Where are Opals Found?2021 May, 25
An Opal’s origin can reveal a lot about its quality and value. Check out our beginner’s breakdown before you buy.
Are you trying to unearth the perfect Opal?
While there may be other zones beyond Australia that have established opal mining operations, Australia boasts the world’s most brilliant supply of these fine and exquisite gemstones.
The essence of an opal is reflective of its birthplace.
We explore some of the top opal locations in Australia and identify the defining characteristics of opals found within each region.
If you’re interested in investing in an opal that aligns with your unique and discerning taste, it pays to know the value of an opal’s origin.
Did you know, while opal market is dominated by Ethiopian hydrophone opals, it is the Australian sedimentary opals that carry assured quality and value?
There is a reason that Australia is synonymous with the precious gemstone we know as opal.
Australian opal fields lie where inland seas once did. The rugged and desolate Australian outback provided unique conditions for silica-rich water to seep deep into the Earth’s cracks, initiating the epically long process of opal formation.
When you buy an opal in its glorious and final polished state, take note that your gemstone has quite literally been millions of years in the making.
How do we define a ‘precious opal’?
An opal is categorised as either ‘precious’ or ‘common’.
An opal is classified as ‘precious’ when it exhibits a unique and hypnotic play of colours – visible from all angles. A ‘common’ opal lacks this impressive colour dance. Australia and Ethiopia are the most competitive markets for producing opals with distinct colour play.
Australian precious opals are renowned for possessing the highest commercial value. By design, they have a tightly packed molecular structure. In contrast, Ethiopian opals are porous in nature, making their inherent structure less durable than a natural and untreated Australian opal.
In an attempt to match the brilliance of Australian precious opals, Ethiopian opals are often chemically treated to boost their colour intensity.
Mexican Fire Opal
If you’re exploring outside of Australia for opals, you may have come across the Mexican Fire Opal, known for its distinctive sunset colour palette. Another distinguishable characteristic of the Mexican Opal is its translucent to transparent quality. A Mexican opal consists of more water molecules than Australian opals. As such, Mexican opals lack the depth and colour vibrancy we commonly see with Australian opals.
Types of Australian Opals
Due to Australia’s vast landscape and geographic diversity, it is not sufficient to categorise all opals from Australia as ‘Australian opals’. Instead, there are six varieties of precious opals we can identify.
An opal’s source location usually, yet not always, reveals its precious ‘type’. Most Australian opals can be categorised into one of the following varieties: White Opal, Black Opal, Boulder Opal, Pipe Opal, Crystal Opal, Matrix Opal.
These gemstones varieties are discovered at some of the most significant Australian opal fields – Jundah-Opalville and Winton in Queensland, Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, and Coober Pedy, located in central South Australia.
The pearlescent milky hue of the White Opal or ‘light’ Opal is often what people envisage when they think of an opal. Coober Pedy and Andamooka (South Australia) and White Cliffs field (New South Wales) are known for producing this lighter colour variety, although all opal mining areas deliver that variety in Australia.
The small town Lightning Ridge in New South Wales famous for the quality of its highly prized and rarefied Black Opal produces a fair quantity of the White Opal.
Recognised by its opaque canvas and magnificently layered colour saturation, The Black Opal is the rarest of all Australian opals.
The Black Opal’s dark body tone is attributed to the high manganese content found in the soil. Although the chemical compound of manganese is not common in Queensland soil, the Jundah-Opalville mine was considered the first mine to have discovered the impressive Black Opal over a century ago, before it was uncovered in Lightning Ridge.
Finding the elusive Black Opal in Jundah is much less common these days, and Lightning Ridge is considered the primary home place for this particular variety.
The precious Opal that Jundah-Opalville mine bears most plentifully is the spectacularly coloured Boulder Opal. Jundah-Opalville is the site of the largest fine Boulder Opal ever unearthed – The Galaxy Boulder Opal, found in 1989 and currently valued at two million USD (not to be confused by two other sizeable opals circulating on the Internet, also referred to as “Galaxy”).
Boulder Opals are mostly ironstone-backed, and the most valuable examples have an electric play of colour set against a dark backdrop. Boulder Opals make ideal and beautiful jewellery pieces, many with their unique undulating surface.
The ‘Jundah-blue’ Pipe Opal possesses a magnificent vivid blue-green colour play and is unique to Jundah-Opalville. With its rainbow colour unveiling, it is one of the rarest of all opals found in Australia.
Yowah Nuts, a small Boulder type opal, and other less known types but with equally magnetising colours are also unearthed not far from the Opalville field, in the opal mining area called… yes, you guessed it: Yowah.
There is a specific type of ‘Jundah-quality’ that set Jundah opals apart as among the best and most brilliantly coloured on the market
Jundah-Opalville is mined and operated by Opal Minded and produces a calibre of opals unrivalled anywhere else. Its reputation is such that opals possessing a particular type of colour intensity are nicknamed ‘Jundah-like’. Implying that they have a magnitude of exceptional brightness, even in very dim light.
A word to the wise
While scouting your perfect opal, make sure you’re aware of what opal doublets and opal triplets are.
These are ‘composite’ stones and feature a thin slice of genuine opal on the surface and then are backed by various other material or metal.
Opal triplets feature a third see-through layer on top of the opal. These are generally considered souvenir quality. There are, however, some premium opal doublets that can attract prices in the thousands. It’s important not to mistake these doublets for boulder or black opals which may be cut with their brown, black or grey base intact.
The value of solid opals and opal doublets in the same premium quality may differ considerably. Make sure you’re aware of the opal type before buying.
See why Opal Minded Opals are some of the finest in the world. Opal Minded is the only jewellery Maison dedicated exclusively to Australian opals.