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Transforming Rough Opal to a Finished Gem

I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. I mean, I can’t swallow antiseptic or anything… but I can cut an opal. So, give it to me. But if you don’t, I will look for you. And I will find you. And I will cut your opal.

My very particular set of skills include growing hair and, more importantly, turning a rough opal into a finished gem.

Today, we’re going to transform a gorgeous piece of rough seam opal from Lighting Ridge to a finished gem. 

Let’s get cutting

Before stepping near the wheel, I always take time to assess my opal. I’m trying to figure out the best way to approach cutting my rough, find any sand spots or inclusions, and check the color bar clarity and body tone with my torch.

This piece of rough has a color bar that goes right through the stone, but half of it seems to be eaten by sand. The other half looks clean, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to turn black.

The thing I love most about cutting opal is the anticipation; the gamble of whether the rough you’ve bought hides a quality finished gem. I always get excited at the chance of magnificent color.

After taking away the sides and top, I see I was right in my guess. Sand has eaten away half of this rough piece, and I have to grind it all away.

On the plus side, the color that remains is a lot brighter than I expected with some yellow and orange.

At this stage, I would typically have a pretty solid idea of the finished gem but, unfortunately, not today. 

I put the opal down on the bench while I finished some other tasks, and when I came back, it had dried out to reveal two major natural cracks. They cannot stay, so I have to grind it down to a third of its starting weight.

Much like Liam Neeson’s daughter, the chance of this opal transforming into a profiting finished gem has been taken.

As sad as I am about losing two-thirds of the rough weight to get a finished gem, it could be worse. I could have nothing! This is a realistic view of life as an opal cutter; there are wins, but there are a lot of unexpected turns and twists, too.

I am left with a gorgeous cushion-cut dark opal, thankfully. This 1.70-carat dark opal has a body tone of N5 and a brightness of B4. The rolling flash pattern shows green, blue, yellow, and some orange.

I am dumbfounded that such a large, 40-something carat, chunk of rough has a finished gem of just 1.70-carats but hey, that’s the gamble of opal!

I hope that you learnt something from this video. I’ll see you next time with, hopefully, a better gem!