Opal place of birth: Lightning Ridge, Australia

To celebrate our annual opal show and to gear up for October, the birthstone month of opal, we're doing a special feature on Lightning Ridge, Australia, courtesy of John Ford Jewelers. (This year we're hosting John's Lightning Ridge Collection!)

As you will find out in our October birthstone article, opals originate in many different countries.  But Australian opals are something special and many jewelers and gemologists consider them the finest in the world.

In this feature, you will read a little about the opal mining industry in Lightning Ridge.

These are old mines and tailings (mine dumps created when the opal is separated). They litter the landscape like craters on the moon. There are literally hundreds of these sites all over the Lightning Ridge area.

This is a photo of the entrance to a mine in Lightning Ridge. The miners go down a shaft like this one and tunnel out in search of opal.  The shafts are around 70 or more feet deep.

The hoist brings sedimentary material up to the surface from the mine. Some miners even use a giant vacuum to bring up the material.

When the sediments containing opal are brought from the mine, normally on a conveyor line, they are loaded into a truck and brought to a wash plant. The material is washed, leaving behind the heavier pebbles and opal. 

This is an example of a private buying room. The miner or buyer visits a room not visible from a street that has that has a color-coded symbol to show that they are dealing in rough opal. A fence separates the rooms from the road and the buyer and miner park directly in front.

butch_mcfadin_john_ford.jpg

John with miner, Butch McFadin, looking at opal on the hood of Butch’s car. Not all transactions are done in the comfort of the Bowling Club or a private room. John likes the hood method better!