Coober Pedy Opal fields, Australia’s Opal Capital
Details about when Coober Pedy opal fields were discovered and the meaning of the name is found in another post on this site entitled, ‘Opal Mines of Australia,’ so this article will focus more on the Coober Pedy Opal fields themselves, and the status it currently holds as the world’s capital of light crystal or white opal.
Methods of Mining at Coober Pedy Opal Fields
Well, like all the opal fields, it started off with a pick and shovel but over the years things have changed drastically. After the invention of the Caldwell Drill (a giant auger which can hone through tough ground leaving a one meter wide hole so that all sorts of gear including small diggers and tunnelers can be lowered down into the opal level.) Of course bulldozers and excavators are also used. The opal mining process at Coober Pedy is of far greater volume than most other opal mines. There is a greater chance of finding quite large parcels of rough seam opal to feed the insatiable demand for this particular opal.
How is the Gemstone processed at Coober Pedy opal fields?
Coober Pedy opal is in very great demand because it can be processed in a number of different ways, making it appeal to a large cross section of the public, from people who can afford to spend a few thousand dollars on top quality crystal, to back packers who only want to buy a piece of cheaper stone to hang around their neck as a momentum of their visit to this opal field.
Why Coober Pedy Opal is in Great Demand
There is a grade of Coober Pedy opal which is particularly in high demand, and that is a grayish material will lots of semi translucent color which can be sliced very thinly and cemented onto thin black backings and capped with a crystal cover which protects the stone and provides a nice high dome which makes setting the stone very easy. Opals of this variety are called ‘triplets’ because they are made of three pieces.
The finished item looks just amazing. In fact the colors can rival famous black opals because the crystal opal is set in a dark or black background. This means that the tourist who might just have $50 or $100 or so to spend, can take something home that really has some personality to it, without costing them an arm and a leg. This is one reason why rough from the Coober Pedy opal fields is in such international demand.
Another reason why Coober Pedy opal is urgently needed
A lot of Coober Pedy rough opal comes from fossils. Sea creatures such as shells and snails, although specimens of these are fast running out. Still the remnants of them and other seam opal material can be combined with boulder opal ironstone from Queensland. The boulder opal is used as a backing and the opal as the face of the stone. These beautiful pieces look for all the world like high quality black boulder opal and again, it means that folks can own a lovely stone at a reasonable price. When these pieces are finished in sterling silver or gold, they look absolutely stunning.
Coober Pedy. An Australian extension to Athens Greece
There are many nationalities in this famous place but none so well represented as the Greeks. I guess it would be a story in itself to describe just why this is the case but suffice it to say that some Greek immigrants came here back in the 50′ and 60’s and must have told a heap of their relatives about a place in Australia where fortunes could be made, and from the amount of them living here, they sure must have taken a lot of notice.
Living Underground at Coober Pedy Opal Fields
Coober Pedy is indeed a fascinating place to visit. You can go underground and see firsthand the work that has been done. Because the sandstone caves that have been dug by the opal miners is very dry and secure, Coober Pedy residents can live underground if they like. You will find opal shops, motels, churches, restaurants and residential houses underground at Coober Pedy, so it is indeed a fascinating place to visit. This underground swimming pool was built in a mine dug by a couple of ladies.
Opal Cutting school at Coober Pedy
I am not sure if it is still running but for a long time there was a special course you could do in opal cutting at Coober Pedy.
If you want to try your hand at cutting opal, it can be a lot easier to just buy some, and you can do this right here at opalmine.com there is lots of information on how to cut opal and if you leave your details on the blog or the chat forum, Peter (myself) will tell you how to go about it.
Pictures from Coober Pedy Opal Fields