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.

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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.

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