A New Life for Some Old Gems: Making jewelry from floating opal and aurora borealis orbs

A New Life for Some Old Gems: Making jewelry from floating opal and aurora borealis orbs

Published On: 07-04-2012 09:53pm

Comments: 15 - Hits: 0

Category: Posts about Pebbles at my Feet Products

In my Artfire studio, I’ve just opened a shop section called “Something Old”. If you’ve read my bio on Artfire, you’ll know that my dad was a lapidary hobbyist throughout my early childhood (late 1950’s – 1970). His father was too. Remnants of both granddad’s and dad’s lapidary pursuits found their way to me a few years ago. With the task of clearing out the basement of the old family home, much of this was “just too much to deal with” at the time and so a lot got discarded. What I ended up with – a few cabochons that dad had worked, some lapidary rough, tumbled stones, some findings, half-drilled and undrilled gemstone beads, and some tools – provided a kernel of inspiration and the means with which to begin my craft. “Something Old” items will use materials from this inspiration inheritance incorporated into a new jewelry piece. If I exhaust this stash, well, I guess I’ll go looking for cool old things to use.

One of the neatest discoveries in my dad’s leftover hobby kit was a small collection of floating gems. Floating gems are little blown glass orbs filled with oil or glycerin and tiny opal, crystal, or other gemstone chips. In Dad's collection there were some floating opals filled with beautiful flashy natural white opal chips and some Austrian crystal-filled orbs called floating aurora borealis. As a lapidary, Dad was fascinated with opals. I have a beautiful opal pendant he made for me but there were also many rejected opal cabochons among his things. Cracks, breakage, loss of color; the stone frustrated him too. The floating opal was a neat way to enjoy the fire and color play of the gemstone without these problems. I imagine he purchased the floating opals from a lapidary supply outfit, intending to mount them (there were a few bell caps as well) and give as gifts.

A thoroughly researched and interesting webpage about vintage floating opal jewelry can be found at:


And this quick guide by the same author includes information about caring for floating opal jewelry and applies for both true vintage jewelry pieces, and my jewelry made from these 1960’s vintage orbs.


Floating gem jewelry has some special care considerations: notably protection from shock (don't drop them!) and extreme temperature changes. Even so, as both of these articles show, it will last many years. I am delighted that the jewelry I make from the floating gems I've inherited will be worn and enjoyed for years to come.

Here are two items that I’m offering for sale in my studio Pebbles at my Feet using the 1960's floating opal orbs. One I've set in a new antiqued gold pewter beadcap the other I set in an old gold plated bell cap from my dad's stash.


Here's a closer look at a floating opal orb and the pretty tulip shaped cap from the 1960's.


Here are three of the floating aurora borealis orbs (Austrian crystal). The one mounted in the middle I made as a gift for my sister-in-law. It came from me and Dad in a way.


Here's a "naked" floating opal orb. The glass work is awesome - unfortunately you have to cover up the cool little waste and top knot bubble when mounting to wear the floating gems.


Another look at some unmounted orbs.


So check out the "Something Old" section of Pebbles at my Feet natural stone adornments for floating gems and other treasures to come. 

Let me know - what do you think of creating new jewelry from old stuff? Would you wear a floating gem pendant?


Reader's Comments

By Guest on 12/03/2015 @ 08:24pm

My mother gave me a floating opal necklace that belonged to her when she was a teenager. The necklace was stolen along with all of my beloved jewelry. I look longingly at the floating opal necklaces online, but cannot bring myself to purchase another necklace. It would not be the necklace that my mother gave to me that was hers when she was a teenager. Thank you for your wonderful photos, I've enjoyed admiring your floating opals <3.

By PebblesatmyFeet on 08/22/2015 @ 09:59pm

I know of no way to repair cracked or leaking orbs. This would have to be done by someone who knows how to work glass.

