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AURORA - an Antique 20ct Gem Quality Solid Black Opal from Lightning Ridge, set in a Modern White Gold and Diamond Necklace

In Fine Jewelry > Opal Jewelry > Show & Tell and Fine Jewelry > Necklaces > Show & Tell.
Opal Jewelry58 of 109A Necklace of Blue Jelly Opal, circa 1910An Early Australian Lightning Ridge Solid Black Opal, in a Traditional 9ct Gold Pendant, by Percy Marks
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    Posted 6 years ago

    (117 items)

    Gem quality black opal is very rare. It's not mined industrially, instead small teams of "mates" (Aussi for buddies) or family groups mine small claims in the opal bearing areas of the Australian outback. The world output of gem opal is much lower than diamonds, sapphires, rubies or emeralds, and as experienced miners get older and leave the fields, volumes are decreasing.

    Today's miner may have a backhoe digger, a conveyor and fairly basic mechanical equipment, but they're not far advanced on the picks and shovels wielded a century ago.

    Then as now, one could mine for a lifetime without making a lucky strike. However major finds will always be made, they're the stuff of legends that keep the miners going, and when they're found, the opals are personalised, they acquire names, and stories are told around the campfire of their miraculous discovery.

    In the 21st Century there's another way to fossick for treasure, without going "Out Back". If you're reading this on CW you're probably already prospecting in the virtual world for your favourite treasures, so gather round the virtual campfire and I'll spin you the yarn of my greatest score.

    You're looking at Aurora, the goddess of dawn. She's a 20ct Lightning Ridge solid black opal with an extraordinary play of red and orange colour across the surface, which combines with the full spectral range of colour including greens and blues. The effect is like the sun rising over the blue of the ocean and the green forests and fields of the Earth, hence the name Aurora.

    A few years ago I got interested in jewellery and began to trawl auction sites looking for treasure. I came across a small suburban pawn shop selling a Victorian gold fob chain with an interesting opal fob. The pictures were terrible, and the price was more than double the bullion value. This was at the height of the recession and no one was buying, so the listing just rolled over week after week.

    Still I put it on my watch list and checked in from time to time. One day I saw a question had been asked. Would the seller put the opal fob up separately with a Buy Now price? I clicked refresh, and saw the answer had just been posted - Sure $500! I looked at the seller's other listings, and there was the fob for $500. I clicked Buy Now, and it was mine.

    The risk was that I'd just bought a badly abraided, damaged opal doublet, which is what it looked like in the photo. Once it was in my sweaty hands I tracked down New Zealand's opal experts, Nick and Tom King at Opal Pacific in Auckland. They soon confirmed the stone was an almost 30ct gem quality black opal "rub", an opal that had never been properly cut and polished, but left in an unfinished state, and turned into a fob, probably by the miner who found it in the early days of the Lightning Ridge opal fields.

    Then I had a quandary. What do you do with a massive unfinished gem quality opal? To cut a long story short, my wife and I decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we commissioned Opal Pacific to make it into an heirloom piece of jewellery, set in 18ct white gold and diamonds, at the limit of what we could afford, which is what you're seeing above.

    The main opal is a shade off 20ct, and the smaller piece is just under 2cts. In the four pics of the main opal before it was mounted, you can see its amazing range of colour, which differs from every angle, and perhaps you'll get a hint why the miners and traders of Lightning Ridge opal get hooked on "the mother of all gemstones".

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    1. Peasejean55 Peasejean55, 6 years ago
      Loved your write up for this absolutely stunning necklace, it really is a beauty, them Opals are to out of this world, and the array of colours are amazing.
    2. kyratango kyratango, 6 years ago
      Wooo Uncle Paul! What a fantastic around the campfire story!
      You were very lucky, once again :-))
      Above all, there is Aurora! Red and orange flashes are the best valuable colors, and in such size and beauty, you bet well from blurry pics...
    3. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Thanks Jean and Kyra - opals have been very, very lucky for me. While Aurora is my greatest score, there's plenty more gorgeous opal eye-candy to come.

