yes. Horace Welch manufactured a ring through the early 1930s. However, it proved to be very fragile and not many have survived. And Opalite produced a lovely heart shaped floating opal, in which the glass itself was shaped like a heart. I have also seen other pendants in which floating opal orbs are set within a large mountings shaped like hearts or a flowers. (Again, beware of motionless chips which are not floating opals.)

 

How can I tell if a floating opal is damaged?
A damaged floating opal is easy to identify. Lack of liquid, or liquid that is cloudy or dirty looking will indicate leakage and therefore damage somewhere. Likewise, a very large bubble that can be seen when the pendant is held upright. A bubble in general (as long as it small) is not a sign of damage. Scratching on the glass is also considered damage, as are dents and dings on the mounting.

 

What about quality?
Not all floating opals are created equal. The best floating opals have colorful and fiery opal chips. And the larger the chips the better.

 

 

— Caring For Vintage Floating Opals —

As with all jewelry, storage and care is important. Although they are remarkably sturdy, floating opals can suffer damage easily. To avoid breakage, store floating opals in a padded box separate from any other jewelry. To prevent a bubble from escaping its hidden chamber, try to store pendants in an upright position. Avoid temperature extremes like those found in attics or unheated basements. (I would also warn against shipping floating opals in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.) Surface cleaning can be done with a mild detergent solution using cotton swabs or a soft cloth. Submerging a floating opal in anything is not recommended. Do not use harsh chemical solvents or abrasives as they might scratch the glass or damage the mounting. Wear and enjoy!

 

 CLICK TO RETURN TO PAGE ONE:  Welch’s Floating Opal

 


More to come. This page is a work in progress and I hope to continue adding information
as it becomes available. 
I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions and I’d be happy
to hear from anyone who has pictures or information to share.   —Meg Andrews
Contact me at:
floating.opals@gmail.com

 

 Copyright© 2010-2012 Meg Andrews. All Rights Reserved. 

 

 

Opalite Pendant and Box photos courtesy of Dottie DiFeo, A Vintage Whim, Ruby Lane.

 

Album by Meg Andrews. 1 - 8 of 8 Total. 6545 Visits.
Enlarge photo 1
Opalite Pendant Necklace

Enlarge photo 2
Vintage Floating Opal by Opalite
This vintage floating opal was made by Opalite. The tulip shaped cap mounting is gold filled.

Enlarge photo 3
Vintage Opalite Floating Opal in Original Box

Enlarge photo 4
Opalite Pendant

Enlarge photo 5
Inside the Lid of an Opalite Box
This vintage box shows the Opalite logo and its trademark slogan, "Gem With the Burning Heart."

Enlarge photo 6
Vintage Iris Floating Opals Box
Shows the Iris logo including the “teardrop” that appears on Iris caps. The “I” is often mistaken for an “H.”

Enlarge photo 7
Vintage Opalite Floating Opal Earring
The back of the screw back finding is marked OPALITE and STERLING.

Enlarge photo 8
Newer Floating Opal Earrings
These earrings are set in 14k gold date to the 1990s. The filigree cap has been used since the 1970s and is still used today. (The rear earrings is damaged...note the large bubble.)

 
   
  Sign the Guestbook. Displaying 8 of 8 entries.
I wore my mother's floating opal necklace and earring set in my wedding!  It's Coro with a plain sterling cap.
 - 
Jenni James, Fri, 26 Jul 2013 10:01AM
I have a floating opal necklace and earrings that were my mother's.  The globe on the necklace has broken and I rescued the opal chips before they got lost.  I also have the necklace and the metal part of the pendant. I would love to find someone who can repair or replace the globe if at all possible.  If anyone knows who I might contact I would appreciate the information.  Thank you!
 - 
Cynthia, Fri, 30 Nov 2012 6:23AM
I have a floating opal necklace that belonged to my grandmother. I have always kept it in its indian pouch. I don't know if that means something new to people out there but, I would like to find out how much this one is worth.Bonnie Miedema
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Bonnie Miedema, Wed, 21 Nov 2012 12:45AM
Hello - my Dad used to have a lapidary hobby in the 1960's and 1970's. I have a few floating opal orbs un mounted and some similar orbs with lead crystal in them. I cannot find anything about the floating crystal orbs. The opals might be Opalite as we lived in Pennsylvania at the time. Do you know if any makers sold the orbs un-set?
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Pamela, Thu, 24 Nov 2011 10:39AM
Hi, your article was a joy to read and so informative.  Thank you for taking the time and so much effort to do this article.  I'm sure it helped a lot of people who are interested in the fascinating history of floating opals.
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Tina Henry, Sat, 10 Sep 2011 3:28PM
I have a vintage floating opal that belonged to my mother that I wear occasionally. She had a necklace and a pair of earrings that matched. She gave me the necklace and my sister and daughter the earrings. My daughter put the opal on a necklace, but it came off in a parking lot one day and a car ran over it. I am trying to find her another one for Christmas.
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Sharon, Wed, 15 Jun 2011 2:12PM
I have a floating opal pendant that once belonged to my mother. Its always fascinated me and I've often wondered where she got it and how it was made. I'm so glad I found your website.
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Jan, Mon, 21 Mar 2011 1:28PM
Hi! I am also an avid floating opal and floating aurora borealis collector.  I have written an "amateur" ebay guide on this beauties, and I find your guide very informative.  The facts that I've learned on these beauties were just by collecting them...no official readings done.  Thank you so much for being so informative!!
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Terri Guiles, Sat, 19 Feb 2011 6:47PM