Opal Market Report
Published: July 2011
by George Williams & Jay Boyle, Senior Gemstone Buyers
Ethiopian Opal Market Update
Ethiopian opal continues to be one of the most popular gemstone in the world today. There is a good reason for this; it is not only the prettiest in the market but it is also the best value. This young upstart has actually forced the Australian opal dealers out of the market and into Ethiopia where they can buy opal for less than it costs them to mine it. In addition to the rainy season, the European, Chinese and Australian dealers’ late entrance into the Ethiopian opal market adds strain to the overall supply causing the price of better rough material to double at the mines in just the last 3 months!
JTV® was the first in the market buying rough, then free form cabochons, and finally calibrated cabochons, faceted gems and beads. As usual, we purchased large amounts at the right time and bought enough opal to get us through the big opal month of October and through the holiday season. We will continue to be able to offer the same great prices and quality because of this – but do expect higher prices and decreasing availability of better grades next year as the pie has to be cut into smaller pieces with the world’s awakening to this one-of-a-kind gem.
The average rate of new discoveries of this caliber in sound precious opal has been approximately every 40 years. The famous Australian fields of Lightning Ridge, Andamooka, and Coober Pedy were all found between 1900 and 1928. It was not until 1968 that precious Brazilian opal was found and 2008 when Ethiopian Welo opal was discovered. There is a fighting chance that more opal discoveries will come from Ethiopia and claim the next century for this region as the world’s most prominent precious opal supplier. Then again, with opal being an unpredictable stone that is found more by chance and hard work than geological predictions – it may be a beautiful shooting star.
Australian Opal Market Update
As far as Australian opal is concerned, it is almost history due to the low prices of Ethiopian opal. Also, most of the Australian opal miners have gotten regular jobs with big coal mining companies leaving literally dozens of miners left where there used to be hundreds. Even better grade triplet and doublet opals are getting more difficult to obtain. Approximately 30% of the doublet material is now coming from Brazil and being mixed with the Australian material.
The supply of good Mexican Fire Opal continues to be very thin to virtually none. Fine Mexican Fire Opal today is more than rare. The top colors and clarity that were once available has all but dried up. This is just another example of rare gemstone sources being played out. JTV is working with a knowledgeable miner who knows the region and understands mining Fire Opal but he is having very limited success in finding good quality material in any quantity.