Oh my goodness…the years have gone by so fast! I’m writing this short preface on October 5 2023…so, if my math is correct…it’s been 26 years since we started our opal business and 5 days since I turned 75. And yes, opal is my birthstone. And, I believe, retirement is due.
So Darlene and I have decided 2023 will be the last year for Village Smithy opals. We have dearly loved our trips to Australia:…Darlene’s been on 4 trips with me and I’ve been on a total of 15. Sadly the various Australian opal mines have become exhausted or closed. Lambina (one of my favorite opalfields…the 7 water holes are beautiful) is totally exhausted with no more opal to be found…though extensively prospected, Mintabie has a bit left, but the government decided to close the area due illegal drug sales and urging from the local aboriginal peoples, Coober Pedy has a bit of opal left mostly from reworking the old diggings, but production has dropped drastically in the last 5 years. Lightning Ridge is still producing some beautiful black opal, but with such scarcity that even reworking the old fields has become cost prohibitive.
We’d like to thank all of our customers who have purchased opal from us over these many years and have made our business a pleasure to run! Our website lists a large inventory of opal left and we’ve marked prices down. And we have a lot of new Australian opal cabochons and Ethiopian opal cabochons, from our private opal cab collection, at bargain prices on our website. But if you think the prices are still a little high, just let me know (don’t be shy) and I’m sure we can negotiate an extra measure of discount.
We’ve tried to convey, through photo’s, stories and our trip report travelogues our view of the marvelous world of opals. I am an admitted opalholic who considers himself blessed to be able to work with this beautiful, 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 opal mining and Australian outback scenery. 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, via the mail direct from Australia, through people dubiously calling themselves “opal miners”, 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. It’s been a real education buying opals directly from miners in Australia…on some parcels you make money, some don’t…hopefully it’s the prior.
On my 14th birthday, I (Steve) was surprised with a wonderful gift of a 6″ B & I Gem Maker to encourage me in my growing lapidary and rock collecting interests. 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 early 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. In 1964, when I was 16, I began cutting cutting Australian opal from Coober Pedy South Australia. The money to purchase my first rough opal parcels, and a new 6″ Star Diamond gem cutting machine, came from a part time job working as a busboy in the original Radisson Hotel in downtown Minneapolis 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 and silver smithing hobby shop on base. Many an evening was spent polishing cabochons and swapping stories of opals and dreams of travelling to Australia, with other rock hound sailors. Later, while at sea, I learned to adapt my gem cutting 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 hand rubbing 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…I would 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 opals are my true love in the gemstone world…so I began to focus more on rough opal sales and less on the jewelry making side of he enterprise. In 1997 we started advertising rough opal for sale in Rock & Gem Magazine and Lapidary Journal and in 1999 we sent out our first opal flyer catalogs. Then in 2000 Darlene and I took a big step and made our first trip to Australia to purchase rough opals direct from opal miners in Coober Pedy. Keep an eye on our “trip report” travelogues to Australia and Ethiopia as they will allow you to share in our search for opal adventures. And we post a new report during or after returning from every trip. Darlene has been on 4 of our opal buying trips to Australia and, at last count (2019), I’ve made 14. And yes, I still get just as excited with every successive trip as I did on the first trip…guess I’m just an Australia travel junkie. I think I was born on the wrong side of the equator.
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. And we’ve 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 Opalfield, south of Lightning Ridge. We also have a “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. When I arrive home from Australia I try to add any new information gleaned from the miners I meet when buying opals, to our website here under Mining News. 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 Australian or Ethiopian opal fields.
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 true natural 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. Mostly clear crystal opal, but some very bright stones may have some milkiness.
- 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. And I manually remove chips, matrix pieces and opals smaller than .5 grams…and yes it’s a LOT of tedious work. Unfortunately we haven’t been getting much of this opal as it seems to be mostly shipped to India for manufacturing inexpensive beads.