Short Look at the History of Opal in Australia

The world famous blond girl, Marilyn Monroe, performed a song “Diamonds are a girl's best friend" in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". Clearly, she never heard of opal. Opal is listed as one the six most precious gemstones in the world. The opal stands side by side with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, pearls and emeralds. Word opal comes from Sanskrit word for precious stone “Upala".

The history of opal in Australia goes back for many centuries. The Australian Aborigines believed that God took all the colors from the rainbow and put it into one stone. That is why they call this gem "Rainbow Serpent". Greek mythology also mentions this magic stone. Allegedly, when tears of Zeus, the king of all gods, fell to the ground, they became opals.

Millions and millions years ago opal started its journey through time. Like every other thing on our planet, opal has to thank water for its existence. Drops of water go through tiny cracks in sandstone picking small parts of silica. Estimated time of forming opal from silica stone is one to two million years. Therefore, opal is some kind of gel from silica containing small amount of water, from 6-10 %.

History of opal in Australia dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Johannes Menge, German Geologist, discovered this precious stone in 1849 in South Australia near town Adelaide. Opals first appearance on the market is in the 1890's. In those days the produce of the opal was very fragmented because nobody knew how the market will react to this remarkable gemstone. There are four main places in Australia where you can find this breathtaking stone - Andamooka , White Cliffs, Lightning Ridge and Coober Peddy. One of the most famous places well known for opals is Lightning Ridge. Black opal is mainly found at this location. Andamooka is known for Light Opal and Crystal Opal and it holds world record because the heaviest opal ever was found in its mines and its weight is 6.84 kilograms. Coober Peddy gets its name from Aborigine language that means "white man in a hole“. Opal prospectors pulled up the buckets out of the 5 to 40 meters deep shafts. White Cliffs opal fields are settled in the middle of the desert which, when seen from the air, resembles the surface of the Moon. Opals history in White Cliffs came suddenly when a small group of kangaroo hunters found sample of the rainbow stone and send it to Adelaide for checking. Soon after, the word spread of the high quality opals from this area attracted many fortune seekers.

Besides Australia, opals are found in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Ethiopia and in the United States of America. But, Australia is the largest producer of this "Queen of gems" as William Shakespeare described opal. Around 95 % of all opals were found Down Under. Because of that percentage opal is considered national gemstone of Australia.

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