About Village Smithy Opals

We’ve tried to convey, through photo’s and stories, our view of the marvelous world of opals. We have rough opals, finished opals, opal books and videos and one of a kind opal jewelry, custom designed and fabricated by myself. I am an admitted opalholic who considers himself very blessed to be able to work with this magical stone and share it with others. Read on for a bit of our history, a glimpse of our trips to Australia and photo’s of this exquisite gemstone. Enjoy the site and thanks for stopping by!

In 1997 two people with an intense love for the dazzling beauty of opals started the Village Smithy Opals, Inc. Much of our opal purchasing money was being spent on rough opals that had been filtered through several middlemen and the price was far too high. We had tried buying opals direct from Australia (through people dubiously calling themselves “miners”) via the mail, with the same results. We knew we could do better. In 2000, we made our first trip to outback Australia to buy our opal rough direct from the miners at substantial savings.

On my 14th birthday, I (Steve) was surprised by the wonderful gift of a B & I Gem Cutting Machine to encourage me in my growing lapidary interest. Being raised in Minnesota, the first stones that I cut and polished on my new lapidary machine were Lake Superior agates that my father and I had found on the north shore of Lake Superior during spring outings. But after a visit to a local jewelry store, where world class Lightning Ridge black opals were on display, I was hopelessly bitten by the opal bug. I began cutting opals in 1964 when I was 16. The money to purchase my first rough opal parcel, and a new 6″ Star Diamond gem cutting machine, came from a part time job, working in a Minneapolis restaurant while attending high school.

During my 4 year stint in the Navy, I was fortunate to be stationed at NTC San Diego where they had a fully stocked lapidary hobby shop on base. Many an evening was spent polishing cabochons and swapping stories of opals and dreams of Australia, with other rock hound sailors. I learned to adapt my techniques and cut opals in a very basic fashion, while stationed on the U.S.S. Saratoga CVA-60 (off the coast of Vietnam). My jury-rigged lapidary process consisted of grinding by hand, on the flat side of an old 220-grit grinding wheel resting on a table (a bit dusty). I then hand sanded on various grades of wet/dry sandpaper and hand polished on a small piece of wool blanket with tin oxide as a polishing agent. I cut some of my best opal cabochons in this crude manner, even though it was slow and time consuming and the arm got a bit tired. The control and finish in hand cutting is marvelous…you seldom ruin an opal by cutting through a fire layer.

Gem cutting turned into jewelry making: silversmithing and goldsmithing (hence the name the Village Smithy Opals) are enjoyable challenges. But the opals were my true love.
Darlene, a native Montanan, shares my love of opals, and keeps me on track with the business side of the enterprise. Her bookkeeping talents are a great addition to the business. Darlene is a wonderful Special Education Teacher and her students have also been infected with the rock and gem fever. Together, Darlene and I have made many wonderful trips to the land down under in search of this dazzling and sometimes elusive gemstone. Keep an eye on our “trip report” travelogs as they will allow you to share in our search for opals…and we post a new one yearly.

In 2004 we took a leap of faith and I went full time with our opal adventure. We have been blessed with good customer response and have been able to make more frequent opal buying trips to Australia. We have been privileged to visit (and photograph) several underground and open cut opal mines in outback Australia: I was even present when a beautiful parcel of crystal opal was uncovered in an underground mine in Grawin, near Lightning Ridge. Visit our “Trip Report” for a travel-log of our buying trips. We also have a new “Gallery” of photo’s we’ve taken of opal mining, wildlife and scenery from our trips to the beautiful land down under. Our “Opal Cutting Tips” are also frequently updated with tips from myself and other contributing opal cutters. If you have any unique cutting or carving techniques/tools please feel free to make a contribution for others to share. Enjoy our site! And if you have any suggestions or corrections please feel free to contact us.

Our desire at the Village Smithy Opals, Inc. is to:

  • Provide our customers with high quality Australian Opal at rock bottom prices.
  • Provide opal cutting tips and techniques.
  • Provide one of the largest selection of opals on the internet.
  • Provide the latest information on what is happening on the opal fields.

Village Smithy Opal Cutting Classes

Highlights of the 2day classes we hold in our home studio are: cold dopping, studying and orienting opal, checking for opal imperfections, opal cabochon cutting, doublet making and introduction to opal carving. Classes are limited to 2 students per session. Total cost is $295.00 which includes all opal and supplies. Please call for class scheduling at 406-651-4947.

    Ethiopian Welo Opal Grading Criteria

  • AAA grade: We get only a tiny amount of this grade…perhaps only 6 ounces a year in the past.  This grade has to have spectacular colors…very bright and vivid patterns.  And the material will have to be free of matrix or as free as possible without damaging or removing the precious opal. No fractures here or if there are any at all they will not affect the overall yield of the stones.  Very special high yield opal.  Most of this opal is sold before it can get to our website.  Some blacks can be found in this grade.  No internal matrix inclusions with the naked eye.
  • AA grade: Very similar to AAA grade but colors will not be quite as stunning.  There will also be very little matrix on the stones and they will be exceptionally high yield opals as in the AAA grade.  No fractures here or if there are any at all they will not affect the overall yield of the stones. No internal matrix inclusions with the naked eye.
  • A grade: Very nice opals.  But there will be some milky stones with play-of-color in the lot.  And some of the stones in this grade will have cracks.  The stones exhibiting a crack will still be candidates for cabochon cutting but may need to be cut into 2 or more stones instead of 1 stone.  Colors will be vivid and bright in most stones, but the overall yield will be less than in the AA grades of Welo opal.  More irregular shaped stones in this grade that will affect overall yield if cut into cabochons instead of carved or contoured.
  • B Grade: Low grade opals with subdued play-of-color.  There will still be some bright opals here, but overall the yield will be much lower than higher grade stones.  I try to pick stones for this grade that will still work into a cabochon even though the colors may not be bright.
  • C Grade: At this time I am not selling any “C” grad opal.  But my plans are to offer lower grade opal at a much reduced price….perhaps $25.00 to $50.00 per ounce.
  • Mine Run Grade: This grade is usually characterized as a true mine run with a great variety of sizes and colors.  My supplier in Addis Ababa said this is an ungraded selection as it comes from the miner.  I don’t grade this except to add higher grade material to any parcel that I think doesn’t meet my standards.