Once in a decade a new discovery of gems presents an opportunity to buy extremely high quality at very low prices. This has been the case in the past with peridot from Pakistan in 2001, bi-color tourmalines from Brazil in the early 1990s, sapphires from Madagascar in the 1997 to name a few. When they are found for a couple of years they are very inexpensive because of the quantity available. As with most finds the quantity is finite and as quickly as it was found it disappears and the price inflates rapidly by as much as 10 times. This situation is compounded as we see more material on the market the popularity increases because of exposure to the public and this demand also inflates prices.
Today we have one of those unique opportunities to buy extra-ordinary opal from Welo, Ehiopia discovered in 2008. The quality is finer than any I have purchased from Australia up until now considered to be the finest opal source. This Ethiopian opal is top crystal material, meaning it has high transparency, generally considered to be the highest quality opal. This transparency allows you to facet or cab these Ethiopian opals. The colors are evenly spread through the entire gem and the intensity of the color is unreal as they seem to float in the gem and project from the surface. The number of colors in a single piece is only rarely seen in Australian material and occasionally we see violet which is so unusual in opal from any source. The color patterns are highly varied, including large harlequin patters and bright pin fire.
Much of this material is hydro-phane meaning it can soak up water. If placed in water the material will become glass clear and when removed it will get milky and after several days the material will return to its original beauty. What this means is you should not swim with it, while washing your hands will have little effect. The benefit of this material is that the riskiest part of traditional opal from other sources is drying out and cracking, called crazing, whereas this material will not craze from drying out. One way to identify hydro-phane opal is its characteristic of feeling sticky which is the opal trying to get the moisture from your fingers. One note on listed weights is that the weights may vary with humidity.
Update 2013. In July the ban on rough export went into effect in an effort to keep the cutting labor in Ethiopia rather than exporting to India or the U.S. as in my case. The ban was a little premature as the cutting industry in Ethiopia has not yet fully developed. Exports dropped dramatically and the ban was temporarily lifted in September.