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The geochemistry of gem opals as evidence of their origin

Abstract : Seventy-seven gem opals from ten countries were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) through a dilution process, in order to establish the nature of the impurities. The results are correlated to the mode of formation and physical properties and are instrumental in establishing the geographical origin of a gem opal. The geochemistry of an opal is shown to be dependant mostly on the host rock, at least for examples from Mexico and Brazil, even if modified by weathering processes. In order of decreasing concentration, the main impurities present are Al, Ca, Fe, K, Na, and Mg (more than 500 ppm). Other noticeable elements in lesser amounts are Ba, followed by Zr, Sr, Rb, U, and Pb. For the first time, geochemistry helps to discriminate some varieties of opals. The Ba content, as well as the chondritenormalized REE pattern, are the keys to separating sedimentary opals (BaN110 ppm, Eu and Ce anomalies) from volcanic opals (Bab110 ppm, no Eu or Ce anomaly). The Ca content, and to a lesser extent that of Mg, Al, K and Nb, helps to distinguish gem opals from different volcanic environments. The limited range of concentrations for all elements in precious (play-of-color) compared to common opals, indicates that this variety must have very specific, or more restricted, conditions of formation. We tentatively interpreted the presence of impurities in terms of crystallochemistry, even if opal is a poorly crystallized or amorphous material. The main replacement is the substitution of Si4+ by Al3+ and Fe3+. The induced charge imbalance is compensated chiefly by Ca2+, Mg2+, Mn2+, Ba2+, K+, and Na+. In terms of origin of color, greater concentrations of iron induce darker colors (from yellow to "chocolate brown"). This element inhibits luminescence for concentrations above 1000 ppm, whereas already a low content in U (=1 ppm) induces a green luminescence.
Keywords : 113-126
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E. Gaillou, Aurélien Delaunay, B. Rondeau, Martine Bouhnik-Le Coz, E. Fritsch, et al.. The geochemistry of gem opals as evidence of their origin. Ore Geology Reviews, Elsevier, 2008, 34 (1-2), pp.113-126. ⟨10.1016/j.oregeorev.2007.07.004⟩. ⟨insu-00323885⟩

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