As a lifelong East Coaster, whenever I visit California and pop into a supermarket, I’m always a little startled (and dazzled) by the produce aisle. The bountiful selection, vibrant colors and unbelievable freshness are all on a level that puts what we have at home to shame.
When I first met Sydney-based designer Mia Chicco at the JANY show last spring, I was so taken with her opal pieces that I had to wonder: Can physical proximity to a gemstone mine affect the quality of a designer’s work? The way native tomatoes just look and taste better than the standard variety, transforming your homemade marinara sauce into something truly, memorably sublime?
Kind of, yes. Though our industry, with its local diamond districts teeming with desirable stones from faraway lands, is a global one, Chicco maintains that working directly with Australian miners gives her an advantage as far as accessing some of the best opals on the planet.
“My main supplier is based in Winton, Queensland, and spends most of the season mining and then cutting the rough into beautiful shapes,” she says. “He comes to my studio with bags upon bags of incredible stones, and I can often be one of the first people to see the opals. He also cuts stones specifically with my preferences in mind or will save a particular selection just for me. But it’s taken years of relationship-building to have access to such a wealth of beauty at my doorstep.”
A selection of Australian opals delivered straight from the mine to Mia Chicco’s workshop (also at top)
“When it comes to buying opals, it’s a very intimate process,” says Chicco. “I only buy from the miners and cutters directly.”
Azure Ring with Australian boulder opal in 18k yellow gold, $2,200 AUD ($1,725)
Living in Oz, Chicco also enjoys access to a steady supply of indigenous sapphires and champagne diamonds.
A selection of Australian sapphires from Mia Chicco’s workshop
Ring with a 2.13 ct. Australian sapphire from Inverell (the New England District of New South Wales) with 0.35 ct. tw. light champagne princess-cut diamonds in 18k rose gold, around $4,990 AUD ($3,915)
“With diamonds and sapphires, there are a handful of local dealers I work with,” says Chicco. “Sydney doesn’t really have a diamond district like Hatton Garden in London or 47th Street in New York. There are a few buildings in our Central Business District that house members of the jewelry trade but compared to the U.S., U.K. or Asian markets, there are definitely fewer merchants and suppliers to source from.
“But it’s very friendly, and quite a tight little network, where everyone knows everyone. And what we do have on offer is probably of a higher standard.”
Which is to say that while you might not make a special gem-buying trip to Sydney, visiting the opal and sapphire mines in New South Wales and Queensland would more than make a journey Down Under worthwhile. As Chicco puts it, “There’s nothing better than being able to fully trace the origins of a gemstone, and to be able to tell that story to your clients.”
Australian champagne diamonds from Chicco’s current inventory
Ring with 3.33 ct. cushion-cut Australian champagne diamond in 18k rose gold, price upon request, and assorted gold and diamond rings, $660 to $3,200 AUD each ($518–$2,510)
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