For those of you keen on the detail
Black Opal Direct was established in 1961 when Jurgen Thomas, a newly arrived immigrant from Germany, made his way by mail car up to Lightning Ridge. There he camped out at the 3 Mile field and commenced his quest of finding opal with a pick ax and a candle.
In the winter of 2002, Justin and Ruth found themselves at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. They had recently taken over the business from Justin’s Father who had established it in 1961. Surrounded by new friends, they met Woody, a successful jewelry store owner from Missouri. Over many red wines and tall tales of fishing they hatched a plan to bring their Australian opals directly to the people of Springfield.
Woody, like Justin, was a bit of a showman and had a genuine curiosity about opal but, even as a store owner he had very little knowledge. He knew he loved it but had no idea where to start. He believed that his customers were also curious and wanted to know more. With no direct access to Australian opal, conflicting messages and myths and the fact that most people had never seen a black opal in real life, he had resigned this beautiful gem to the “too hard basket” – until he met the Aussies from Down Under!
The fall of 2002 was a big one for Ruth and Justin as they prepared a trunk show across three states. More than 1000 people visited their display and watched the very first Black Opal Direct mining and cutting video. People fell in love and spent literally hours with the opals. Justin and Ruth explained and answered thousands of questions, they just loved telling the stories of opals. They could see that people were genuinely intrigued and wanted to learn more, but, how to connect with all these people regularly? This question burned at them for a few years as Ruth and Justin continued to supply Woody and other jewelers in the US and the wholesalers in Australia.
Fast forward to 2006 and Justin and Ruth were preparing to leave Lightning Ridge. They had been mining since 2004 but with a declining wholesale market, limited supply coming out and a desire to travel less, they decided that it was time to try something new.
In early 2007, Justin listed his first rough opal parcels for auction on eBay. Just as we do today, the parcels were listed with a photo and a Youtube video (back when eBay allowed you to do this). The results were immediate. People loved what he was selling. It was the eureka moment! Finally, we could connect directly with our audience, not just a curated selection but with everything we had. People could ask questions and interact directly with the source.
The enquiries and then orders came in thick and fast and, being passionate, we wanted to answer every one of the questions. It soon became apparent that there was a massive demand for information, on what Australian opal was and on how to process it. Working long into the night, Justin shared his knowledge and opals with the world.
Being in front of a camera was very awkward at first but having a script to read proved even more excruciating. With no budget, assistance or professional training, Justin decided that the best way was to just wing it and be his authentic Dad-joke-loving daggy-dancing self.
The black opal community soon outgrew its eBay home and migrated to blackopaldirect.com in early 2009. Ruth came on board full-time to manage all operations in 2011. You’ve found us here today stronger than ever. We still attach videos to every opal product listing, and we still produce videos. The production values might be a little better and Justin less awkward but the essence of who we are remains exactly the same. Some things never change though and Ruth continues to hide behind the camera!
We hang out on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram with clients who’ve become friends from every comer of the globe. The team might be bigger and we’ve finally moved out of home but we continue to be passionate about the Queen of Gemstones and our desire to share them with you!