When you see the variety of pictures of unset opals, it makes you wonder what else will be found in the ground to add to the fascinating world of gemstones. The term ‘opal’ is pretty generic nowadays.
Once it used to apply mainly to that marvelous gem that changes color right before your eyes, but now there is opal fuel, opal basketball, opal wine, opal services, opal motor cars (spelled “Opel” in Germany) to name a few.
But this article focuses on opals, the gemstone, that amazing natural miracle of nature that as already mentioned often have just about every color of the rainbow bursting out before your eyes. As these pictures of boulder opals demonstrate, there is a great variety of colors and patterns but add to this the pictures that you can read into the face of the gem and you come up with some amazing sights.
This phenomenon has been commented on for two thousand years. Right back to the time of the Romans at which time the gem was greatly sought after by the emperors of Italy. Just where they got their opals from we don’t really know but a good guess would be Hungary because the remnants of ancient opal mines are still there today, albeit mined out of the precious gem.
The Australian gem
was discovered around the middle of the nineteenth century. My records indicate that Boulder opal was actually found first in Queensland. Thin veins of precious opal were noted running through large boulders of ironstone and the first prospectors of this stone would have been at a loss to know what to do with it until the invention of the diamond blade.
This new tool which enabled the lapidarist to slice out chunks of this ironstone and grind down to where the precious vein was located thus producing a gem of a shape that could be used in opal jewelry
Instead of attempting to cut out the vein of color, the ironstone was left in the background to give the stone stability and to block out the background light.
Thus, the first black opals were invented. Later light opal was discovered in White Cliffs and Coober Pedy and then Lightning Ridge Black opal was discovered which featured a stone with natural unformed opal called black potch was also left in the background of the stone, producing the famous Lightning Ridge Black opal jewelry.
One hundred years later, the varieties of colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns of opal that have been found in the Australian outback are too many to describe. Although not well known, opal is probably the world’s rarest gemstone. It is so difficult to prospect for and mine.
Pockets of this gem are very unpredictable. All sorts of methods have been devised to try to dig in the right place and some of these ideas have born a certain amount of results but even with big companies supported by shareholders doing all sorts of satellite navigation, the results have been very disappointing.
Although at present in the year 2015 opal production in some areas is just about at a standstill, some smaller miners are still digging away happily and there are still some wonderful gems being produced.