Australian opal is not only the world’s most fascinating and colourful gemstone, it can also be a sound long-term investment.
Fire from the Outback CALLED ‘THE RAINBOW STONE’ by Australia’s Aboriginal people, opal is without doubt one of nature’s most remarkable gifts. It is now recognised as one of the five precious gemstones in the world, along with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, and is an excellent investment. While small amounts of opals may be found in other countries such as Ethiopia, Mexico and the USA, Australia produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s supply. The romance of the opal is in the gem’s incredible ability to expose an infinite number of colours, forever moving with the light. Mined in the outback of Australia across three states, it is as much the call of the
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outback that lures the opal miner and keeps them going. Scorched landscapes and blazing red sunsets, the night stars from horizon to horizon, this is a hauntingly beautiful country that penetrates one’s soul. The elusive opal was formed millions of years ago when liquid silica filtered down into the faults and fissures of sedimentary rock. When the water content evaporated, tiny spheres of silica remained and over time were solidified. The intensity and combination of colour occur with such variety that each gem has an individual character. In 1964 the CSIRO (Australia’s national research laboratories) unlocked the riddle of why opals have such colours.
Opal is composed of minute particles of silica in closely packed spherical aggregates. It is the varying arrangement of these particles (and, of course, cavities) that causes the reflected light to be split into the full range of colours of the spectrum. There are three main production areas in Australia for mining opals. There’s the bright and beautiful Queensland boulder opal which is mined around the Quilpie area in Western Queensland. Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is the home of the famous black opal which derives its name from the colour of the nobbies or pieces of rough opal in which the gems are usually found.