Renowned Opals in History

Delve into the captivating narratives of some renowned opals, each possessing a blend of mesmerising tales and stunning aesthetics. The intriguing backstories behind these opals will give you knowledge untold, shedding a revealing light on knowledge most others would not know. 

The Aurora Australis

Unearthed in 1938 at Lightning Ridge, the 'Aurora Australis' stands as the pinnacle of black opals, acclaimed for its immense value. Mined by Opal prospector Charlie Dunstan, this opulent stone boasts a striking harlequin pattern, adorned with vivid hues of red, green, and blue against a dark backdrop. Weighing 180 carats, and measuring 3x1.8 inches, its rarity stems from both its size and intense colour play. Acquired by ‘Altmann + Cherny’ in a semi-rough state, it underwent meticulous cutting and polishing to unveil its brilliant oval form. Valued at AUD$1,000,000 in 2005, it remains a prized gem in the world of opulence.

The Olympic Australis

Hailed as the largest and most valuable gem opal ever unearthed, the ‘Olympic Australis’ was discovered in 1956 at the renowned ‘Eight Mile’ opal field in Coober Pedy, South Australia. Found amidst a bag of rough opals purchased by John Altmann and Rudi Cherny, this extraordinary gem stood out for its exceptional purity, comprising 99% gem opal. Instead of cutting it, the decision was made to preserve its integrity. Weighing a staggering 17,000 carats and measuring 11 inches in length, it was valued at AUD$2,500,000 in 2005. Its remarkable purity suggested the potential to yield 10,000 one-carat stones, each valued at US$180 wholesale.


WORLDS LARGEST OPAL from Australian Opal Cutters on Vimeo.


The Black Prince Opal

Discovered in 1915 at Phone Line by Urwin and Brown, "The Black Prince," initially christened 'Harlequin Prince,' emerged as perhaps the least renowned among the four notable stones unearthed from the same claim. Weighing 181 carats, this opulent gem showcased a distinctive flag pattern on one side, while the other exhibited a captivating red hue.

Subsequently, this black opal made its way to England, where it caught the eye of a wealthy American serviceman. Acquired by him, the gem eventually found a new home at the New York Museum of Natural History. Later on, 'Prince' joined the prestigious collection at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles, adding to the legacy of opulence and intrigue surrounding it.


‘The Butterfly Stone’ or ‘Red Admiral’

This opal was uncovered during World War I on the 'Phone Line' field. The 'Butterfly Stone' - also known as the 'Red Admiral' - captivates with its extraordinary beauty and distinct red patterns, reminiscent of the British Red Admiral butterfly. Passing through various hands, including those of Percy Marks and a Queensland grazier, it eventually found its way to the possession of Mrs. Drysdale of Sydney. As of 2004, it was once again under the care of Percy Marks & Co., being kept in an environment where it can retain its allure and mystique.

Halley's Comet

Enshrined in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest uncut black opal ‘nobby’ (a term used to indicate a naturally ‘lump-shaped’ piece of opal), 'Halley's Comet' weighs an impressive 1982.5 carats. Discovered by a group of opal miners on the Leaning Tree Claim at Lightning Ridge, this colossal gem boasts a thick, gem-quality green and green/orange colour bar. In 2005, it was offered for sale at AUD$1.2 million, showcasing its immense value and scarcity in the world of precious stones.

Africa - An Incredible Black Opal From Australian Opal Cutters from Australian Opal Cutters on Vimeo.


The Virgin Rainbow

Regarded as one of the world's most exquisite opals, 'The Virgin Rainbow' dazzles as a 63.3mm Black Crystal Opal Belemnite Fossil, featuring gem-quality colouration and an alleged “glow in the dark”. Discovered in September 2003 at Three Mile Fields, Coober Pedy, South Australia, by John Dunstan, this opulent gem weighs a remarkable 72.65 carats, showcasing nature's unparalleled artistry.


