It’s one of those rare pleasures that when you meet someone in the gem trade you hit it off straight away. That’s how it was when I met the gregarious and hard-working Sue, of Broken River Mining, a boulder opal miner from Queensland. We first met in Tucson, Arizona. Sue has had some connection with the Andamooka opal field, a place that I have loved to visit many times so there was an instant rapport, and of course there were the opal cutting stories too…yes!
Opal has always been an exciting challenge to work with. Concentration, being ready to change one’s approach and keeping an open mind are prerequisites from my understanding of working this material. What Sue and Ash presented to me in their boulder opal created possibilities in opal that I had harboured for other material for decades: the option to uncover scenes evocative of landscapes, or in the case of this material sea-scapes and rock-pools, reminding me of family holidays spent on the Australian coast.
A good deal of time and revisiting selected pieces occurs before individual elements and patterns emerge, pieces can be recut often; to change the focal point or to highlight an emerging feature…the question being when do you stop and say, enough.
Only found on the Andamooka field, out of all the opal fields in Australia, are ‘painted ladies.’ These opals have formed within fine cracks of very rounded quartzite rocks and boulders dropped in this area of our country by melting icebergs either from northern Australia or just as likely, from Antarctica (termed ‘glacial erratica’) many millions of years ago. The term ‘painted lady’ was coined by the early miners since it reminded them of the makeup women apply while still being able to see their underlying features. If you take close look at these images, you will see features of the Antarctica cross bedded quartzite under the opal.
Where else in the world could you find opal sourced from two continents?