Why Black Opal So Much Expensive?
High-quality black opal can cost over $10,000 per carat, which makes it one of the world’s most expensive gemstones. But mining black opal isn’t easy. After investing tens of thousands of dollars, a miner might not find a single gemstone.
So what makes black opals so hard to find? And why is it so expensive?
Black opal is one of the most enchanting stones. In the world. These gemstones have an infinite display of colors. Compared to common opals, which is usually one color, black opal exhibits many different colors, constructed by a dark body tone.
“It is simply the most stunning gemstone on the planet. It’s just remarkably beautiful. You can put the thing away for a week, pick it out and look at it, and you can still see things inside it that you’ve never, ever seen before.” – Frederick Mallock, Opal Miner.
Opal is found in several parts of the world, including, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Mexico. But over 90% of the world’s opal comes from Australia. A lot of the Black Opal is found in Lighting Ridge.
It’s located on the edge of the Outback, with a population of just over 2,000 people. Miners have been searching for opal here for over 100 years. But even for experts, finding black opal isn’t easy.
“If you were to start mining tomorrow, and one you’ve learnt mining skills and I’ve been mining for 40 years, we’d be an equal chance, just because there’s nothing really that can tell you, Oh, there is opal in that piece of ground or there’s not opal in that piece of ground.” – Frederick
Miners start by drilling a vertical shaft in an area that they think contains opals. Then they must clear out an underground room large enough to start digging at the rock
“The basic idea of mining is basically to extract the opal clay out from the ground, put it on to a truck to a puddling site in town, and check if there’s opal in that.” – Frederick
The equipment needed to mine and the cost to register your claim can be extremely expensive.
“Really if you wanted to rock up here and be serious, it’d probably need $150,000 to $100,000 in your pocket to have a go.” – Frederick
But buying the equipment doesn’t guarantee that miners will find black opal.
“Some people will go, oh’ there is definitely money there because next door they got $200,000 and there was a bit of color drilled up here. It’s got to have come over. And there’s a whole epic story of why there should be opal there, and you go and dig there, and it’s not.” – Frederick
Miners search for areas in the rock with trace amounts of opal. They follow these spots, called “nobbies”, hoping to find more opal deeper in the rock.
“You’ll keep going in a straight line till the trace runs out, and then come back where there was a trace in the wall, go left and right, and then if that stops, then you come back and do it again. So you’ve always got that in the back of your head, you know, ‘when do I leave, how long do I stay, have I stayed too long?, I’m wasting time, I’m wasting money for my next patch.’” – Frederick
Opal is formed when silica-rich groundwater hardens in rock over millions of years. Large silica spheres within the stone diffract light, creating vibrant colors. That play of color makes each gem unique. But for miners like Frederick digging for black opal is a gamble.
“ The human factor is the biggest factor in finding opal. If you’ve got a piggy bank of $10,000 or $20,000. And, then all of a sudden in one month or two months you’ve blown all of that budget. Because you had a breakdown and you’ve things that you didn’t think of, and then you go ‘Well I’m $20,000 down. What do I do here?
I’ve been full-time mining for about 45 years. And quite often I say to myself, How did you do it? How did you survive that long making it your only job?. I’ve done well. Not great. I haven’t been in the millions. I haven’t been up there in the fantasy pocket.” – Frederick
Once rough opal is extracted and processed from the dirt. It has to be cut and polished. This is when the real value of the gem is determined.
A black opal can vary from starting at $1,000 a carat to tens of thousands of dollars for really exquisite top quality.
The color, brightness, and patterns can all influence the price of black opal. The best quality opal is a black stone with a really bright color and as much red and other colors as possible. The most valuable black opal is really bright red stone on a very black base that just glows. And you don’t see them very often at all.
That lack of supply is a huge driver for the price of black opal. It is said that they barely keep up with the demand at the moment. As soon as you find a gem quality stone, you’ve got a buyer for it asap.
Between 2005 and 2006 approximately $30 million dollars of opal was mined at Lightning Ridge. And for fans of black opal, there is simply nothing else like it. It’s just a magic stone.
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Source: Business Insider