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International media has referred to the Virgin Rainbow as "the world's finest opal"
International media has referred to the Virgin Rainbow as "the world's finest opal"

Rare Aussie opal makes international headlines

An Australian opal that is said to be extremely rare has attracted overseas media attention in the lead-up to its first public appearance.

Although the gemstone, which has been dubbed the Virgin Rainbow, was discovered more than a decade ago, it recently entered the spotlight after the South Australian Museum announced it would be the centrepiece of its upcoming opal exhibition.

The 6 cm-long, 72-carat gemstone was found in September 2003 by second-generation opal miner John Dunstan at Frank’s Folly mine in Coober Pedy, South Australia.

South Australian Museum director Brian Oldman holding the Virgin Rainbow
South Australian Museum director Brian Oldman holding the Virgin Rainbow

Dunstan told Jeweller the Virgin Rainbow was the best specimen he had encountered in his 28 years of opal mining, adding that he believed it was “the rarest stone to come out of Coober Pedy”.

Museum director Brian Oldman supported this belief, stating, “Not only is it the finest stone to be recovered from Coober Pedy, it is also the finest quality opalised fossil to have been unearthed anywhere to date.”

Dunstan added that the Virgin Rainbow was composed of extremely rare black crystal opal and displayed a unique colour. “It actually glows in the dark,” he explained. “You only need the smallest amount of light to see colours coming out of it.”

The museum purchased the Virgin Rainbow from Dunstan in 2013. While Oldman would not reveal the price paid, he noted two independent accredited appraisers had “conservatively” valued the piece at $1 million.

Media hype

News of the Virgin Rainbow’s upcoming public debut resulted in widespread international media coverage – including in the UK, the US and China – with headlines referring to the gemstone as “the finest opal ever unearthed”, “the most beautiful opal in the world” and “the world’s finest opal”.

Commenting on the media hype, Dunstan said, “The amount of publicity that piece has [generated] is unbelievable. I think it’s really going to lift the profile of opal in Australia.”

Dunstan operates a retail store in Coober Pedy that sells rough and loose opal as well as set opal jewellery. He said prices for opal had more than doubled in the last two years, noting demand was mainly coming from China and India but that the US market was also starting to show interest in Australia’s national gemstone.

Based on this, Dunstan stated opal jewellery was likely to sell well. “The demand is really out there,” he said.

The South Australian Museum will be hosting the Opals exhibition from 25 September 2015 to 14 February 2016.

More reading
Opal discovery is out of this world
Are there gold and opal on Mars?
Opal: Australia's national gemstone











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