The 72 ct. Virgin Rainbow, a swirling kaleidoscopic stone described as “the finest opal ever unearthed,” will be displayed publicly for the first time at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide.
The 2.4-inch-long multicolored stone is classified as a black opal, but it shows a kaleidoscope of hues, museum director Brian Oldman told AFP.
“It’s almost as if there’s a fire in there; you see all different colors,” he said. “As the light changes, the opal itself changes. It’s quite an amazing trick of nature.”
The stone was discovered in 2003 in an old mine shaft by veteran explorer John Dunstan. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that at first he didn’t think the stone was all that special.
“It showed this beautiful color on the tip, but it was still in this hard lump of sandstone,” he said. “So we cleaned it off and we could see it was a nice piece, but we didn’t know if it was solid.… There was a thick skin on it, like a rusty band around it, so we cleaned that off, and every time we touched it some more color would come out. It was a true gemstone.”
“You’ll never see another piece like that one, it’s so special,” he continued. “That opal actually glows in the dark—the darker the light, the more color comes out of it, it’s unbelievable.… I’ve been doing [this] for 50 years, but when you compare it to the other pieces that claim to be the best ever, this one just killed it.”
When an auction did not achieve the amount Dunstan desired, he sold it to the museum, ABC said.
Longtime opal dealer Frank Farnsworth, owner of Parle Jewelry Designs in Pocatello, Idaho, tells JCK he hasn’t seen the piece but is impressed by the pictures.
“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of people who claim to have found the world’s best opal,” he says. “Every opal is different. That is why they are so hard to match. So who is to say what is best, anyway?”
Still, he believes the publicity the stone has gotten will help the market.
“Opal is very strong this year,” Farnsworth says. “This has been an incredible year. Everyone is looking at each other, saying, ‘Why are opals so strong this year?’ ”
The museum’s Opals exhibit, which commemorates 100 years of opal mining in Australia and features a wide array of Australia-mined stones, opens Sept. 25 and runs through Feb. 14, 2016.
The exhibit will include a re-creation of an underground opal mine, with dust from Australian mining town Coober Pedy, which produces 70 percent of the world’s opals. A boy named Willie Hutchinson first discovered opals in Australia in 1914 on a gold mining expedition, according to a museum release.
“The story goes that Willie set out in search for water one day, rather than staying at camp as he’d been instructed to do by his father,” Oldman said. “He came back to camp with water, but also with precious opal gemstones.”
“We want to showcase the history and beauty of opal, as well as the hard work and dedication required of those who choose to mine it,” he continued. “This is an exhibition literally millions of years in the making. These opals were formed back when dinosaurs walked the earth and central Australia was an inland sea.”