Dendritic Opals were first discovered in Australia in the 19th century and soon after became a very popular gem for the royals of Europe. Known for its stress-management properties dendritic opal is a gem that has been adorned for years for its tree like inclusions.
Australian Dendritic Opal is typically a black and white ornamental gemstone containing areas of opaque white common opal, translucent grey to colourless chalcedony and picturesque black to brown dendritic inclusions of manganese oxides. Although it is often called “Merlinite” in the new-age scene it is however the dendrites that have made this stone popular, not Merlin.
Dendritic is the term used to describe the formation in which certain minerals crystallise; fine, fern-like branches much like the structure of frost and snowflakes. Dendrites are, by definition, a fractal – a “self-similar” pattern, meaning they are the same either near or far, an ever- evolving pattern of repetition and growth. Fractals are fascinating for more than just the dendrite enthusiast. Mathematicians and scientists have studied their attributes to further their knowledge of geometry, metallurgy, computer technologies, neurosciences, space and time. In the gemmological world dendrites are manganese oxides (MnO2) and form in fine fractures and fissures through the crystallisation of manganese rich solutions from surrounding weathered rock. In the jewellery world they’re simply beautiful and can turn a piece of common opal into something of spectacular beauty and intrigue.
Most people will look at dendritic opal and say “that’s not opal!” but our perception of opal has been skewed by our nation’s abundance of “precious opal” and the magnificent ‘play-of-colour’ it exhibits. Common opals (also referred to as ‘potch’) is precious opal’s not-so-extravagant cousin. Both are silicon dioxide (SiO2) with varying amounts of water (H2O), however the key ingredient of orderly, symmetrical micro – structure of silica spheres that are required to produce flares of spectral light is not present in common opal. Instead they are varying sizes and randomly arranged. With a hardness of 7, dendritic opal is a good stone for use in jewellery although the water content means extreme temperatures can negatively affect the stone.
An original and favourite gemstone of Made In Earths collection, Bunny Bedi, owner and director of Made In Earth reminisces about his first experiences of this Australian gem. “The late Frank Soklich (found of Soklich Trading Company) was a dear friend of mine and he had mentioned a long time ago that it was dendritic opal which first sparked his lifelong love for gemstones. About 40 years back Frank and his Wife Maureen noticed the black and white beauty against the dusty red landscape as they drove through Norseman on a holiday through Western Australia outback. Still to this day it is the best quality I have ever seen and luckily for us we had purchased a large quantity of rough from this location as the site is now covered by railway lines.” Today, dendritic opal is found in various locations throughout WA and NT. Some international deposits are found in Turkey and Mexico so not all dendritic opal on the market Is Australian.
A beautiful opal that has tree like inclusions unique to each piece, dendritic opal is certainly a precious and beautiful gem.