The opal is Australia’s most famous gem, renowned for its lustrous, multi-hued beauty. The rainbow rock has earned the honour of being the country’s national gemstone, and with good reason.
Precious opal (as distinct from common opal) is the luminous stone most people picture when they picture opals. Their iridescent effect, known as play-on-colour, makes them a unique and eye-catching statement piece.
Colours range from glimmers of blue or green to all the colours of the rainbow, with red being the rarest. The background colour also matters, ranging from light to dark. Black opal is the most prized variety, providing a brilliant contrast to the splendour of its internal colours.
Opals were revered throughout history, favoured by the Romans and European royalty. In the Middle Ages, the glittering stone was purported to bring good luck, cure eye diseases and even grant its owner the power of invisibility.
Australia has been doing a roaring trade in opals since they were first mined in the 1800s. The nation is the world’s largest producer of the gemstone, accounting for over 90% of global supply.
Whole towns are built around the industry, including South Australia’s famous underground town of Coober Pedy, the world capital of opal mining. Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, home to the famous black opal, is another hotspot.
Australia also lays claim to the largest and most valuable opal in the world: the Olympic Australis. Weighing in at 17,000 carats, the massive stone is worth a hefty $2.5 million. It was discovered in Coober Pedy in 1956 and now resides in the showroom of opal experts Altmann + Cherny.
If you’re interested in owning one of these magnificent stones, here are some of the most luxurious opal retailers in Australia.
Altmann + Cherny
Home to the renowned Olympic Australis, this prestigious store has made a name for itself thanks to its splendid opal jewellery. The showroom, situated near Sydney’s Circular Quay, is packed with other rare beauties like the Aurora Australis, the world’s most valuable black opal.
Founded in 1948 by two German immigrants, Altmann + Cherny’s pieces have made their way into the collections of several illustrious clients, including the Queen herself. Today, the family business is run by Altmann’s granddaughter, who creates coveted designs with artistic flair.
The finest opals are sourced straight from miners before being transformed into delicate jewellery that pays reverence to the Australian landscape.
Born in Melbourne but currently residing in the United States, Katherine Jetter is on a mission to restore the opal to its former glory. In the face of the gem’s declining popularity, the designer aims to represent Australia internationally and support local miners by reinventing opal jewellery in new and surprising ways.
Her luxury brand, established in 2008, provides a fresh take on the stone. There’s a focus on unique and contemporary designs – the exquisite pieces feature abstract shapes and are paired with a myriad of other colourful jewels.
The designs are inspired by Australian natural landmarks like the Daintree Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and the outback, reflected in the brilliant colours of the opals. Jetter also offers a bespoke service for customers wanting a truly unique piece of jewellery.
This purveyor of fine jewellery is located in Sydney’s The Rocks district, a historic spot perfectly suited to the stone’s long and storied history. Founded in 1989, Opal Minded specialises in hand-crafted 18-karat gold and diamond jewellery with the opal as its centrepiece.
The business helms its own mining operation in the small town of Jundah, situated in south-western Queensland. The area is known for the impeccable quality of its opals, which have a distinctive sparkle that can be viewed even in near darkness.
The designs merge classic elegance with modern touches; each piece has its own meaning. Opal Minded’s beautiful jewellery makes the perfect gift for that special someone, or a beloved heirloom to be treasured for years to come.
By Jennifer Luu