Honeycomb Opal

Honeycomb opal is a mesmerizing rare variety of precious opal characterized by its intricate honeycomb pattern. Honeycomb opals are typically found in shades of blue, green, and red. They are also known for their strong play of color, which is the ability of opals to display a range of colors as the angle of light changes. 

Honeycomb Opal pattern also known as "snake skin opal,".

Honeycomb Opal WELO
Honeycomb Opal WELO

Formation of Honeycomb Opal

The precise formation mechanism of honeycomb opal is still under investigation, but the prevailing theory suggests that it originates from a combination of factors, including:

Silica-rich volcanic ash: Volcanic eruptions eject ash and other debris into the air, which eventually settles into bodies of water. This ash contains silica, a key component of opal.

Layered deposition: Over time, layers of silica-rich ash accumulate on the seafloor, intermingling with other sediments. This layering process is crucial for the development of the honeycomb pattern.

Fluid-rock interactions: Percolating fluids, carrying dissolved minerals, interact with the deposited layers, causing chemical reactions that lead to the formation of opal and other minerals.

Influence of organic matter: Organic matter present in the sediments can play a role in shaping the honeycomb pattern. Organic molecules can act as catalysts or templates, guiding the formation of silica patterns.  

Characteristics of Honeycomb Opal

Honeycomb opal is distinguished by its unique honeycomb pattern, resembling a network of hexagonal or polygonal cells. These cells exhibit flashes of brilliant color, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, creating a mesmerizing iridescent effect.

Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics of honeycomb opal: 

Honeycomb pattern: This  is the most obvious characteristic of honeycomb opal, Resembling the intricate hexagonal cells of a beehive. This pattern, the result of the opal's unique formation process, sets it apart from other varieties of opal.

Play of color: Honeycomb opals have a strong play of color, which means that the color  of the opal changes depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

Translucency: Honeycomb opals are typically translucent or semi-translucent, which means that light can pass through them.

Variety of colors: Honeycomb opals can be found in shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

Homeycomb Rough Welo Opal Specimen From Ethiopia
Rough Homeycomb Welo Opal Specimen From Ethiopia
Photo: Opal Auctions

Occurrence and Value of Honeycomb Opal

Honeycomb opal is primarily found in Ethiopia, particularly in the Welo region, where it is mined as a precious gemstone. Due to its rarity and captivating beauty, honeycomb opal is highly valued and sought after by collectors and jewelry enthusiasts.

Polished Honeycomb Opals pieces from Welo, Ethiopia
Polished Honeycomb Opals pieces from Welo, Ethiopia
Photo: Henok Tesfaye
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