“Opallios”, Greek word for “to see a change in colour”
Opal comes from Eastern Europe, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and, most importantly, from Australia (our national Gemstone). It occurs in volcanic lava and in sedimentary and igneous rocks in veins, as lumps or in pipes. It can be
found in Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the USA.
Black opals are the rarest and most valuable of the stones. The difference between them is that they are found in different parts of Australia and each has very unique appearances. Black opals are considered the “Rolls Royce” of opals, and have a high price attachment associated with their status and rarity.
Federal Government agency Austrade estimates current Australian production figures for uncut opals between $100 million and $200 million. However, while few Australians would have opal designs in their jewellery boxes, the US, Japan and much of Europe enjoys the stone. There are three major mining areas in Australia, each producing a different variety of the stone: Coober Pedy in South Australia; Lightning Ridge in New South Wales and central Queensland.
There are four types of opal commonly used in jewellery: white, black, and boulder. Opal is one of the few non-crystalline gem stones, a hardened jelly made up of silica and water. The play of colour or iridescence is due to the interference of white light on minute silica spheres in the structure of opal.
The world’s most valuable opal, black opal, is found in the town of Lightning Ridge. The stone has an underlying dark background hue, which gives the colour a greater intensity. The word “black” doesn’t refer to the face of the opal but to its background, and its precious colours come in a rainbow of shades. The world’s most valuable Black Opal is Aurora Australis”, found at Lightning Ridge in 1938 and valued at $1 million. It weights 180 carats and sparkles red, green and blue against a black backdrop.
Coober Pedy is home of the white opal, sometimes referred to as the milk opal – pale white or light body tone. They are much more plentiful than any other kind of opal and generally display less vibrant colours. The towns of Mintabie and Andamooka also have the gem.
Boulder opals are lesser known but have equally stunning colour. Here the opal runs in thin veins on ironstone backing (hence the dark colour). Price is generally less per carat due to the ironstone content of the stone. Found all over Queensland. It is often found as a thin veneer of opal of vibrant colours naturally covering the surface of the ironstones rock.
German geologist Johannes Menge made the first Australian Opal discovery in 1849 in Angaston, South Australia. This area in Queensland attracted many miners during the 1880s. Production actually began at White Cliffs, NSW, in 1890. When Australian Opal first appeared on the world market it was at first thought not to have been genuine – perhaps because of the fire of colours never before seen in the European specimens.
Around this time is has been said that the diamond merchants saw the amazing attributes of opal and realised that it was going to be a serious threat to their livelihood. Opal was increasing in popularity and could represent a threat to this lucrative diamond trade. Rumor has it that the diamond trade spread the belief that opals are bad luck to protect themselves and gave opaIs a bad reputation. The diamond trade continued to flourish, however, and by 1932 most Eastern European opals were unable to compete with Australian opals and ceased production. This is when Australia won the title of premier opal producer of the world.
Australian opal can be a sound longterm investment, with value appreciation climbing yearly. Few visitors to Australia return home without buying an opal. In the past, most purchases were quite modest; however, today we see a far greater
realisation of the investment values of solid or precious opal.
Buying for Investment:
• Solid Opal is most valuable.
• Red on black is most valuable colour.
• The next most valuable colour is orange followed by yellow, green and then blue being the most common.
• Think about what you are going to use the stone for. Shape and size is an important factor when considering the setting for jewellers.
• Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.
Cautions when buying:
• Solid Opal is a soft stone, approximately the same hardness as glass, avoid high temperatures (boiling water) or low
extremes, e.g., zero humidity bank vaults.
• Be cautious of people selling boulder opal at price per carat, they may be leaving the heavy ironstone on the back of the stone. This is a dishonest way of pushing up the price of the stone.
• High quality stone should be set in a high quality setting.
• Ensure any Certificate of Authenticity (signed) is by a Registered Valuer
Opal has been plagued for centuries by misinformation, superstition and wives’ tales. It has also been considered a good luck talisman and prized by many civilisations, possessing magical properties. Romans believed that, like the rainbow, it brought its owner good fortune, a token of hope and purity. Greeks believed the opal bestowed powers of foresight and prophecy upon its owner.
It certainly has not stopped overseas customers and celebrities enjoying the stone. US media mogul Ted Turner famously gave actress Jane Fonda a massive black opal Engagement ring, and there have been many others.
With Australian Opal fields slowly running down, it is logical that values on quality gems will steadily increase year by year. For the overseas visitor, it is also logical to buy at the source of supply and save money.
Australian precious opal is the most sought after and the most stable of opals in world markets.
Robert Cliff Master Jewellers
Shop 380A Castle Towers
Castle Hill, NSW 2154
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02 8850 7999
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