Precious opals are elusive and magnificent

Opals are hard to find. The search for precious opal can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the graft and toll on the opal miner, both physically and mentally. Precious opal is elusive and magnificent, the absolute joy when a layer or pocket of opal reveals itself is beyond comprehension. Lightning Ridge in rural NSW is synonymous with beautiful opal and some of the best opals in the world originate from here.

Rough Opal Nobbies from Lightning Ridge

How are Precious Opals processed from dirt to jewellery store?

Opal nobbies are formed in pockets within a sandstone clay layer deep within the earth. Once found these opals in the rough are processed and washed to reveal the material without the debris of the earth. Often enclosed in a layer of sandy clay, the opal requires further investigation to reveal either precious opal with vibrant colours or just common potch (material without fire, can be black to greyish white without colour).

The opals are processed by the miner first often snipping into the stone first before giving it a rub on an opal polishing machine, to ascertain its value. Unfortunately, thousands of dollars of precious opal have been wasted over the years by this process. Nowadays, a lot of opal miners are more mindful of the process and try to preserve as much of the precious opal material as possible.

Beautiful Lightning Ridge Opals, opal Carving by Daniela L’Abbate.

This led to a practice pioneered by Daniela L’Abbate and Christine Roussel known as opal carving. This began with miners giving the opal a gentle rub on the wheel first for any promising material instead of snipping them. Then using small drills and dremels to drill out problem sand and reveal only the precious opal, before highly polishing the naturalistic opal sculptures.

This new way to bring out the best in each opal has created a new direction in the opal industry as well as a flow on effect in the technique, of opal jewellery design. Opal carvings are a celebration of precious opals, the queen of gems.