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The Opal Business

Opal Business Tools of the trade
Tools of the Trade

With the passing of my Dad I have been reflecting on this crazy amazing opal business and what makes it so unique.

Most gemstone people are quite an artistic bunch of weird and wonderful types with some skew ideas about life and the world. That’s what makes us so special! It takes a certain type of person to understand and have the patience to sit and study a little piece of nature. Some gemstone people love collecting the finished piece and some even learn to cut and polish or facet stones. In the case of cutting and polishing – this gemstone hobby is perfect for the home body who loves to play around with small tools, pieces of nature and come up with a masterpiece of their own design. It maybe hideously out of shape or it may be cut to within a millimetre of its life but I can tell you now it is a great challenge that many throughly enjoy.

To the gem enthusiast it’s only a matter of time before they stumble onto a little gemstone that is not well known and comes from that part of the world where no one in their right mind would venture (but people do). The place is full of the most poisonous snakes and funny looking furry things that hop and look a cross between a Boxer dog and a deer. It’s Australia mate. The Down Under butt end of the world where OPAL comes from.

Not much is known about opal, and when I say what I do for a living people do a double take and say “What? You do what?” But once chatting they are enchanted by the mystery, the lure and opportunity that opal can bring. We are pretty lucky to have the best opal mining fields the world has to offer right here in our back yard. There is even opal under the washing line at my house at Lightning Ridge – I can’t get at it legally but I know its there. In fact the whole town lies above a major field – if only we could move it a bit to the left!

Opal fever

Once a gem buff stumbles onto opal they are usually intrigued by that fact opal has more color than any other gemstone and that color never sits still. It is magnified and transformed every time you move the stone. It sucks you into it’s universe and never lets you go. It manifests as a classic disorder – opal fever. It’s a dangerous and sometimes life consuming condition and I am proud to say I have it.

The tools of the trade

I started this blog with a photo of the basic tools of the trade. A loupe is important – you don’t need to spend hundreds but try and get one with a Zeiss lens – 10x magnification is fine. A small spray bottle of water is also useful when looking at rough and rubbed pieces of opal. Finally some measurement devices – gemstone callipers – these are not expensive and I use the simplest ones out there. You can get digital ones but I find the batteries an annoyance to deal with. Finally the largest investment you will make is on a set of digital carat scales.

My first time

With these basic tools I was left to figure out most of the stuff for myself. When you are starting out knowledge is great but the most useful thing to learn to trust is your intuition. I remember when I was learning about opal in my younger years. My father told me it was time to buy my first parcel of rough opal by myself. The parcel was $30k and I looked through it, saw a bit of color and said I’ll take it. I had just lost $24k in one foul swoop and was one of the biggest learning curves of my life. And it was at that time I started to understand. It can wreck you or it can be very good to you. I was hooked.

The deal of the century

All opal dealers have their stories of how they got ripped off and for every few of these there is usually one about the time they cleaned up and made a handsome profit. I have one that springs to mind quite often as one of the highlights of opal in my life. My dad Jurgen and I bought a parcel of seam opal with some nice color for $12,000.

Rough opal - deal of the century
Rough seam opal parcel purchased for $12,000

The rough displayed beautiful colour but it looked grey and not the preferred black.It was a risk by any means as seam opal color bars can disappear into the piece and not cut anything. But this lot went right through.

Rubbed seam opal parcel purchased for $12,000
Once it was rubbed you could see the awesome colour and pattern

We ended up cutting the stones and selling only the largest one for the purchase price – which was cheap at the time. We sold the 6 smaller pieces for the price of the parcel and I kept the butterfly wing for years in my collection. Quite a few years later when times got a bit tough I sold it for a whopping $17,000. Now that was one of the good ones!

You see now why people can get opal fever very easily. Opal has opportunity that no other controlled gemstone can have and is one of the only conflict free totally natural gemstones in the world. It’s mined by regular Mums and Dads working for themselves. There are no multinationals and certainly no monopolies.

We relish our freedom in a place of dangerous snakes and spiders. A place where you can still find gold with metal detectors, a place where sapphires and other gems are still in river beds and a place where one of the most rare gemstones in the world are waiting to be found.

So what are you waiting for?

The butterfly stone with exceptional ribbon pattern
The butterfly stone with exceptional ribbon pattern