October Opal Opulence – tracing the journey from source with Opalink
As the October nights draw in, there is one super birthgem that will undoubtedly catch your eye. It is pure visual indulgence that will lift your wild spirits high!
Black, fire, white, boulder, like a kid in a sweet shop let’s dive right in… to a pool of myriad colour.
Are you coming with me?…
…to float in an opulent iridescent galaxy that is OPAL.
Let me reveal my latest source of fairly traded gems, the beautiful boulder opal all the way from a small family run business in the outback of Australia.
Thanks to Debbie of Opalink, a lovely lady whom I’ve known for many years now… I’ve recently purchased some beautiful specimens that are already evolving into some one-of-a-kind designer pieces married with rich Fairtrade yellow gold.
So… What exactly is Opal?
Opal is a hardened silica gel, usually containing 5-10 per cent water. It was formed 30 million years ago when the solution of silica and water seeped into cavities in sedimentary rocks, veins in igneous rocks and organic matter in what is now fossilised wood, shell and bone. Precious opal shows flashes of colour depending on the angle of viewing. This iridescence is caused by the way the structure, a regular arrangement of tiny silica spheres, diffracts light – the larger the spheres, the greater the range of colours.
And what is it known for?
The word opal is derived from the Sanskrit word “upala” meaning “valuable jewel.” In ancient times, the Greeks thought opal to be the “tears of Zeus” and prized it as valuable as diamonds. For those lucky enough to be born in October, opal is your precious birthstone!
Throughout history, this very precious gem has also been seen as a sign of “good luck” in it’s many various forms and types. Opal is eternal and will always be glamorous yet deeply spiritual.
Transparency within my field of jewellery design is key…
Who better to help me tell the story of rough opal from source, to the finely cut and polished valuable gemstone that we see in my jewellery cabinet, than Debbie herself. Read on to find out more about this amazing gem and the processes involved in finding, extracting and cutting it…
Where does it come from?
95% of today’s precious opals are mined out of Australia. Black and semi black opal are typically found at Lightening Ridge, New South Wales, whilst white crystal specimens are mined at Coober Pedy, South Australia. Boulder opals as pictured above, contain an element of rock in which the opal formed. They mainly come from Koroit, Quilpie and Winton in Queensland, including Debbie and Chris’ back yard (literally) in the Yowah area where they live.
And… How is Opal mined and cut?
Opal is found where water has been, either where rivers have run or in Coober Pedy where there was an inland sea. Debbie tells me that this is where you can find opalised shells and fish bones!
“We follow that line and look for where the opal has bottomed out and settled, so that it cannot run any further. It sits there over millions of years and solidifies. Unfortunately in this situation here the place where the opal, sits is under the water, so the water needs to be pumped out to continue to dig to find that place.”
In the Boulder Opal fields of Yowah most of the mining is open cut. Debbie explains…
“We use 3 tonne excavators to move the earth. Most of the opal is found about 30 feet down. It forms in large sandstone rocks. We look for places where water has run through the rocks to mine, it forms as a line of opal colour that runs through the rock.”
The Opals are cut using diamond impregnated wheels. Chris and Debbie’s daughter Jess and her partner Tai help with this process. It truly is a family team business!
“We begin with a coarse grit to shape the stones and to take off some of the sandstone or iron stone still left on the opal. Then we move up to a medium grit to take the scratches out left from the coarser wheels. Finally, once the scratches are out, we finely polish the opals up to their iridescent splender.”
Debbie and Chris then get to travel further afield with their precious cargo. Every year I get the pleasure of meeting Debbie in person when she comes to visit me at My Studio in South Somerset England.
Below are some fabulous examples of triangular cut fairly sourced white crystal opal from Coober Pedy, South Australia, which I’ve just directly purchased from Debbie and her family at Opalink.