Opals: How to choose the best gems
AUSTRALIAN OPAL IS NOT ONLY THE WORLD’S MOST FASCINATING AND COLOURFUL GEMSTONE, IT CAN ALSO BE A SOUND LONG-TERM INVESTMENT.
PRECIOUS OPAL IS TRULY Australia’s national gemstone. Australia produces a large percentage of the world’s finest quality opal, recognised throughout the major gem centres of the world as a rare and precious gemstone. This is why so many overseas visitors purchase their opal when they visit Australia.
The history of opal goes back to the 1st Century AD when Pliny wrote of opal as the ‘Queen of Gems’. In Roman times it was included in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. Rumour has it that the Roman senator, Nonius, preferred exile rather than sell his valuable opal to Mark Anthony for presentation to Cleopatra.
WHERE ARE OPALS MINED IN AUSTRALIA?
The three main areas are: NEW SOUTH WALES: Lightning Ridge This is the home of the rare and famous black opal, which derives its name from the body colour of the ‘nobbies’ or nodules. Black opals were first discovered at Lightning Ridge in 1903. Today, top quality black stones are generally the most valuable of all opal varieties. The rarest and most valuable colour combination is red on a black base, but deep greens, oranges, golds and electric blues are very sought after. They are very rare, beautiful and unique.
WESTERN QUEENSLAND: Quilpie, Yowah, Winton, Jundah
This is the home of the beautiful Queensland boulder opal. The opal from this area differs from other deposits as, in the main, the precious is found in ironstone and sandstone ‘boulders’ which are millions of years old. Due to the harsh climate and terrain, and even with advanced mining techniques, production is limited and demand is high.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Coober Pedy, Andamooka, Mintabie
These fields produce the greatest quantity of a wide range of opal from the ‘white’ (milk opals) to the ‘translucent’ crystal opals, and have also produced a range from ‘grey base’. Opal was first found in the Coober Pedy area in 1915 but it was not until 1925 that the mining area was christened Coober Pedy, which is the local Aboriginal meaning ‘white man in a hole’ and that is exactly what the intrepid early miners did, and still do today—dig holes in the earth looking for that most wondrous of gems, the Australian opal.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING AN OPAL
The factors that determine the value of opal, are the brilliance of the colours, the darkness of the background body tone, the pattern of the colours, the shape of the stone and the inclusions in the face of the stone. When choosing your personal favourite, select a shape and colour combination that appeals to you. There are numerous colour combinations from which to choose from and a myriad of shapes. It is this wide variety of spectral colour that makes every opal unique, no two opals are the same. Let your heart choose your unique Australian opal as a special memory of your trip to Australia.
Australia has some of the world’s most talented designers and jewellers. Some people prefer to purchase an unset opal to take back to their local experienced craftsperson, while others prefer to purchase a stunning piece of opal jewellery in gold or silver and wear it home.
When you purchase a unique piece of opal jewellery, you know exactly what the finished piece looks like. On the other hand, if you select a beautiful unset Australian opal you have the pleasure of contributing to its finished design and seeing its completion as your unique piece of jewellery.
HOW DO I KNOW WHERE BEST TO SHOP FOR OPALS?
If you are leaving Australia within 60 days of purchasing an Australian opal, you may be entitled to a local goods and services tax discount of 10%. Shop around before you purchase. Australian opals are rare and valuable. Be wary of stores that offer large discounts as an enticement to buy.
To shop with confidence, it is highly recommended that you purchase from a long established and reputable store, which is a member of the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA). These stores are bound by a code of ethics for your protection.
Remember that Australia produces a large percentage of the world’s supply of precious opal. Very few overseas visitors have seen the true beauty of opal until they visit Australia.
Written by Ken Anania. Opal Sector Chairman of the Jewellers Association of Australia 2016.
Unset opals from Giulians.
Opal and pearl jewellery from Anania Jewellers.
Opal set ring by Opal Minded.