Sunday, May 29, 2005

Nuts about Nuts

the nuts are not really nuts but concretions that have a nutlike look. All the thousands of nuts that have no opal in them have been cracked with hatchets or sawn with diamond blades and strewn upon the ground for drive way or pot hole fill. Looks like thousands of nutshells. It is such a rush to pick one up one day and the sun hits it just right revealing a matrix opal bar twinkling in the light that was overlooked. I have done that and cut a $450.00 stone out of it. It was blue and green fire within a shiny pitch black matrix making it a genuine black matrix opal...they are rare and desireable and more expensive to purchase. In fact black opals with red are the prima donnas of the opal fields. Red fire you see is also hard to come by and the two rarities together are very special.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sunflash Opals

Twenty years ago in Lightning Ridge, N>S>W> Australia, I saw miners tossing away what they called sunflash. They also called it rubbish. I saw these amazing walnut size nobbies of pitch black common opal (potch) that when wet and looked at in strong sunlight, had rolling, floating flashes of red and blue and green in them How magical it looked. The miner was complaing that he had no money for smokes and wished he had some rough opal to sell me. I said what's thatand pointed at a bucket in the corner? That's only sunflash. I'm getting ready to pitch it out back. I said how about I give you three dollars for each nobby and see if I can sell them in USA and create a market for sunflash? He was thrilled and I bought a hundred of them. They sold well as they hadnt bene seen before in the Quartzsite, AZ rock , gem, and mineral show. So next year I came back for more but found that they had all been snipped in half ( this doubles the price you see plus the guys could double check the inside to see if they were missing something the Yanks were getting). I stopped dealing in sunflash and stuck to the gemmier grades. I had to carry the stuff out and it all weighed the same but the profit ws waaay greater with gem grade. However, sunflash is still very poplular if you can get large enough pieces for carving. One of the local jewelrs was getting 100 dollars a carat for "sunflash' they say. Then I found out it was not for "sunflash" but for black opal that the miners called "distant". Well the so called distant was much strnoger than sunflash and could show up a bit without the sun too. Altho not quite as crisp and electric you see as the gem grade stuff it was gorgeous. Well at 100per carat it had to have something going for itself. Sunflash nobbies make excellent specimens. I keep mine in a small jar of water to display it . Some of the more grey forms tend to be cracky. The jet black glassy sunflash tends to be stable and still a pleasure to behold. I will never forget a sleek black seal an Australian carver had carved (sleek sculptures allows the color play to play) The big sheets or clouds of magic red floated about within it as you moved the seal in the sun.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

White Opal or Crystal Opal?

Lots of confusion about white opal I think. You'd think not as white is white! However the white opal base out of which the opal fire flashes and dances and winks and blinks at you is usually called milk opal. Then the milk gets muddier. Some opal is too milky to be a crystal opal but not milky enough for the milk classification. Also Crystal opal fetches a higher price per carat so many vendors muddy the thinking by calling what is no really crystal crystal. Of course there is semi crystal as a term. However, I have always liked what the miners of Lightning Ridge Australia call that which is not black opal...they call it light opal! A broader category eh? If you were befuddled by the subtle differences I doubt this cleared it up for you but at least you dont feel alone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rainbow Serpent Opal

The venomous serpent was in hybernation and only five feet away from our feet. We had jackhammered the floor of my mine and found that it was the roof or the old timers mine. and the snake was hybernating in the tunnel. We two sheilas tried to talk our selves into believeing that he was The Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal legen and was there to guar all the opal we were going to mineout of this pocket. HAH! We filled in the hole leaving room for the snake to slither away down the maze of tunnels in that mine when the weather warmed up. But Lo and behold! We mined an opal with a gem center of pure opal (these are so desireable see blog on Gem centered Yowah nuts) and the center was framed by ironoxides that looked like a large serpent complete with head on top. His body wrapped around the gem opal center. Well that one had to go on the cover of my new bookzine (magazine like book) Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper that will be for sale on my webiste in a few weeks. Some stone are so distinctively different that they get a name. Mine is Rainbow Serpent of course.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The red sandy dirt of Australia suffers from both flood and drought. The drying of the mud leaves the earth looking parched with a distinctive pattern of cracking or crackling of the mud. Well some of the ironstone matrix opal mimics this pattern. The theory being that as the iron rich muddy silt of the inland sea bed began to dry it left these distinctive cracks and millions of years later the cracks infilled with silica gel that became opal OR the cracks filled with a kaolinlike clay that when exposed to the seepage of rising magmatic waters, the electrolytes changed the clay into opal. Whatever theories you subscribe to and there are a few, I am just pointing out that one can find ironstone matrix that has lovely lines of opal fire running throughout in that parched earth pattern. So that and my unquenchable thirst for water while mining in the hot desert sun, inspired me to call the website

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gem Centered Yowah and Koroit Nuts

Tiffany's made high karat gold jewelry out of the Yowah nuts that were opal filled in the center in the early 1900s. Those centers then and now can contain gorgeous opal of all categories. The centers can be white opal, black opal or crystal opal. Highly sought after by collectors, the Germans and Swiss seem to desire them the most.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Lots of Dirt

Opals are bloody hard to find! Soooo much dirt all those levels of sandstone (an ancient inland sea) and when you hear the chink sound of a black opal nobbie damned if it isn't only potch. Potch is common opal meaning opal structure without any fire. The silica shperes must be lined up in an egg cartons stacked upon each other type of pattern to produce fire. Potch's silica spheres are irregular in size and no stacking just squashed together producing no fire. The regular stacking pattern creates a defraction grid and the assorted sizes of the sheres determine the color of the fire! So you toil thru tons of dirt to get to the opal bearign level or I should say the possible opal bearing level to find naught or to find only potch. So it is really a big deal when you hit real precious and semi precious opal in that level. It amazes me still that opal can be purchased so cheaply when I know the costs both finacial and blodd sweat and tears cost to find it. I can hear the opal screaming to me as I drive thru opal country but I also look out at the vast vistas of Australia's sunburnt country and think, "All that dirt that is mixed with it." So I drive on both excited and exhausted feeling knowing what it will take to pull my favorite gem from the earth.

