Kaleidoscope Brilliancy: Lightning Ridge Black Opals

3 minute read

Pandora. Light of the World. Empress. Immediately recognizable for its flashing, mingling array of colors, the opal is the one of the most elusive, unique gemstones in the world. In the centuries since the gem’s discovery, the opal has endured as a symbol of healing, protection, and hope.

A kaleidoscope of colors is exhibited in this striking 16.44-carat black opal, which hails from the famed Lightning Ridge Mine in Australia A kaleidoscope of colors is exhibited in this striking 16.44-carat black opal, which hails from the famed Lightning Ridge Mine in Australia

30-4790_1 The 8.40 carats of Australian black opals in these sumptuous earrings perfectly display the characteristic brilliance and array of color for which Lightning Ridge opals are famous

Opal has been the focus of numerous legends and prophecies and has been counted alongside the finest gemstones in the world in terms of brilliance and rarity. Legends from the Ancient Greeks and Romans tell of the opal guarding citizens from disease and predicting divine intervention. Into the Middle Ages, high-ranking officials used the opal to foresee atmospheric patterns and temperature changes. A stone with the power to strengthen vision and sooth the heart, eyes, and nerves, the opal was a driving force amongst the myths and legends of other gemstones. While a veil of superstition draped the opal with the release of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Anne of Gerstein, the fear of the opal did not discourage its praise and development. With continuing stories about the reputation and high status of the opal, it is no surprise that the stone continues to reach celebrated heights in both value and regard.

Though the opal was discovered centuries ago, the finest variety was not discovered 1905 in Lightning Ridge, Australia. Before this time, it was a dismal mystery to everyone what lied beneath this dry, quiet region. However, upon the first dig, an eager Charles Nettleton discovered a specimen of opal that would aesthetically surpass any other previously known opal: The Lightning Ridge black opal. News of this pioneering discovery soon broke and the gemstone market erupted in satisfaction and excitement. Spreading out of Australia and into Europe, this black-opal type experienced important and massive praise more than any other opal-type before. Lightning Ridge, consequently, became synonymous with these hypnotic jewels.

30-1844_3 Brilliant white diamonds, weighing 1.43 total carats, add exceptional sparkle to this extraordinary platinum ring

Because the opal can contain an infinite number of patterns, no two are alike. It is this simple characteristic that sets the opal apart from any other gemstone. Black Lightning Ridge opals display plays of color unlike any other opal type. Black, meaning any dark body tone, enables the rainbow of spectral colors to bend and break in the opal, causing an intense and vivid play of contrasting and bright colors.

Modern day obsession with the opal erupted in the 1920s. A time of daring fashion, opulence, and utter abandon showed America at its height, the gemstone market welcomed in stunning new trends. The opal, consequently, was ushered in as one of the fixture gemstones in this decade. Women’s draping, opulent, necklaces were now sprinkled with the flashing opal colors and black opals from the Lightning Ridge region continued their steady rise in admiration.

With its remarkable history and stable fixture in the gemstone market, the importance of the opal cannot be overexpressed. Because opals are reaching higher values with their increasing rarity, particulary those involving rich and pronounced colors, such as with black opals, are the most prized.

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