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Advice on buying Australian Opals

I have the opportunity to travel to Australia in January for a week
or two and am wondering what kind of deals on opals I can get in
person vs. doing research and buying via the web from the U.S. I am
not looking for particularly valuable/expensive opals – just nice
stones that I think my clients would like (so I’m no expert looking
for exotic things). I’d love to hear some advice from others who
have been or live there about what/where to find reasonable deals.
Please reply off-list and I’ll post a summary of the responses that
I receive (thinking that not that many people are interested in my

Thanks in advance!

The same advice that was offered to the person’s mother who is going
to Thailand applies in this case. Unless you have expertise you’d
be better off going to Tucson.

You asked for an offline answer, but your question has general
interest. As I said elsewhere this is primarily an educational
forum serving us all.

One last personal experience: I’ve had people approach me at art
fairs who had opals to sell which they had purchased in Australia
where they had been on tours of opal cutting facilities which
offered them wholesale prices. They showed me the invoices they had
received stating that these were wholesale prices. I don’t believe
they got good value. As for buying via the web, opals are extremely
difficult to photograph well. What you think you see may not be
what you get. K Kelly

Kevin is 100% correct. Just grading opals is a very difficult task
let alone evaluating and pricing them. When is a gray opal
determined to be black? When is a jelly opal jelly and when is it
crystal? What is broad flash opposed to harlequin? Experts who work
in the market place might be able to make such determinations
but,…if you don’t even know the meaning of the terms let alone
having seen thousands of them, it is virtually impossible to
distinguish such differences.

My advice…don’t do it. If, when in Australia, you see a stone
YOU like, and if the price SEEMS reasonable…buy it. But don’t
expect to make a killing when you return to the States.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2

I don’t consider myself an opal expert by a long shot, but I have
been buying, selling and cutting them for a number of years. What
Don is saying here is absolutely true; a working knowledge of the
different types of bodycolor, pattern of play-of-color, brightness,
clarity or freedom from inclusion and a host of other
characteristics is necessary to be able to identify and evaluate
precious opal. One of the problems with appraising opal jewelry is
that the varieties of this “Queen of Gemstones” is available in a
vast number of varieties, making it difficult for the gem trade in
general to agree on a system of valuation. Don touches on some of
the more widely known varieties, but there are so many more. How
many more? The mind boggles! Many people can’t even agree on what
qualifies as a black opal.

Fortunately, there is what I would refer to as a “primer” that can
help a person better understand how much they can expect to pay for
certain types of opal. A well-known book by Paul B. Downing, PhD,
titled Opal Identification and Value has recently been reprinted.
There is some small amount of argument about the merits of this
system of valuing opal, but there are circumstances that also shore
it up nicely. The main one being that The Guide uses it as a
reference for opal values. The other is that the book approaches
most opal types, gives a systematic method for evaluating every
characteristic of precious opal in such a way as to afford a
practical methodology for those who use it. This book will not make
you an opal expert, but it will definitely enable you to make
intelligent, informed decisions about opal values.

    My advice....don't do it.  If, when in Australia, you see a
stone YOU like, and if the price SEEMS it.  But
don't expect to make a killing when you return to the States. 

More good advice there. And what Kevin said applies, as well. If you
make the trek overseas to ANY country looking for “deals”, without
expertise, you may just as well stick to buying at a large show,
such as Tucson. You’re not likely to find any special deals in the
cities of Australia, and the mining towns are generally so far away
from the cities that it requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, plenty of
extra tires, lots of water and infinite patience just to make the
trip out. And when you get there, I understand that the people are
very nice and quite accommodating, but I can’t help but imagine
they’d be giving me any “special deals” just because I’m another
Yank who deigned to make the trip.

So, when you go, bring every bit of knowledge you can and look for
what appeals to YOU. if it seems like a good deal to YOU, it
probably is. Part of the knowledge you need to bring is; how much
would this opal sell for in my town? On eBay? On this web site? That
one? Can I make a profit on it in MY business? That will be your

James S. Duncan, G.G.

Trying not to put too much for the “luminaries”, just
enough for the “newbies”, and hoping my punctuation, spelling,
grammar, and style are up to standard.

I agree that you always need to have a good working knowledge of
anything you are looking for, in order to buy without being “stung”.
No matter where, or what it is. (Including Tucson, and particularly
the Internet). But my understanding of what the original question,
here, was not a question of expertise necessary, but just that she
wanted to know whether they would be cheaper in Australia, or on the
Internet (or Tucson, etc.) And my answer was that the closer you get
to where the opal was mined, the less expensive it is going to be. I
still stand by that statement.


Hi Margaret,

And my answer was that the closer you get to where the opal was
mined, the less expensive it is going to be. 

Yes and no. Sydney is closer to where they are mined than Tucson
but the opals I saw in Sydney shops were outrageously priced, much
more expensive than similar stones would be in Tucson. On the other
hand, if you can get to the mining towns themselves (Lightning Ridge,
Yowah, Coober Pedy, etc.) and especially if you can make contact with
the miners directly (in other words, avoid the shops), then you
really can find great stones at great prices. That means, however,
about a day’s drive (minimum) from Sydney.


I certainly agree that Sydney prices are outrageous. And that the
mining towns are a long way from Sydney. I made a trip, a few years
ago, from the Yowah and Lightning Ridge areas to Brisbane, checking
on prices at a few towns along the way, and the further away I got,
the higher the prices were. Then I flew to Sydney (enroute home) and
the prices there were out of sight. Buying from the miners is good if
you can do it, but they mostly sell only to the buyers who buy large
parcels from them. But in Yowah (and perhaps other places) they have
a Sunday afternoon sale during their (Winter) mining season, where
you can buy direct from the miners. But what they have there is
mostly second grade. Lots of chip jars, too. But I have occasionally
seen some really spectacular stuff.

Margaret Malm