Opals for October! You've probably heard the superstition that this gem is unlucky to wear unless it's your birthstone. But for many ages they have been considered therapeutic, transformative and a symbol of hope. They were even used traditionally as an engagement stone, symbolising love and fidelity, before being pushed out of the market by 'envious diamond merchants'. In much earlier days, jewellers may not have known how to handle and work these unique stones properly, leading to breakages and colour changes that were interpreted as bad omens. Edinburgh's own Sir Walter Scott crashed the European opal market and brought prices down by 50% after the publication of his novel 'Anne of Geierstein', in which a suspected demoness is revealed when holy water drains the fire from her opal jewellery. Two Skies says it's time for opals to shine again!
BLACK OPAL - AUSTRALIA
Black Opal is by far the most valuable and appreciated of all opal varieties, especially those from Australia's famous Lightning Ridge. It is because of it's ability to display such vivid and intense colours that Black Opal is considered to be the most valuable type of opal available today.
Adam describes the town of Lightning Ridge (the home of Black Opal) as like scene from the Wild West! Here, opal is found famously in "nobbie" (nodule) formation or in the new Cochran field as seam Black Opal. It is mined using jack hammers and home-made tunneling equipment that is botched together from old parts and lowered down the shaft, then reassembled under-ground and used to mine areas so big that they call them floors and galleries. Once the opal is mined it is sucked out of the underground tunnels by huge vacuums and then washed above ground in old, industrial cement mixers, then finally it is graded for production. There are not many street signs at "the Ridge" so mines are known by how far along the road they are. Most of our stones come from around the area of '9 mile', and are mined by Adam's friend "Aboriginal Rob" and also a guy called "Happy"!
BOULDER OPAL - AUSTRALIA
Found only in Queensland, it is mostly mined using large excavators, and only 1 in 50 boulders normally produce gem opal (opal with nice fire). Most of our opal comes from Budgerigar Mine near Blackhall (far western Queensland). It is mined by Adam's friend Avon and his family, where Adam picked up most of his new stock in 2015. Australian Boulder Opals are the second most valuable type of opal (following Black Opal). Boulder Opals, as the name suggests, are mined from large ironstone boulders under the ground. Thin veins of colourful opal forms in cracks and fissures in these boulders. The thin layer of opal in boulder opals can display any colour of the spectrum in a beautiful play of colour, usually rich blues, turquoise and translucent yellows are visible, all with great fire. Boulder Opal can display interesting bandings and patterning also.
YOWAH NUT - AUSTRALIA
Yowah Nuts are basically small boulders with intricate iron stone patterning with opal speckled between - if you're very lucky, as only 1 in 1000 nuts will have gem opal centres or hollows. When a good nut specimen is sliced, layers of brown, circular patterning and banding are visible, intertwined with veins of flashing opalescent greens and blues, all containing great fire. Our Yowah Nut Opals come from Brandy Gulley mine, which is one of the few mines left operating in Yowah, thus this material is becoming very rare. Our friend Avon has a lease on this land but when the material is gone, it's gone! Yowah Nuts can disaplay swirls of opal with great fire or colour and/or swirls of potch opal banding which are intertwined with Hematite (dark brown colour), Iron Ore (burgundy) and Ironstone (brown, or brandy, in colour - hence the mine name!). These days seeing as there is not much material to be found, the old mining workings are being dug up using an excavator to find what material was left or not noticed by days-gone-by miners.
OPAL - ETHIOPIA
Our Ethiopian Opals are sourced from the area of Welo, a new field only worked in the last few years. Anthropologists, however, have reported that mankind used this opal to make tools in around 4,000 years BC, which means that Africa mined opals even before Australia! Very new on the modern market, these opals are so affordable when you consider how fiery the stones are. Compared to Australian opals, they are a lot softer, so care should be taken. The high degree of transparency in Ethiopian opal means the colours are evenly spread through the entire gem with brilliant flashes of rainbow colours. In fact, the number of colors in a single piece is only rarely seen in Australian material!
OPAL - MEXICO
Mined in the town of Tequila, this opal formed inside gas bubbles of the host rock Rhyolite. Adam went to the mines in 2013 and worked alongside the miners there. Mining this opal is hard work, mostly done using hand tools. When there is no opal to be found, the miners harvest the native agave cactus to distill into the drink tequila . The gems form in small ancient gas pockets in the host rock, which is pretty hard stuff. As with a lot of opal, you have to shift large amounts of stone and dirt to get to the gem material and this is mostly done by hand (unless you can get hold of some homemade explosives!) On average, a full day’s slog with the sledge hammer will reveal several $5 stones and once a month a stone will be found that could fetch up to $100. Because the opal cannot usually be completely separated from the rhyolite it is ‘inclusion-heavy’. That, plus a lack of market awareness means that Mexican opals rarely fetch more than $250. The mining is consequently not so much commercial but a small-scale seasonal activity, when there is no work available harvesting the Agave cactus.