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bloke’sGUIDE to



Page Numbers



Chapter One: The Rainbow Stone with a Personality


Chapter Two: Defining Terms used in connection with the opal industry


Chapter Three: Fossil Opal


Chapter Four: Where Opal is found in Australia


Chapter Five: Opal Mining & Fossicking


Chapter Six: Opal Cutting Machinery


Chapter Seven: Opal Cutting & Processing


Chapter Eight: Making Doublets and Triplets


Chapter Nine: Setting your Stones


Chapter Ten: Valuing your Stones


Chapter Eleven: Selling your Stones


Chapter 12: Additional Information


Ordinary Bloke’s Guide to Opal

But imagine being able to cut away at a stone that has been lying in the ground for untold thousands of years, and finding you’re very own initial inside the rock, highlighted in precious opal…. Then, as if that’s not enough, you find another one with your wife’s initial too! Hard to believe? Well, here they are …just to prove it. This unique opal matrix is found in the Koroit field near the town of Cunnamulla in Western Queensland, Australia.

“ You’ve heard it said that the sweetest sound you can hear is the sound of your own name, and I guess that applies to everyone, even an ordinary bloke. “

Although I have compiled a certain amount of definitions, this book is not written primarily as a technical guide. A lot of detailed information has already been written by people more qualified than myself, so I will leave that to the gemologists and the chemistry experts. The book is written with the ordinary person in mind, who does not really need to know a lot of technical data to learn how to cut, polish, and deal in opal. I have however, given attention to basic terms that are associated with the stone and have tried to explain their meanings in everyday language so that you don’t have to keep looking up the dictionary to know what is meant. I have tried to develop the subject logically, starting with terms associated with the stone. Sometimes you read a book on a subject, and by the time you get to the middle, you suddenly realize you just don’t get what it’s talking about.

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 1

It’s like driving a car with no wheels. The car is where you sit, but the wheels take you to where you’re going. Such is the case with definitions. The understanding of terms associated with opal takes you on a journey of opal discovery. But you don’t necessarily have to know the technical structure of the tire, in order to embark on a journey.

Figure 1 value it, and sell it.

Figure 2

From an understanding of r e l a t e d terminology, I have developed the subject through a definition of the stone itself, where it is mined, the lapidary (opal cutting) machinery you need to work with it, how to set it,

The book also tackles the challenge of how to turn your hobby into a business, for, after all, there’s no point having a lot of stones decorating your workshop while the bills pile up. Working from home is the dream of many a hobbyist and with today’s revolutionary communication systems, there’s no reason why your hard work and fun in the garage cannot be turned into cash. Cash that can not only pay bills but also buy more sophisticated equipment to make your hobby even more interesting. And of course, even if you use your creations as gifts, it saves on buying gifts from shops, and that in itself means money.

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 2

No matter how much experience one has had, there is always someone else who may disagree and have a better idea. If you have a better idea than I have expressed, please tell me. My ears are flapping! And of course, there’s Hale Sweeny’s Internet Newsletter, “Lapidary Digest” ( Hale runs this marvelous international question and answer show for rock hounds. A free service that shows there are still people in this world keen to be helpful. Rock Hounds (lapidary people), have a name for being helpful. Having said that, I believe that what is needed to work the stone, and gain tremendous satisfaction out of producing a gem, is a little common sense and ability to work with your hands. Most of us started off without the valuable experience recorded in this book or CD, so if you read it carefully, in just a short time, you should accomplish what it took me ten years and thousands of dollars worth of mistakes to find out. I must also state that I have more than one reason for writing this book. First, it’s the only book I have ever written or am likely to write, so it’s a good challenge. Secondly it will hopefully make more people aware of this magnificent stone, and get much pleasure out of either cutting it, dealing in it, or both. Thirdly it may encourage more people to buy it and help all the people including myself and the rest of the battling opal miners in Lightning Ridge and other fields to sell more opal.

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 4

THE RAINBOW STONE WITH A PERSONALITY Most people do not realize it but precious opal is comparable in price and is often more valuable than diamonds. And when you think of it, to the average person, if you’ve seen one diamond, you’ve seen the lot. They all look basically the same, apart from brilliance However, Opal has a personality. There are stones which feature Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Pink, Orange, and so on.. Yet in each of these featured colors, you will find a subtle hint of other colors to complement them. Most gemstones only come alive after they have been tampered with by men. Yet the opal will dazzle you in its natural state as it comes out of the ground. Some stones are left just as they are and set into jewellery. Others are shaped and polished so suite the taste of the owner, or the imagination of the cutter. The uniqueness natural opal is that it is not just a rich man’s stone. While it is true that it may cost $30,000 or more to own one of the rarer stones such as the ‘Red Robin’ or the “Butterfly’, still the average person can share a small reflection of this glory for just a few dollars, and when the wearer is asked by a friend, “Is that a REAL OPAL?”, whether it cost $50 or $50,000, one can truthfully say, YES. Not so with diamonds or sapphires, or any other gemstone. Not only do opals have a personality of their own but you can select the stone which you feel personally suits you. Your complexion. The type and color of clothing you prefer. Remember than even though the stone you buy may be one of the lesser expensive ones, there is no other stone in the world exactly the same as it. Oh yes, there maybe some similar but if you look at it carefully you should be able to recognise it among others.

