— 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
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
When were floating opals
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:
Copyright© 2010-2012 Meg Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
Opalite Pendant and Box photos courtesy of Dottie DiFeo, A Vintage Whim,