From The opal Mines To Completion
Rough opals are uncut stone direct from the opal mines. Rough opal are uncut and unshaped gemstones, which are sold after cleaning, to either opal cutters who are using them for a hobby, or for serious processional cutters who on-sell the completed stones to jewelers and opal manufacturers. Australian opal mines are the source of most of the worlds production of opals, being over 90% of the supplies. Opal rough can come in all colors and shades. Broadly speaking, white and crystal opal rough comes from the Coober Pedy fields in South Australia, black opal comes from Lightning Ridge in NSW, and boulder opal comes from Queensland.
Feeding the Rough Opal Jewelry manufacturers
For successful gemstone jewelry production, it’s necessary to have a regular supply of stones and this can be a problem with rough opals at present. In the case of gemstones such as sapphires, diamonds, rubies, etc, this is not such a big problem because there are usually good supplies of these stones available from distributors in standard mm sizes and colors so that most designs can be catered for. However in the case of opals, because each opal is different and the colors are so varied that, at times it’s difficult to do multiples of a particular design. This applies mostly to black and boulder opals. In the case of white or crystal opal, the supplies are more consistent and the colors similar so that an opal manufacturer can set up a production line, using standard castings.
Variations of Rough Opals
Quality of rough opal varies from one parcel to another. This is the challenge that is met by the opal cutter.
- Mine Run – Uncut rough opals sourced directly from the mine. Cutting process requires more than beginner knowledge and is harder with such opals because the color is often not obvious and mistakes can be made in the buying process unless you have a lot of experience.
- Off Cuts – Off cuts are rough opals that remain after the miner has removed lucrative opal components from the stone. This type of rough opal is what is left over after the top quality gems have been sold. You might think that you are getting someone else’s rejects but this is often not the case because it could be that the cutter has a particular high grade market and he makes his money out of the tops tones. What is left can still be really good opal and not so expensive. If the opal miner or opal cutter does not have a current market for this material, you can pick up a bargain that will suit your needs.
- Rubs – These are cleaned and shaped rough opals that have the color exposed and most of the rubbish removed. This is a less risky way of buying rough and is also very economical to send through the post. There is no point in paying freight for material that is no good to cut unless you are using it to practice, which of course is a good idea if you are just learning.
Choosing Rough Opals
Buying rough opals can be risky and is open to quite a lot of interference from shady dealers. Some opals are OK as long as they are in water, but as soon as they are removed they can crack and fall to pieces. ‘Hydroplane’ opal can be very risky. It mostly comes from other parts of the world but there are some fields in Australia that produces them as well. Australia has a good reputation for producing stable opal although there are some fields that can give trouble, so if you are buying rough opals, try to deal with opal people who have a good reputation and will look after you in case you lose money.
Where the Opals come from
Watch a video with an opal miner underground at Lightning Ridge here