The most sought after opals in the world come from the Lightening Ridge region of New South Wales, Australia. According to Aboriginal legend, these opals were what remained when the Creator’s footprint came in contact with the Earth, at the base of a rainbow, and symbolize harmony. With their backgrounds of black, dark gray, deep greens or blues, and even dark reds, the plays-of color are more intense than lighter opals. Keep in mind that 95% of the mined opals are considered “common” – and of the remaining 5%, only 5% of those are precious. And with a bit of mental math, we realize that the precious opals used in fine jewelry account for a mere one quarter of one percent of all mined opals.
Australian jeweler Katherine Jetter is on a mission to bring opals to the international precious jewelry market, in a way that’s never been seen, and excitedly says of those opals from Lightening Ridge, “They’re solid gemstone material; so, when they catch the light, the entire opal becomes illuminated, causing it to glow and flash color from within.”
It’s those flashes of color that attract Arun Bohra of Arunashi to black opals; telling me how it’s the “soft curves” of the opal that appeal to him “in a very sensual way” (making me think that Mrs. Bohra must be a very lucky woman, indeed).
During the Middle Ages, many Europeans thought that, since they contained every color, opals carried the virtues of every colored stone; with the Romans valuing it more highly than anything, dubbing them opalus (“precious stone”). Of course, opals aren’t stones, per se; but actually minerals that form when water seeps into silica, in sediment. For this reason, I prefer the Bedouin tradition that opals hold the lightening that strikes during a thunderstorm.
More of the established maisons – from Cartier and Chopard to Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co. – have begun using black opals, in their haute joaillerie collections; while houses like Louis Vuitton and Lalique are creating entire collections around them.
Walking around the floor and the villas at Wynn Las Vegas, during Couture, I’ve taken notice of black opals “doing shows” in the salons of such designers as Victor Velyan, Pamela Huizenga Jewelry, and K Brunini Jewels – each of which has built a reputation upon creating one-of-a-kind precious jewelry pieces that espouse empowerment and individuality. Gaze upon Velyan’s cocktail ring, Huizenga’s bracelet, and Brunini’s gent’s ring; and imagine how you’d feel, while featuring any of those pieces. I’ve fondled all of them (there’s really no better way to describe it), and lemme tell you – each is guaranteed to put a hitch in your giddy-up!
Meanwhile, how could you not feel positively regal, in Faraone Mennella’s “Artemisia” parure, of Australian black opals with green and white diamonds? Named after the Anatolian warrior-queen and naval strategist – herself named for the Greek goddess of the Hunt – Artemisia I of Caria was the only woman in all of antiquity to whom Herodotus ascribed the virtue of courage. That’s a lot to live up to – but it’s a lot of necklace, and it does so, with the noble balance of strength and femininity for which we remember Artemisia, some 2,500 years later.
Get into it!
CREDITS: (clockwise from top left)
Tiffany & Co. – Blue Book Collection “Butterfly Brooch” featuring black opals (13.13cts), Montana sapphires (5.15cts,) and diamonds (4.58cts), set in platinum – $110,000
K Brunini Jewels – Gents Objects Organique ring in sterling silver and 18k gold set with Lightening Ridge black opal, moonstones, and pink diamonds (0.60cts) – $143,940
Oscar Heyman – OOAK necklace featuring Lightening Ridge black opals (25.55cts), emerald beads (74.81cts), and round diamonds (4.98cts), set in platinum
Just Jules – 18k gold enhancer pendant with hidden clasp, featuring a Lightening Ridge black opal (21.40cts) set with rose-cut pear-shaped diamonds (1.50cts) and pave diamonds (0.68cts) – $14,080
Arunashi – “Dome” ring, featuring one Old Mine cushion-cut diamond (J/VVS/7.51cts), flush-set with Brazilian opal (28.15cts) and diamonds (3.19cts), set in titanium – $388,500
Pamela Froman – “Arabesque” pendant featuring a black opal (4.55cts) framed by diamond pave, set in 18k ‘crushed’ gold with an Arabesque accent (0.26cts) attached to a 16” chain
Lydia Courteille – Drop earrings each featuring four-leafed clovers of 18k white gold, set with pave diamonds (0.37cts), and hung with 18 graduated Australian black opals descending in size (12.90cts) - $31,485
Lalique – Haute Joaillerie “Gaïa” ring featuring a black opal triplet, 2 hematites, 92 diamonds, 68 black spinels, mother-of-pearl, and lacquer, set in 18k gold; based on a sketch of a flying beetle by René Lalique
Faraone Mennella by R.F.M.A.S. – Couture “Artemisia” necklace featuring Australian black opal (87.78cts), green diamonds (17.00cts) set in blackened 18k white gold, and white diamonds (16.00cts) set in 18k white gold – $2,450,000
Cartier – Étourdissant “Lagon” bracelet featuring an oval-shaped, cabochon-cut black opal (85.42cts) sapphire beads, long emerald beads, Paraiba tourmalines, and brilliant-cut diamonds.
Chopard – Fleurs d’Opales “Bague Deux” figural flower ring featuring an oval black opal (20cts), surrounded by diamond-set ‘pistils’ and blue titanium ‘petals’ with tsavorites, lazulites, and brown diamonds, set in titanium
Victor Velyan – Ring with black opal (13.38cts) featuring moonstone (0.41cts), diamond (1.94cts) and tsavorite garnet (1.82cts), set in 18k and 24k gold – $151,800
Katherine Jetter – “Poison Berry” pendant of 18k gold set with ‘petals’ of Blue Opal (19.85cts), fancy pink diamond (1.45cts), diamonds (2.40cts) and tsavorite garnet (0.50cts)
Pamela Huizenga – 18k gold multi-row bracelet (7.5”), featuring Lightening Ridge black opal (75.87cts), and green tourmaline (42.66cts) with diamond frames (1.71cts)
Paula Crevoshay – “Black Beauty” ring featuring a Lightening Ridge black opal (9.96cts) and diamonds, set in 18k gold – $173,650
Louis Vuitton – Acte V “Genesis” pendant earrings featuring black opals (11cts), sapphires (0.99cts), and diamonds (0.94cts), set in 18k white gold
Van Cleef & Arpels – Cadrans Extraordinaires 38mm Lady Arpels de la Terre à la Lune watch with “Cassiopeia” décor; featuring a dial of Champlevé enamel, opal, and diamond, in a case of 18k white gold with diamonds, on an alligator strap.