Lightning Ridge Opal
As hypnotising as a galaxy of stars, these rare iridescent gems contain a spectrum of colours incomparable to any other gemstone. They have been highly regarded since their discovery in Australia in the 1900s.
Opals are unlike any other precious gemstone. Their iridescent glow contains greens as vibrant as the finest Muzo emeralds, reds as vivid as pigeon’s blood rubies, blues as rich as Kashmir sapphires, and every colour in between. Pinks, purples, oranges and yellows are revealed in brilliant flashes, their patterns changing with every glance.
It was these kaleidoscopic qualities that led Pliny the Elder to write, in AD 77, that opals were the most highly prized and valuable gemstone in the entire Roman empire. He waxed lyrical about their “resplendent lustre”, adding that they are “able to match the bravest and richest colours of painters”. According to ancient Bedouin lore, opals contained lightning and fell from the sky during thunderstorms.
Imagine what the scholar would have made, then, of Lightning Ridge opals: a rare variety of black opal that was discovered in a small town on the edge of the Australian outback in the early 1900s. Thought to have been formed under the earth’s surface 400 million years ago, these gems possess a darker background colour than ever seen before, emphasising the intense play of colour on their surfaces. People travelled from around the world to examine these otherworldly gems, and Lightning Ridge became the thriving centre of the world’s black opal industry. The name Lightning Ridge Opal references both the mine’s location and the flashes of colour in the dark stone, which are reminiscent of the epic lightning storms that are occasionally seen rolling across the dusty plains.
The world’s most valuable black opal, a 180ct stone, was discovered in a dried-out seabed at Lightning Ridge in 1938. Cut and polished into a smooth oval, it was named the ‘Aurora Australis’ due to its resemblance to the mesmerising southern lights.
Black opals are found in the most precious pieces around the world, including royal jewels. Their history and mystical allure make them a source of fascination for jewellery connoisseurs. In 1947, Queen Elizabeth received a black opal brooch, called the Australian Opal Spray brooch, which was a gift from The Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia.
Pragnell’s gem buyers look for outstanding examples of Lightning Ridge opals: those with the darkest background colour, the most intense fire and the most visually appealing arrangement of colours and patterns. Like any gemstone, opals vary in their transparency and inclusions. The opals featured in Pragnell Masterpieces are exceptionally clean and high quality, allowing the play of colours on the surface to shine all the more intensely.
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