Black opal is the most majestic of all opal. The best Black Opals are truly striking, the rarest and the most valuable. I believe their beauty far exceeds all other gemstones.
The term “Black Opal” often confuses people. We get customers thinking that black opal is exactly that….black….with no other colour. We also get asked often, for a black opal triplet or a black opal doublet.
What is Black Opal?
Black opal is firstly a solid stone. It consists of nothing but opal.
The background tone is very dark or black. The colours dance on top or come out of this dark base. It does not matter what colour is displayed; the important thing is the background ‘tone’ of the opal is dark.
There are a lot of opals that could be termed semi black because the background tone is exactly that. Most opal stores simply place them under the one banner, and that in part, has led to this confusion. This is probably because Black Opal with a truly black background tone is incredibly rare and opal merchants would then have little “Black Opal” to offer.
I believe that opal with a very dark background tone (50% or more on the tonal scale) should fall into the classification of Black Opal. This then means opal businesses can offer a range of Black Opal in all price ranges to their customers. A line has to be drawn in the sand and I have drawn it for our business.
Not all Black Opal is expensive and this also seems to cause some confusion.
To be valuable and expensive black opal has to not only have a dark background but it must have a lot of colour with a good play of colour. If for example, an opal has a very dark background and only a small amount of blue then it will be inexpensive.
As the colours go up the rainbow (from violet to red) they generally become rarer and hence more expensive if on a dark base. Adding to this is when two or more colours are present, and exhibiting a pleasing colour ‘play’. If the back ground colour is semi-black then the opal will be less expensive. With so many countless combinations you can begin to see why black opal varies from inexpensive to down right mind boggling.
What black opal to buy?
If you have decided that you want to purchase a black opal here is my advice.
1/ Buy from a reputable business that has been around successfully for some time. Better still, if they have been involved in mining and cutting. That demonstrates a love and a passion for the stone.
2/ Decide how much you want to spend
3/ Decide if you want a set stone or an unset stone
4/ Look at those pieces in your price range
5/ Buy the opal that you are attracted to and NOT the opal that is the rarest or the business says is the best. (You can be guided but buy from the heart).
I often get asked “What is the best opal to buy?” I always answer “The opal you like the best, for that opal will give you the most pleasure!”
Lightning Ridge in northern N.S.W. is the home of Australian Black Opal. Since 1902 it has produced the bulk of the worlds supply.
Lightning Ridge is not the only source of Australian Black Opal.
Black Opal has been found in small quantities at most of the major opal mining centers such as White Cliffs, Coober Pedy, Mintabie and Andamooka.
Mintabie at its peak produced significant quantities of magnificent gem black opal. In the 1980’s I worked several mines on the Old Field and at Crystal Valley that produced pockets of gem black opal (see pictures). In fact I still have some of this material that I am cutting from time to time. Some of our black opals for sale are from Mintabie. In the 1980’s I knew several Mintabie miners that took parcels of cut black opal to Lightning Ridge to sell because they believed they were getting a better price selling it as Lightning Ridge opal.
The location of all our black opal is proudly disclosed. To me, if it is a beautiful opal then it is a beautiful opal….end of story
The darkness of a doublet or triplet is due to the black back the opal is glued to so they cannot be called a black opal triplet or black opal doublet! The same goes for opal inlay jewellery!
This tray contains a mixture of black opals from Lightning Ridge and Mintabie opal fields. Click on the image for a larger picture
More black opals from Lightning Ridge and Mintabie opal fields. Please click on the image for a larger picture.