‘Pride of Australia’ or ‘Red Emperor’

Unearthed in 1915 at Phone Line, Lightning Ridge, the 'Pride of Australia,' also known as the 'Red Emperor,' captivates with its continent-shaped form and intricate interplay of black, blue, and brilliant red streaks. Touted as the “greatest opal of Australia” and, by extension, the world, it toured numerous World Fairs, garnering acclaim and recognition. Ernie Sherman bought ‘Pride’ plus another three stones from the miners for £2000 around 1920, with this purchase being seen as the highest amount ever paid for four black opals.

In 1954, Dr. Hubert Eaton, the President and Founder of the renowned Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA, and a notable collector of gems in the United States, found himself drawn to the opulent offerings of Percy Marks, Ltd., situated in Sydney, Australia. Renowned for housing one of the most esteemed opal collections globally, Percy Marks, Ltd. held the Pride of Australia among its treasures, prominently displayed in its window.

To Dr. Eaton's disappointment, the opal was not available for purchase. Undeterred, he selected several other opals and made it clear to the firm that he desired not only those but also the Pride. Without the inclusion of the Pride in the transaction, Dr. Eaton declared there would be no deal. Summing up the negotiation in a letter to his assistant, Dr. Eaton wrote, "To make a long story short, after considerable negotiation, I ended up going to the bank and obtaining a draft payable to Percy Marks, Ltd." Eventually, 'Pride' found its way into Dr. Eaton's possession.

Tragically, 'Pride' was later stolen from its new owner, Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles, adding a poignant chapter to its storied history.

With a weight of 225 carats and possessing two distinct colour bars, it fetched a staggering price of £2000 in 1931 and continues to mesmerize aficionados of precious stones. The ‘Pride of Australia’ was valued in 1931 at £2000 on its own and was sold in the 1950s from the Percy Marks Collection, Sydney.

The Flame Queen

The saga of mining the 'Flame Queen' reads like a gripping novel. Unearthed on Bald Hill in 1918, this opulent gem emerged from the toil of partners Jack Phillips, Walter Bradley, and 'Irish' Joe Hegarty. Despite facing adversity and hardship in the treacherous landscape of Lightning Ridge, a risky place to speculate for opals. 

The early miners used picks and shovels, battling fatigue and hunger and desperate to find an opal-rich shaft. Hegarty completed the partially dug tunnel, but when he reached the opal level, the site appeared worthless. The opal-rich clay, usually around 30 feet down the shaft, did not reveal any colour, which indicates the presence of gemstones. Once Hegarty reached the clay, he and Bradley tunnelled vertically, a dangerous procedure that could result in the collapse of the entire site. At this level, with little ventilation and light, Bradley discovered a 'great nobby'. Close to 35 feet below the surface, in a tunnel little more than 2 1⁄2 feet wide, he was hoisted up so that he could examine the stone under daylight.

They were offered £7 in the rough for the stone, which they refused. Of the three partners, Bradley was the most skilled lapidarist and had the best equipment to cut and polish the rough. It revealed a dazzling red domed centre with a greenish-blue border. The three men, broke and exhausted from their labour, hungry from scarce food supplies, hastily sold the opal to a gem buyer for 93 pounds.

A Brisbane jeweller submitted the stone to the Queensland Geological Survey. It was established that traces of ginko, a fossil plant (Chinese maiden hair fern), occurring in Jurassic rocks but not in any opal deposits, were impressed on the back of the gem.

Exhibiting a spectacular red domed centre with a greenish-blue border, the 'Flame Queen' weighed an impressive 253 carats, and boasted a unique pattern that defied conventional cutting. Its journey through time saw its value soar, reaching unprecedented heights with each change of hands, a testament to its enduring allure and timeless beauty.

The Unheard Royal Tale

Of course, not every significant opal is well known. Quite often there are deals made, and gifts given, that do not reach the general public. Australian Opal Cutters were commissioned by the Australian Monarchists league, Prince William, Catherine and Camilla, to create an astonishing gift. This amazing boulder opal 'split' was an extraordinary gift, with half of the gem being featured on Pitt Street in Australia, and the other having its own place in Kensington Palace! 

Video 15 Royal Family Story.mp4 from Australian Opal Cutters on Vimeo.