      You'll have to watch out for "Dawn on the Nile" and "The Southern Lights".
    4. Peasejean55 Peasejean55, 6 years ago
      I can't wait, I love Opals.
    5. davyd286, 6 years ago
      I'd love to see the "before" picture in its unfinished state for comparison - the proper cutting and polishing must have made quite a difference.
    6. Manikin Manikin, 6 years ago
      Gorgeous wow !
    7. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hi davyd286, OK have posted one of my old pics taken with my cellphone on the day I picked it up. The auction pics were way more small and blurry. I'll leave this up for a day or two.
    8. racer4four racer4four, 6 years ago
      Wow Paul, an incredible black opal, and it is not luck you have it, it's nous!
      Have you ever visited any of the opal fields? A lesson in a different lifestyle....characters abound, but as you say many are aged now.
      Interestingly a friend of mine was looking at the population of Coober Pedy for a government service... I can't remember the number but say it was 10,000. After discussion with local administrators they ended on working with a population three times what the census said. Why? There is a huge number of people working the fields, cash only, who are totally under the radar. When you are on any of the fields you can fully understand as the communities generally seem way off the grid!
    9. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hey racer, no I've never been to the "fields", but I'd love to go the the Lightning Ridge Opal Festival.

      My Aussi wife tells me stories of her high school trip to Lightning Ridge. She went to a Catholic school in country Victoria, and a couple of nuns took a group of senior students to The Ridge in a mini-bus in their finals year. Got to laugh, now students go to Asia and Europe on school trips!
    10. kyratango kyratango, 6 years ago
      Please Paul, leave the "before" pic! It is so interesting to see the transformation the cut made!!!
    11. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hey Kyra, the real skill comes before the cut, in deciding what orientation of the stone will bring out the best play of colour. The final polish also transforms the stone. You can see in the pic of the old fob that it looks like the photo is very blurry in the centre of the stone.

      However the pic isn't out of focus, the stone had never been polished properly and was very heavily abraided, and all that sparkly colour was waiting just under the surface.

      Sometimes you can pick up old opals, especially in rings, where the top is badly abraided from wear. A good trick is to lick the top of the stone and you can get an idea of what it will look like if repolished.
    12. kyratango kyratango, 6 years ago
      Yep Paul! Agree with all your saying :-)
      If you wet an Aussie opal it reveals all the flashes!
      A contrario, an Ethiopian opal will become colourless until it dries again...
    13. kerry10456 kerry10456, 6 years ago
      Again Thanks for sharing, great piece and informative description, I might become an informed buyer, if run across these type of stones in my adventures in the search for treasures amongst someone else's dispersals.
    14. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hi Kyra, you are so right about the Ethiopian opal, which is hydrophane opal, and sucks up water like a sponge, and loses most of its colour until it drys out, and for that reason it should not be made into rings.
    15. davyd286, 6 years ago
      Amazing transformation! Thank you for sharing.
    16. Bluboi Bluboi, 6 years ago
      OMG!!! I have been avidly viewing and reading all of your opal posts for the past several days. Every one is amazing and SO educational. Thank you so much for this fantastic education! Of course, I will now have to post a couple of opals I own and ask you about them.... ;-)

      But this stone is magnificent! WOW, WOW, WOW!!! You must have been doing a major happy dance when you acquired it! Would this be considered a harlequin opal?
    17. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hi Bluboi, the happy dance came a couple of days later when I found out it was a solid opal and not a doublet.

      Harlequin is a very specific pattern that has many separate little blocks of colour that fit together and looks like a harlequin suit, here's an example:

      Ours is does not fall into one of the rare specific pattern types, however it is rare because of the amount of deep reds in it, being the most desirable colour in opal.
    18. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      PS the picture is Aurora Triumphans by Evelyn De Morgan

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