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Articles from OPAL JEWELLERY (97 Articles), OPALS - LOOSE (21 Articles)

Andrew Cody is director of The National Opal Collection and Cody Opal (Australia) Pty Ltd
Andrew Cody is director of The National Opal Collection and Cody Opal (Australia) Pty Ltd

Opal gets a bad rap at home but definitely not overseas

It’s unfair that opal has a bad name in Australia. It can be attributed to poorly made jewellery, paper thin doublets that would easily chip, and tacky souvenirs created for the tourist market, harking back to the 80s.

Around that time, wine exports were only $20 million per annum but opal exports were half a billion dollars! A number of companies were selling between $30-$70 million each year. So you can see, overseas markets have always loved our national gemstone.

But much has changed since those relatively early days.

Now the international fashion industry is really supporting opal. Top fashion houses like Dior, Cartier, Van Cleef and Boucheron, to name a few, are creating high-end opal jewellery that is allowing opal to really punch above its weight.

For the past five years, the overseas demand for fine jewellery pieces featuring opal has increased greatly.

The gemstone has also been winning international awards as its popularity grows, and at the recent Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, most opal dealers reported much better results than expected. Demand for opal is getting back to its former glory. That’s despite the US dollar being so weak against our currency. Today, Americans are paying double what they were five years ago for opal simply because of the massive currency exchange differences.

I’ll admit things were looking bad after the natural disasters in Japan hit the opal industry hard. The Japanese had always been big purchasers of opal. But China has massive potential and there are strong indications that it is about to have a love affair with the gemstone.

I have just returned from the inaugural China (Changsha) Mineral and Gem Show, the first-ever government supported mineral, fossil and gem show in the country. Importantly, opal was named the “feature gemstone” of the huge event that incorporated around 1,000 exhibitors.

In the event lead-up, I was even interviewed on China TV and the local press ran a half-page article about opal coming to China.

As an industry, we need to capitalise on the enthusiasm the Chinese have shown for our home-grown gemstone. We can reap rewards in two ways – by selling more opals and through tourism, which I believe also helps to sell more opals. The Chinese are starting to travel more and are very interested in Australia. Knowing that it is the home to the world’s best opals is sure to encourage further tourism, which will only boost sales.

But there are issues facing the opal industry that need addressing quickly if we are to capitalise on the overseas markets.

Firstly, the government has to do more to support industry by lowering the dollar. It’s just too high and is crippling exporters, inbound tourism and any manufacturing business in this country.

And I don’t feel we’re doing enough to encourage the Chinese to come to Australia.

Plus, there is an overall lack of support at the source. Did you know that in South Australia, the average age of an opal miner is 60-
plus? It’s similar at Lightning Ridge.

That’s unsustainable.

Without more government incentive to lure younger people into the opal mining industry, supply won’t be able to keep up with demand and the world could turn to other gemstones instead.

Well-publicised opal discoveries, coupled with good prices will encourage greater risk-taking by mining companies and, hence, attract more workers. But the industry needs a kick-start again.

To help address this, some concerned industry leaders are currently forming a not-for-profit opal marketing group.

The group’s focus will be on education at retail and supplier levels. It will encourage ethical trading, guarantee goods and promote our product via internationally-approved methods.

Consumers want to purchase opal with confidence, and that’s what this group hopes to encourage. Jewellers have to be held in high esteem by the public.

If people want to show their support for the group or make enquiries, I’m happy for them to contact me directly.

In reality, there are a lot of Australians who really love opals, especially black opal. I strongly believe that opal is on the crest of a wave at the moment. Let’s ride it successfully to a great future.

Andrew Cody is director of The National Opal Collection and Cody Opal (Australia) Pty Ltd.

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