Opal is a beautiful stone for a cameo. The portrait details are more subtle than Agate, due to Opals softness. The play of color adds a special beauty to the Jewel. Carving Opal is a delicate process and great experience is required.

Cameo Portrait of a Daughter in Precious Opal

The original precious Opal is shown on the left.  This was supplied by Just Opal and was found in CooperPedy, Australia.  As this was a crystal Opal I made a black onyx slice to back the stone. This enhances the color and makes the portrait more prominent. The play of color in a fine Opal gives a wonderful effect, especially as the gemstone is turned, as this changes with movement. The dual purpose setting is in Gold and can be worn as a brooch pin or a pendant. The stars engraved around the carving  are a tribute to her sports team's logo. The reverse is engraved with a personal message and a posy of flowers.


This Antique Opal cameo jewel works so well. The portrait is cut to the profile and enhanced with Diamond and Gold detailing. The Opal is backed by a red enameled 'Guilloche' or engine turned gold plate. A delicate surround of entwinned scrolls with Diamond accents completes the jewel.


The Brazilian Opal, shown, has a low water content and is very suitable carving as is White or Crystal Australian Opal from Cooper Pedy. The Black Opal from Lightening Ridge or Mintabe is so rare in large sizes that a cameo sized stone could cost more than $100,000.

Carving Opal Cameos

A stable stone, free from cracks and with a thick layer of fire is needed for a good carving. Some Opals have a higher water content than others, this makes them less stable. Eithiopian Opal is hig in water and while beautiful, can craze and develp cracks as it dries out. Brazilian and Australian Opal are the most stable sources for Opal carvings. Opal is a soft stone and does not like heat or pressure. The carver has to have a light and delicate touch to avoid damage. Opal carvings must be polished. This makes carving Opal a long process and great experience is needed to create the best results. Blue opal, White opal and Mexican Orange fire opal from Mexico is found that has no play of color and can be carved well.

Antique Opal Cameos

These cameos show the different looks that an Opal can give. The cameo on the left is a white Austalian Opal set in a gold, Diamond and Emerald brooch pin.  The center Opal is cut to the profile, which does accentuate the portrait. The cameo on the left is a darker Australian Opal and is set in a gold ring.

Antique 19th Century Opal Cameo Pin

An unusual technique where the matrix, or the rock underlying rock under the Opal, becomes part of the design. This matrix is usually cut away or left hidden. The precious Opal layer is carved with a winged helmet. The face and reverse is carved into the black matrix. This gives a very strong contrast. Believed to have been carved by William Schmidt, this sold for $17,497 in 2015. For more information on this, and other Opal carvings visit the excellent blog by Cathleen McCarthy - The Jewelry Loupe

Fine Art Nouveau Jewelry with Carved Opals

The first pendant is a beautiful design by Rene Lalique. The center has carved Opal water lillies, wrapped in Gold with a precious Opal drop. The design at center uses Opal to form inlaid accents to enhance the portrait cameo. This won the Grand Prix award for best of show at the Paris Expo of 1900. The third image has an exquisite carving of an Opal sun. This enameled hat pin has Wasps made of Gold with Diamond set wings.

Unusual Carved Opal Jewelry

Left is a Bird brooch pin by Cartier, with an Opal center. Next a pair of Diamond and Gold earrings with Opal spheres. An Opal pendant with a well designed Diamond accent. The last example shows a ring with an Opal cameo set onto a Lapis Lazuli gemstone.

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