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Moonstone vs. Opal – Similarities, Differences and Which is Better

Moonstone vs opal side by side

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Moonstones and Opals are elegant, lustrous gems that look alike, but differ in terms of their composition, pros and cons, symbolism and overall characteristics. Both these stones have their own distinct identity and uniqueness, making them highly desirable gems for jewelry. Choosing between the two depends entirely on your budget, taste and preference.

Let’s take a look at the differences between Moonstones and Opals, to determine which is the stone for you.

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A Quick Comparison

Moonstone vs opal side by side

Before we begin, here’s a quick look at the similarities and differences of Opal vs. Moonstone. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, this section will cover it for you:

  • Opal is typically more valuable than moonstone.
  • Both stones look similar, but with different effects. Opal has a more colorful effect with flashes of color, while moonstone has a glowing effect with minimal color (known as adularescence).
  • Moonstones are thought to have healing properties and is a ‘stone of peace’ whereas opals are a symbol of hope and inner purity.
  • Both stones are soft and require adequate care.
  • Both are stunning when set in quality jewelry, and suit any metal color.

Moonstone vs. Opal – History

Moonstones are an ancient gem, venerated across cultures for their mystical and magical properties. In Roman and Hindu mythology, Moonstones were worshipped for their perceived ability to trap and hold moonbeams. In Greek and Roman cultures, they were closely associated with goddesses Luna, Selene, Artemis and Hectate. In contemporary times, Moonstones have become renowned for their aesthetic properties, and especially gained popularity in the Art Noveau and New Age movements. 

Much like Moonstones, Opals also have had a remarkable history. The earliest Opal artifacts originated in Ethiopia, and dated back to 4000 B.C. They were a very popular gem and traveled across the globe with the development of trade and commerce. Opals were highly coveted by royalty and became a symbol of wealth and prosperity. From the 1800’s onwards, 90% of Opals have been mined in Australia, with a moderate production in Ethiopia, Indonesia, USA, and Brazil.

Moonstone vs. Opal – Characteristics

Moonstone ring

Moonstone ring by Galanta Jewels. Notice the stunning sheen across its surface. See it here.

Moonstones are a beautiful and prized gem, desired for their pearly-blue shade. Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • Moonstones are translucent, opalescent, or semi-transparent gems, that can have a body color of brown, green, yellow, gray or black.  
  • They are renowned for the adularescence effect, which creates a lustrous glow on their surface. This effect is created when light reflects from the feldspar minerals present within the stone. The movement of light across the surface of the Moonstone, is said to resemble moonbeams traveling upon water.
  • In order to enhance the adularescence effect, Moonstones are shaped and cut only by professionals. The most popular cut is the cabochon, which allows the stone’s smoothness, color and sheen to come through. Faceted Moonstones are also popular, as they have the ability to hide any impurities within the stone.
  • Moonstones that are clear, free of blemishes, and almost transparent are the most desired stones. Inclusions and marks can reduce the adularescence effect and bring down the value of the Moonstone.  A common inclusion in moonstones is known as the centipede, resembling the thin insect with several branching legs.
  • Moonstones don’t undergo any artificial processing or treatment, because their natural hue is the most desired.
Opal earring

Opal earrings by Adita Gold. Notice the flashes of color emanating from the stone. See it here.

Opals are a very unique gemstone, that come in a wide range of colors and shades. No two Opals can ever look alike, and this feature is what makes them a desirable gemstone to own.

Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • There are a variety of Opals. Some of them are named after the natural substances that they resemble. For instance, there are fire Opals, water Opals, honey Opals, crystal Opals, jelly Opals and so on.
  • Precious Opals are renowned for their brilliant flashes of colors. Light enters the Opal and reacts with the chemical structure of the stone, resulting in a prism of colors. A single precious Opal can have several hues when moved against light and viewed from different angles.
  • Opals are cut and shaped according to the play of color and the patterns on their surface. Some of the rarest Opals have been cut into unique shapes to adequately display their hue. Like Moonstones, Opals too are typically cut en cabochon rather than faceted. If the stone has a cabochon cut, it’s usually well rounded, to show off the best play of color.
  • Opals are both desired in their transparent and opaque state. But transparent or opaque stones that have blemishes, fractures, or inclusions aren’t thought to be high quality stones, and are less valued.
  • Opals can be artificially treated to intensify the play of color, and enhance their appearance.

Moonstones vs. Opals – Durability

Both these stones score low in the durability department. However, the durability of these stones not only depends on the hardness, but on how they are treated and maintained.

Moonstones are a fairly fragile stone that only have a hardness of 6-6.5 on the Mohs scale. They can easily scratch and shatter if they aren’t looked after properly. Since Moonstones are delicate, if chosen as engagement rings, they must be placed in a protective setting, like a bezel or halo setting.

Opals are slightly more brittle than Moonstones, with a hardness of 5.5 – 6.5 on the Mohs scale. This soft gem can easily scratch and crack, if subject to any kind of wear and tear. Despite this fact, they are still desired as engagement rings, since they have a unique play of color that none can replace.

Both Moonstones and Opals can last for a relatively long time if they are properly cared for. They should be cleaned with warm water, mild detergent, and a soft cloth or toothbrush. They shouldn’t be exposed to any harsh chemicals. Ideally, it’s best to remove Opal or Moonstone jewelry when participating in any strenuous activities.

Moonstones vs. Opals- Value

Moonstones can fetch a price anywhere between$10 to $1000. Stones that are clear, without any inclusions or blemishes are the most expensive. Moonstones which have an intense Adularescence effect also fetch a much higher price. The value of Moonstones can also vary depending on their weight in carats. Stones that are 1-5 carats are moderately priced, whereas larger stones, like 15-20 carats gems, that have a clear surface, can fetch  bigger sums.

The cost and value of Opals depends on the type. Australian Opals, which are considered the best quality stones can fetch anywhere between $10 to $75 per carat. The Ethiopian Opal, on the other hand, that has a slightly lower quality, can be purchased for $8 to $30.

Moonstones vs. Opals- Symbolic Meaning and Significance

In many ancient cultures, Moonstones were considered a powerful and sacred gemstone. They were a symbol of positive energy and tranquility. In Eastern cultures, they were greatly admired for their Adularescence effect, and were thought to be an emblem of good luck. Healers have also associated the Moonstone with the Solar Plexus Charka, and the gem has been used to establish equilibrium in the mind and body.

Opals have been regarded as a symbol of love, affection, and passion. They are believed to assist in the release of innermost feelings and emotions. It’s believed to help get rid of all inhibition and stimulate a profound consciousness. Opals are particularly useful in activating and energizing multiple chakras. Their various colors stimulate different chakras, and connects each one to the crown chakra, for an intense healing experience.

Which Should I Choose?

Choosing between a Moonstone and Opal is no easy feat, but it depends entirely on your taste and preference.

If you want a gemstone with a luminescent and soothing glow, choose the Moonstone. However, if you’re after more color, you can purchase the Opal.

Both are more or less equal in terms of durability and require adequate care to keep them safe and beautiful for a long time. However, note that opal is often more valuable and sought after.

If you’re thinking about moonstones, check out this guide on moonstone engagement rings. If you’re leaning towards opals, have you heard that opals were once considered bad luck? We cover this superstition in this article.