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Articles from OPAL JEWELLERY (96 Articles), OPALS - LOOSE BLACK OPALS (12 Articles), OPALS - LOOSE BOULDERS (9 Articles)

Daniel Becker, left, and Justin Lang in the opal fields outside Coober Pedy. Image courtesy: <a href="" target="_blank">The Australian</a>, Kelly Barnes
Daniel Becker, left, and Justin Lang in the opal fields outside Coober Pedy. Image courtesy: The Australian, Kelly Barnes

Aussie opal industry back in spotlight

Australia’s opal industry has received mainstream media attention as increasing demand from the Asia, India and US markets send prices rising.

The Australian newspaper published a story about the country’s national gemstone on its front page on Saturday 3 September.

Part-time “hobby miners” Justin Lang and Daniel Becker told the newspaper what motivated them to dig for opal in the town of Coober Pedy, South Australia, where 90 per cent of Australia’s supply reportedly originates.

Perhaps more significant for the jewellery trade was the fact that the article also explored the current state of the industry. According to the report, a lack of significant opal discoveries in recent years and increased demand from China, India and the US had driven prices upwards. 

The article stated that during the past 18 months, the value of “top-quality” black opal had almost doubled, with some buyers said to be paying up to $12,000 per carat.

It reported that demand for rough had led to an increase in the number of new permits issued and cited figures from the South Australian government that showed 84 new opal mining permits for the Coober Pedy fields were granted in 2015-2016, compared to 63 in 2014-2015.

John Dunstan, vice president of the Coober Pedy Opal Miners Association and owner of John & Yoka's Opal & Art in Coober Pedy, was also interviewed for the article.

Dunstan made international headlines in September 2015 when a rare opal he had discovered 12 years earlier featured in a South Australian Museum exhibition.

The 6 cm-long, 72-carat gemstone, dubbed the Virgin Rainbow, was composed of black crystal opal said to display a unique colour. At the time, it was valued at $1 million.

Shortage of young miners

Dunstan told Jeweller he hoped recent media hype would attract more young miners to the industry.

“All advertising, all stories about Coober Pedy and the opal is good for the industry,” he said.

“The way things are going with the opal industry is the demand is so great that we can’t keep up with supply. The heydays in Coober Pedy were in the 1970s and 1980s when we could produce 40 to 60 million dollars in rough opal, but we had about 800 miners mining then and now, today, we are struggling to make 100 miners."

He explained that production was less than 10 per cent of what "we used to find" and that demand had "gone through the roof".

The Chinese market was fuelling demand for higher-grade opal, while buyers from India were requesting the lower grade Dunstan explained, adding, “they want truck loads of it and we just can’t produce it”.

Dunstan believed the industry required some fresh blood in order to meet the demand.

“We need younger miners at the moment,” he said. “The average age of an opal miner is in the 60s. I have been mining for 50 years and I’m not going to give up now.”

The opal industry gained more media attention on 29 August when SBS’s news and current affairs television series The Feed ran a story about miners in Lightning Ridge, NSW.

To read the article in The Australian (paywall), click here.

To view the SBS story, click here.

More reading
‘Rare’ Australian opals hit world stage
Aussie gemstones: Opal
Rare Aussie opal makes international headlines
Opal discovery is out of this world
Opal: Australia's national gemstone
Opal market improves locally and internationally

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