Published: Dec 2011
by George Williams, JTV Sr. Gemstone Buyer and Bear & Cara Williams, StoneGroup Labs
There is no doubt that Ethiopian Opal from the country’s Welo District has taken the world’s gem market by storm. Just a few years have passed since this momentous find, and Ethiopia continues to astound the world with its infinite variety of precious opal. The variety of body colors, patterns, and especially the brilliance of colors that Ethiopian opals display are simply amazing! Many exhibit brilliance on a scale not seen since the early South Australian productions. Australia was once the world’s most prolific opal source, but Ethiopian opal's intoxicating display of color has surpassed the popularity (and supply) of gems from that region. The Land down under has traditionally been known for an exciting opal variety known as black opal. Some of the finest gems have been mined in the lightning ridge area. In case you aren’t familiar with black opal, it is precious opal that displays its play-of-color against a dark body color.
Jewelry Television® offers a variety of opal, including cabochon as well as faceted opals, a milestone not often seen in opal. As we continue to lead the world in the latest gem offerings, JTV is pleased to introduce Chalama black opal from Ethiopia. Chalama (pronounced “Chah Lah Muh”) is the Amharic (ethiopia’s native language) word meaning “to darken” which perfectly describes the gems change in appearance after treatment.
A new process has been developed which causes Ethiopian opal to exhibit vivid colors in contrast to a semi-transparent black body color. The process allows carbon to be deposited throughout the entire opal body making it appear as a replica of the famous Lightning Ridge black opal from Australia.
The process begins with fine quality natural solid opal from the Welo district. The strength, vibrancy, and intensity of color this process produces is directly related to the quality of the natural opal used to begin the process. Unlike sugar treated matrix opal, a lesser quality stone will not improve with treatment. It is a tricky process that involves both heat and smoke; any unstable material will not survive during treatment. This brings the overall cost of this treated gemstone higher than its untreated counterpart. Most of the members of JTV's gemstone buying team haven’t seen smoke treated opals in the market since the 1970’s. In the smoke treatment process, the opals are wrapped in silver foil paper and heated. The smoke penetrates the opal and darkens the background color. This process results in a brighter play-of-colors in contrast to the darkened background color. There are few retailers carrying Lightning Ridge black opal – and we would be surprised if anyone could find this new Ethiopian Opal at their local jewelry store. JTV is the first to bring this newly treated opal to the market.
Out of a 100,000 carat production of crystal and white Welo opal you will find that roughly 20% will have a medium to darker base color ranging from yellow/orange to tea-colored. This new treatment, however, leaves the opal decidedly black and very stable – known because we placed them under stringent testing procedures. The black potch (colorless opal) sometimes found on the back of many Lightning Ridge stones is different than that of the Chalama black opal. This gem is mostly semi-transparent with little opaque potch and the color usually runs through the back of the stone.
The other joy of Chalama black opal is its variety of unique patterns (image left).The harlequin pattern on the left if very rare. The ribbon pattern on the right is remarkable and is only possible to capture by video. If this is any indication of what else might come out of Ethiopia’s cornucopia of opal wealth, then we should have years of collecting ahead.
With Chalama black opal, you get the great value and variety that JTV has become known for in the world of beautiful colored gemstones. Be the first to own one of these new and exotic gems!
Modified April 2011
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