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The Black Opal

The Black Opal - Simply Magnificent.

By Gary Hocking


Opals and opal jewelry have been adored since antiquity.  The Roman Pliny talks often about the magnificence of opals, and later even the great William Shakespeare had his characters discuss them.  They were talking about opals and in those days the Australian black opal hadn’t even been found.  But today the black opal is a symbol of beauty in nature.


When people around the world talk about the magnificence of opal they are almost always talking about Australian black opal.


What are we talking about when we mean black opal? Without discussing crystalline structures and all that gemology jargon let’s just think about how it compares with other types.  When you look at a black opal you will see that it has a black or very dark base.  It is just as if you had a glass of black paint.  That’s the black base that I am talking about.


Then you put in some bright colored pieces of plastic.  Let’s say you put in some blues and some reds and some yellows.  Now we are talking about the color.  Let’s say you just put blues and greens in the black mix.  In opalspeak we would call that blue/green on black.  If the green color was the dominant color we would change it around and call it green/blue on black.


So is there one color in the black opal range which is the best and the most expensive? Yes, yes and definitely yes!  When my mining partner used to tell me on the phone that today he had found some red on black then I would just say Oh my God!  That meant we had sure money.


That’s the top end of the opal market, red on black and it comes from almost only one place on earth the Lightning Ridge area of NSW, Australia.  But any color on black is likely to fetch big bucks!  As the black base gets lighter we start to decide whether we can still call it black.  A dark gray stone will still often be called black but as it gets lighter we say it is for instance, blue on gray, and then when the gray and the blue start to get confused we say it is blue/gray.


Australian black opal is recognized as being the very best opal in the world and with good reason, but it is rare and becoming rarer. 

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