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The jewellery community lacks opal knowledge

One of the biggest challenges for opal dealers is that a lot of jewellers don’t understand much – if anything – about opal, in terms of the nomenclature, how to identify them and how to value them. The result is that customers frequently go into jewellery stores and buy what they think is a solid opal, that turns out to be a doublet, a triplet or a synthetic opal.

It can be quite frustrating to think that, while opal is Australia’s national gemstone, there appears to be a real lack of interest from the jewellery industry in understanding more about it.

There are several issues, but the main misconception is that, when it comes to opals, one size fits all.

For example, jewellers have told us that they have a ring and they need a 5mm x 7mm opal put in it, for a particular price.

They don’t understand that an opal is not like a white diamond, where you can choose a particular price point and they’ll all be the same.

Every opal is completely unique and different. Opals can’t be compared and valued the same way white diamonds are.

Say a jeweller has a customer who wants to replace a broken opal in their grandmother’s ring – they want to be able to replace the opal that was in there.

Unfortunately, that opal was unique; each opal is like a fingerprint or a snowflake, they’re all different. You can’t directly replace that opal; you can only replicate aspects of it.

The other issue is jewellers not being able to detect the difference between a triplet, doublet and solid opal.

"Every opal is completely unique and different – opals can’t be compared and valued the same way white diamonds are"

In particular, there’s not enough knowledge about triplets: they only have a thin slice of opal and they’re often made to look like they’re expensive, rare black opals.

So you’ll get jewellers who have seen a triplet for $50 and it looks a million bucks, and then they’ll think they can get a solid opal from a dealer for that price as well!

That, in turn, skews the general public’s knowledge of opal.

Customers will have a particular idea of what opal is and how much an opal should cost, and then they’ll come into our store and they’ll realise everything they’ve learnt is incorrect.

This is especially true with the advent of social media.

There’s a lot of opal on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and a lot of the information that’s been given – while not generally incorrect – can be very confusing.

However, the goods news is that this is changing. There are a lot more jewellers coming in to be educated about the different types of opal and the proper valuation procedures when it comes to these gemstones.

Jewellers are becoming more interested because opal has risen in popularity across the last 10 years; the mindset among consumers has shifted away from that ‘tourist, cheap, tacky’ market – we get a lot of Aussies buying opal now and they appreciate this beautiful, wonderful gemstone.

The Opal Hunters show on Discovery Channel has really raised the profile of opal locally too.

With this increase in interest from consumers, there needs to be a lot more effort from jewellers in terms of developing a good, sound knowledge base if they’re going to be selling opal.

That doesn’t have to mean taking a formal course – it’s more to do with experience and being around opal on a regular basis, becoming familiar with the characteristics of this gemstone.

The easiest way for jewellers to do this is to go and visit their local opal shop, where they can get as much information as is necessary from the experts in the field.

While jewellers might not be able to carry a massive range of opals, it’s important to take the time to come and learn a bit in order to recognise the best quality gemstones and find the right ones for consumers.

Name: Atheka Le Souef
Company: Lightning Ridge Opal Mine
Position: Director
Location: Lightning Ridge Opal Mines, 63 Elizabeth St, Melbourne 3000
Years in industry: 29

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