By Guest on 07/02/2015 @ 04:43pm

I have a floating opal that was given to me as a teenager, by a step-mother, who had received it from a beau of hers. This piece was probably from the 1920-1930 era. The oil in it has turned yellowish. Can this oil be replaced? By Guest on 07/02/15. ldslady193@hotmail.com

By Guest on 01/17/2015 @ 05:14pm

Hi, i had a opal, onyx, and goldstone floating pendant 30 years ago. the chain broke and when the orb hit the ground you would have thought a gun went off!! i have been seearching for one like it ever since and your site was the 1st time i have ever heard of one similar! do you have any idea where i could find one, or could you make me a new one? i have lots of opals/opal chips, goldstone, and onyx, i just am not talented enough to make one myself! please, let me know! thank you so much for your story!

By PebblesatmyFeet on 01/17/2015 @ 01:48pm

Hello, and welcome to the conversation. I would look on eBay and ruby lane for floating opal necklaces. I often peruse these sites for vintage items. I have only a few orbs left from my Dads things and nothing quite like you describe.

By Guest on 01/17/2015 @ 01:54am

My Dad gave me a small Floating Opal Orb necklace, set in a simple sg cap and chain setting. Orb was round and I always loved that necklace - how is sparkled and turned 50 million different colors! I was 7 when he gave it to me, and has been "missing" since my 2nd divorce over 40 years ago. I do know it was purchased in Memphis, TN. We live in Michigan now. I am 60 years old, so It was around 1961 when Daddy gave it to me. Where would I go about looking for a similar piece - very simple and nothing fancy? My email is PLAVVET@aol.com Thank you

By PebblesatmyFeet on 05/19/2014 @ 11:03pm

Thanks to all who have shared their stories of floating opal jewelry. If you are lucky enough to have an old one in good condition you have a real gem. To the Guest who asked if I can repair or build a new orb - I am sorry, but no, I can't. I'd love to find a glass-worker who would be willing to do this. I've had several inquiries from folks who need to repair leaks or want to use the opal chips from a broken vessel. I can remount an orb into a tulip cap, but that is about it. There might be a way to keep your opal chips in a keepsake necklace using a ready-made vial, but it wouldn't be a dainty and "finished" a piece as the vintage floating opals.

By Guest on 05/18/2014 @ 06:49pm

I have a floating opal pendant which my father gave to my mother about 55 years ago. I broke the orb and had it repaired, however it needs more oil. Is it possible you could make another orb with my opals and reset it in the tulip cap? Thank you so much for continuing the craft and artistry of floating gems. Your creations are beautiful!

By PebblesatmyFeet on 11/27/2013 @ 07:29pm

The main thing you need to consider when you wear your floating opal ring is that it is a "glass bottle" so to speak. It will break if you fling your hand against something (does that happen to you as often as it seems to happen to me?). Does it sit in a pronged setting or do you think it is glued? It is probably more secure in a fine pronged setting, but still I'd be careful when wearing it what I get my hands into! Take the ring off when washing dishes, store it safely by itself in a corner of your jewelry case (or in its own box) so that it doesn't knock against a heavy item. Try never to drop it (protect from shock) on its own or even in its box. How lovely, that your mom has an original floating opal from the 50's. Cherish it and it will last a long, long time. Thanks for visiting!

By Guest on 11/26/2013 @ 07:03pm

I have recently purchased a floating opal ring... I'm nervous somewhat because it sits up high on the setting... cleaning hints and care please if you don't mind! My mother has a large floating opal necklace that I will have one day from the 1950's... its beautiful! Thanks for any information! Your pieces are beautiful!

By Guest on 07/09/2013 @ 12:28am

Many years ago I had a floating gem pendant. It had a mix of opal, sandstone and onyx. It broke and I have spent many years trying to find something similar! I'll keep checking back to see your beautiful creations

By Guest on 09/27/2012 @ 05:09pm

Those are quite lovely and very unique. I've never seen such a thing. Nice find.

By noeljewelry on 07/05/2012 @ 02:17pm

My mom has a set of floating opal jewelry like these - I have always loved it. I've never seen the crystal ones, though! They are gorgeous!

By pamspretties on 07/05/2012 @ 01:45am

Those are beautiful and very unusual. I would love to have a floating gem pendant. What a lovely thing to have from your dad.

By Gingers-Garden on 07/05/2012 @ 12:52am

I never knew such a thing existed. The floating opal orbs are beautiful!

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