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 8

Defining Terms used in connection with the opal industry

CH 2

Note: There are quite a lot of differences between the Australian and American ways of spelling. I have opted in most cases to using the American, since most of my business is done in that country,. . and my word processor speaks American and keeps telling me that I've made a mistake‌so I've decided to go along with it. As I indicated before, for every suggestion made about gem cutting procedure, there will be someone who disagrees with it. If you think you've got a better suggestion, or would like to put your point of view, please take advantage of the chat program on the Internet site, or just send an e-mail to me (Peter): I’m always open for new ideas or suggestions to pass on to the everincreasing family of Gem Cutters, the world over. Unless you understand the terms associated with the movement of light, you will not understand how various opals are identified and put into different categories or groups. Sometimes, we use terms that we think we understand but when it comes down to definitions, we really do not.

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Definition: Opal Pale Opal: All opals that are light in color without a dark background. Crystal, is high quality pale opal or light colored.


White Opal: Fig 7(right) Pale opal that is whiteish in color, which is not translucent, hence ‘opaque’ (not, see-through) – Sometimes called “milk” opal. Crystal Opal: Fig. 8 (below right) Pale opal with brighter stronger colors that are translucent. (ie., you can see into the stone.) Jelly Opal: Pale or dark opal that is like jelly. Jelly Crystal: A cross between Jelly and Crystal opal.

Figure 8

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 15

Figure 57 - Drawing of dugout – White Cliffs It is said that one third of the residents of the town live underground.

Figure 58 Roger Woodall and myself with a mate. At a shearing camp near the Koroit opal fields, Queensland Don’t ask what the large ‘cup’ is in Roger’s hand.

Figure 59 Another good mate, Dave Keighley buying at Lightning Ridge, 1996. Must have been cold, by the look of the jumper

Figure 60 House made of bottles - Lightning Ridge. A well known tourist attraction. Another “must” to see is “Amigo’s castle” and ‘The Astronomer’s lookout’

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 36

Figure 61 “Bottle Tree” There are genuine trees called by this name in Queensland, but this one is a little different. Some miner with a good sense of humour.

Fig 62 [below] The “Bore baths” at Lightning Ridge. Piping hot water pours out from the underground artesian basin. People from all over the world, come to this little spot for relief from Arthritic pain.

Figure 63 - Main St of Quilpie town at the southern end of the Queensland Opal fields [ as it looked in the early part of last century] Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 37

Figure 80 Father & Son, Boulder Opal From left, Michael and father, Ralph Liebig These Miners live on the Gold Coast and regularly travel over 1500 kms to their mines in Western Queensland. Most of the mines are small family operations. It takes determination and persistence to accept the challenge of the distance and the heat.

Figure 81 “Jumbo and Maggie� Opal Miners from Yowah, near Cunnamulla, Western Queensland.

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 45

Tips for Cutting Opal is one of the easiest stones to cut. The problem is not in the cutting of the stone. The trick is in chasing the color and making sure that you approach it from the right direction. This takes time to learn but more common sense than anything else. You know that you want the greatest amount of color with the least imperfections to be exposed, so let your eye tell you what to do. Just keep grinding away the imperfections as much as possible without losing the color.

Fashioning an opal out of the rough is a constant juggle between imperfections, cracks, the height of the dome and the thickness of the stone. Your eye will tell you that a larger stone will need to be thicker than a small stone. Obviously you want the dome, particularly on an oval stone, to be nice and high so that when you go to set it, the claws or bezel (see jewelry making later) will easily fit and not chip away the edges of the stone.

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A good move would be to spend a little time at a lapidary club and find out the basics of cabochon cutting. Be sure to keep your end use in mind before you decide on shapes. If you are just cutting a piece to put in your collection, the shape may be of no consequence. If however, you are going to have it set in a piece of jewelry, remember that it could make the job cheaper for you if you sacrifice a little of the opal and make it into a calibrated stone. It’s cheaper to set calibrated stones than free form because cast settings can be used instead of hand made. Check in your local business phone directory under “jewelers-manufacturing” or “jewelry castings” to see if you can locate someone who supplies a catalogue of castings.

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Reptiles, Birds, Insects

2. “Nippers”

3. “Snake” 1. “The Swan”

5. “Bob Tail Goanna”

6. “Prawn”

4. “Peacock tail”

8. “Praying Mantus” 9. “The Duckling”

7. “Pea Hen”

10. “The Vulture” Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 118

Trees and Sky

1. “Tree in the Valley”

2. “Mangroves”

4. “Quarter Moon”

3. “Lights in the Forest”

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 119

Yowah “Nuts”

Figure 01

Figure 02

Figure 03

Figure 04

Figure 05

Figure 06

Ordinary Blokes Guide to Opal | Page 124

Ordinary Bloke's Guide to Opal  

Ordinary Bloke's Guide to Opal

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