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Beautiful Australian Opals

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Opal Myths and Legends

Opal possesses a fascination no other gemstone has. Everything about them is different They have a magnetic warmth in their wonderful glowing colors not found in any other stone while their beauty has stirred the hearts of artistic souls and the passions of mankind for centuries.

Her history goes back to the dawn of time and though not always clearly recorded, she has been there. She was adored by the ancient Romans some 200 years before Christ. Pliny, the roman Historian described the opal in glowing terms. "...for in them you shall see the living fire of the ruby, the glorious purple of the amethyst, the sea green of the emerald, all glittering together in an incredible mixture of light".

The roman Senator, Nonius, owned a beautiful opal that Mark Anthony so dearly wanted to buy as a gift for his lover Cleopatra Under the threat of death to sell, he preferred to exile rather tan part with his precious gem.

The first recorded name being given to the stone was by the Romans when they named it 'Opalus', meaning in part a stone. The Greeks later called it 'Opallos', to see a color change.

The beliefs and ideas surrounding opals were many and varied The Arabians believed that they were magical stones that had fallen from the heavens, while the Orientals believed them to be an 'anchor stone of hope'. Some medieval Europeans attributed them strange powers, such as to make the wearer invisible and to give great insight.

Throughout those long and colorful centuries, this prized and precious stone has been mined in many countries. Possibly the most noted being the famous mines of Hungary and Eastern Czechoslovakia. But is was Australia, the land of the Southern Cross, where this breathtaking queen of gems decided to really make her home; and to hide herself away like a delicate child playing hide and seek throughout the stark beauty of our timeless deserts.

There is little double as to the quality of Australian opals, they are the finest in the world, the history of which goes back to the middle of the last century when opals were first discovered on Tarrawilla Station, 50 miles north of Adelaide. There is no record of Australia's first commercial mine, though there is little doubt that the birthplace of the industry was in Queensland. Many have thought it to be in 1872 with the first discovery of opal on Listowl Downs, but from that day to this, there has never been a mine there, only some surface prospects.

Australia has not only been blessed with most of the World's opals, but also many different varieties. Black Opal is the rarest and most valuable, with Australia having 99.9% of the World's supply of the famous gem, most of which comes from Lightning Ridge. The term black meaning dark and lustrous radiant colors.

Boulder opal comes in many varieties from black to crystal, the opal being found in crevices and cracks throughout ironstone boulders. Owing to the thinness of most seams, tones of exquisite beauty are cut from the boulders leaving a natural backing of ironstone on the opal.

Light Opal, the most abundant in Australia, is found mainly at Coober Pedy supplying possibly 90% of all production. Gem grade is a ;magnificent translucent material known as crystal.

By the year 1875 there had been many wonderful finds, especially throughout the Kyabra Hills of South West Queensland, but there was no steady market for the new found treasure. Mr. H. Bond from Toowoomba, Queensland in 1879 is credited with the first attempt to establish an industry when he floated a Company in London with opals from such famous mines as the Aladdin, Scotsman and Coonavilla.

His failure was due to many factors, not least being that the gem merchants found it hard to accept the fact that this new brilliant colored gem from Australian was not man-made. The problem was that the world had never seen anything so startlingly beautiful before. All they had known for centuries was the milky type opals form Hungary. Though his effort went unrewarded, it was not unnoticed by Queen Victoria, an ardent opal lover, who granted him a 40 acre freehold title over the Aladdin Mine, the only such title in that part of Queensland to this day.

Ten years were to pass before another attempt was made to establish the industry, when in 1889, Tully Wollaston, a young entrepreneur from Adelaide stamped his name across the pages of Australian opal history with his visit to the Kyabra Field. There were only tow or three miners in the hills at the time, Charlie Whitehad working at Breakfast Creek was the first miner late in January 1889 to sell him opals, 61 small pieces for twenty seven pounds ten shillings ($55.00 in today's money). To use Wollaston's won words, "It was small stuff, but very brilliant and the dancing lights pricked my hand in a delicious way".

It was Charles Whitehead's and Joe Bridles' opal from Stoney Creek that Woolaton took to London in July, 1889, that formed the basis of the industry we have today. He was instrumental in marketing all Australia's major finds. The beautiful crystal from Queensland in 1889, the soft, delicate, light opal from White Cliffs in 1890, the breathtaking black gems of Lightning ridge in 1903 and the world's largest supplier of light opal, Coober Pedy in 1915.

There are two myths about opal I want to dispel at the start. One is that opal is bad luck unless it is your birthstone. This story started in London in the 1890's when opal was making serious inroads into the diamond market. One suspects the rumor was stared by diamond merchants. Prior to that is was considered a lucky stone. It is still considered a good luck stone in Australia where they say " the only bad luck about opal is not owning one!" It is one of the most popular stones in Japan and is often used as an engagement ring with no bad luck connotation there either.

The other myth is that opal is too fragile to wear. Opal is as hard as jade and amethyst. It is harder and tougher than turquoise. True, it can crack. So can a diamond and indeed many diamonds do crack, far more than you would imagine. The cause of cracking in opals is usually an inappropriate setting. Your opal will provide a lifetime of pleasure and beauty if properly set and cared for.

Another popular myth is that you should soak your opal in water every so often. Again if it is not a form of hydroplane and is a good solid Australian opal you are just wasting your time. Go ahead and soak it if you like, but you won't enhance it one little bit.

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