A JOURNEY WITH COLOUR – A Summarized History of Black Opal


A Summarized History of Black Opal

Black opals, and their value, have been known for centuries. Shakespeare himself gave them their moniker, “The Mother of All Gemstones''. While places such as Mintabie in South Australia have had brief findings of black opal, Lightning Ridge is famous for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of black opals that have been found there. Lightning Ridge has a population of just over 2,000; this means that the worldwide supply of this precious gemstone is located from a single place. These gems are made even rarer by their elusiveness, even to mining experts; black opal has no veins in the stone,  giving no clue the cost or severity of colour.

Australian black opals are the most valuable - and arguably most widely known - type of opal. Unlike ordinary opals, black opals have carbon and iron oxide trace elements, causing the unusual darkness of the stone, ultimately allowing for the rainbow colours to stand out much more significantly to that of a lighter opal. No other generation in the history of the world has had such a plentiful and luxurious choice! 

Lightning Ridge was not the first place to report black Opal. It had been found in Egypt in 1899 two years before Jack Murray sank the first hole at the Nobby in 1901, at Jundah, in Queensland in 1891 and later at White Cliffs. But Lightning Ridge was different, and it is this difference that has made it famous. Until that time, the world had never seen such incredible patterns in Opal on such beautiful black backgrounds. The supply of black Opal from Lightning Ridge dramatically changed the way gem merchants evaluated opals, setting an unprecedented hallmark for the gem. 

However, in 1873 when opal was first discovered in Lightning Ridge, Robert Moore (who was prospecting at Nebea Ridges, northeast of the town) sent the wonderful stones to Sydney for an evaluation, which were subsequently returned as having no commercial value and for a while, this was the end of the conversation. History is filled with such stories, where things filled with riches and wonder are deemed worthless by the majority due to the ignorance of true value.

Opal is a highly prized gemstone, and has been desired throughout ages. Sought after by Kings, Emperors, Maharajahs and Sultans. It's intrinsic beauty reflects the ever changing mystery of loveliness: the secret of which it so jealously guards and holds spellbound those who possess it. Yet, with all their pomp and wealth, many of this elite were denied the privilege of ever possessing the unique ‘Queen of Gems’ – Lightning Ridge Black Opal. That was a privilege reserved for you and me, the lucky generation in the Lucky Country! 




Black Opal from Australian Opal Cutters on Vimeo.