Monday, May 09, 2005

October is Opal Birthstone

Just a reminder that your birthstone is opal if you were born in October. You could get an opal birthday gift each birthdayfor soooo many years and have each opal look entirely different. As an example: milk opal, black opal, crystal opal, fire opal, Yowah or Koroit nut opal, labgrown opal, opaalized wood, opal fossils, boulder opal, pipe opal, Adamooka matrix opal, jelly opal, Mexican opal, and sunflash opal to name a few. What a variety of looks and flash in the opal world.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Opals Natural and Labgrown

As with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds a process has been found in fact a number of processes have been found to create in a lab synthetic opal and opal simulants. Much of the inlaid opal you see in jewelry where it is combined with other stones and set in gold or silver flush with metal is lab grown these days. Gorgeous and popular and less expensive than say true natural black opal gems. Get the look without the price. Some say synthetick and labgrown creations are the gems of the future. The opal lover loves the look of both stones but those who are opal purists still seek the real, the genuine opal.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Eye Candy Opal

Milky opal with little fire still is nice but hot blazing electric fire that dances and skips about in a gorgeous mixtureof colors is the eye candy opal that brings the value up up and up. Crystal opal is sharp and crisp and fiery with the fire dancing across and emanating out of a clear crystal base opal. Hence, the crystal opal designation. Mind you there is also a classification of semi crystal opal where the base opal is not so clear but a bit foggy or darker than crystal. The different fields of Australia vie for the title "best crystal opal". I think the hottest contenders are White Cliffs crystal opal and Lightning Ridge crystal opal. Right, not all opal out of Lightning Ridge, New SouthWales is black opal. (Of course I could have the Mintabie mob of miners on my ass for saying that) Some magic crystal opal comes out of the Queensland, Australia boulder opal fields too in the form of pipe opal. Crystal opal is only one of the amazing types of opals found in the parched earth of Australia's outback. was named that for just that reason.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just Convict Work:Break Big Rocks into Little Rocks

After a Yowah or Koroit Opal miner moves tons of dirt to find some ironstone nuts he/she must open them to see if they carry opal. some do this with mini hatchets, rock hammers, and saws. The hammers and hatchets do much damage if the opal is there so the saw is becoming the weapon of choice. However, this is time consuming and costly. Diamond edged blades that handle the job usually cost 50.00 US and you run thru them quickly due to the sheer numbers of ironstone concretions that must be sawed. Sooo one of the methods used by some is to break with hathcet, hammer, or if nuts are large, a sledge hammer. And there are alot of those big ones that require the sledge hammer. When opal is struck (sometimes resulting in the painful and expensive smashing of a gem) the hammer and hatchet are laid aside and all Yowah opal nuts are then sawed while mining in that pocket. The processing of Yowah and Koroit nuts is labor intensive and the payoff pf finding nuts with opal is lean. Consequently, truly beautiful gems have a price tag. Rarity and beauty and supply and demand run the opal game. The analogy to convicts' work rings true when I hear myself say, "Yes, I did ten years in the Lightning Ridge opal fields and twelve in Yowah."Sounds like prison sentences doesn't it?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Language and Lifestyle of Opal Miners

At my website I try to give opal information on Koroit opal, Yowah opal, and Lightning Ridge black opal. The opal lifestyle is featured under the links Art & Books, Lifestyles, Bush Projects. The Archives also give you a peek at the miner's life. There you can learn to speak "opal". Sure this is blatant advertisement but it is all in the spirit of "spreading the opal word" the also featured catalog section is secondary, mate!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Opal is my Drug of Choice

You either can't get enough of it or it leaves ya cold. Those who love it have a need to behold it, touch it, opaldive in the sunlight with it.... all the addiction symptoms seem to apply. You sell stuff so you can get more opals, you rearrange your life for it, you spend lots of your time talking about the last one you saw or acquired and speak of future plans to get more. The miners themselves on the opal fields of Lightning Ridge hold their black opal in tiny plastic baggies and hunch over their prize in hide away corners sharing a peek with only a select few friends. My two favorite addictions is the Yowah and Koroit opal of Queensland and the black opal of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales (both in Australia) I have traded my blood, sweat, and tears there and spent 22 years trying to spread the addiction as any opal dealer should.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Siren Song of Opal Rich Australian Outback

Australia is known for producing about 95% of the world's commercial opal. It can not do this without luring many diggers of the gem from every corner of the earth. Opal's siren song sang most sweetly to me first from Lightning Ridge N. S. W. black opal fields. What a magic gem. What an enticing song. I found myself in the opal field surrounded by many individual campfires burning in the blackness of the Australian night. The fires mimicked the burn in the hearts and eyes of the men who hunkered down by them. Foreign tongues carried on an evening breeze. We all shared the same dreams of the blackest opals with red fire dancing across its face, rolling yellow flashes, and magic patterns with names like Harlequin, Chinese Writing, Cat's Eye, and Mackerel Sky. Patterns in opal have some input into their value.The siren song sustains us when the sun scorches us, thieves cheat us, and Lady Luck deserts us. Doctors, lawyers, farmers, pensioners, derelicts, and fugitives are among those drawn to search for opal that can command many thousands of dollars per carat for the prime collectors grade. Lightning Ridge black opal has the reputation for being rare and a collector's prize. Much more of it is available in jewelry shops of the world. Search in "archives" and "opal info" for more information.