Opal – An Introduction
Opal has been described as natures kaleidoscope, an individual expression of nature’s beauty, rainbows of perfection. Each opal is totally unique.
Some writings mention that the first recorded opal artifacts dating back to about 4000 B.C. were found by anthropologist Louis Leakey in a cave in Kenya. However others dispute this saying the beads in question were actually chalcedony, quartz and other ornamental stones. Perhaps the biggest argument that should have steered him away from thinking they were opal is that all the buried remains had been cremated so there would be little chance the hydrous precious opal would have survived.
The Roman writer Pliny tells of a magnificent opal belonging to Roman senator Nonius in 50 B.C. that Mark Anthony tried to acquire for Cleopatra. However the term the Romans used, “opalus,” could have been misinterpreted. For example it has been suggested that irised rock crystal, that is one in which there is a crack that displays Newton’s rings of color, is the stone which the Romans called opalus
In the old world Hungary was the main source of opal for Europe. Historians also argue here, on when opal mining actually commenced as a lot of old writings only lead to conjecture.
The opal mines in Dubnik (One of more than twenty opal deposits) were most likely the first opal mines in the world to deliver opal to the world market. They were specifically mentioned for the first time in 1597 when Emperor Rudolf 11 issued a mining license for the deposit.
Mexico, Peru and Honduras supplied their own native empires.
Australian Opal was first discovered in 1840 in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia by Johann Menge. Soon opal deposits of incredible quality and quantity followed.
The first of these was in 1869 on Listowel Downs in Western Queensland. It was these first discoveries that enabled early entrepreneurs such as Tullie Wollaston to successfully market the gem and establish the Australian opal industry.
And the stories began. Million dollar pockets, Stones of such exquisite beauty that the finders could not bare to part with them, Fortunes made and lost, Claim jumpers, Opal fever. Even the names exude a passion. Names such as Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy.
Mines like Hayricks, Lunatic Hill, Red Show. All are apart of Australian opal’s romantic evolution.
Opal mining attracts a diversity of human characters often as colorful as the stone itself and they have one thing in common, ‘passion’. The thrill of finding precious opal is the driving force for these opal hunters. Born with an optimistic streak, the belief that they will have a lucky strike and the ability to work hard under the most adverse conditions is a common thread. Anyone lucky enough to dig out their own beautiful opal will remember that moment forever. I get goose bumps every time I think of my first large pocket of semi black opal I dug out at Mintabie Opal Fields in South Australia.
After the find comes the joy of turning the rough opal into a true opal gemstone. With every opal unique, it is a pleasure to cut and reveal its inner beauty. Be it Lightning Ridge, Andamooka, Coober Pedy, Mintabie or one of the many Boulder Opal mines the end result will be a beautiful Australian Opal.
Once the gem opal is cut a design that suits the flowing colours and patterns has to be designed. The finished piece is a beautiful unique piece of Australian Opal jewellery.
Although this website will contain some information gleamed from historical sources and from books written about opal our aim is to give first hand information from our many years mining opal, cutting opal and dealing opal. Perhaps the information will be different to most opal sites but I am sure that most opal lovers would like to read a new perspective.
I plan to write sections on mining opal, classing opal, cutting opal, how to buy and select an opal, Hints for designing opal jewellery and many interesting stories related to opal.
For anyone interested in the history of opal mining in Australia you can’t go past the many books written by Len Cram of Lightning Ridge (P.O.Box 2, Lightning Ridge, N.S.W.2834)
An excellent small introduction to opal has been written by Fred Ward. It is simply called Opals.