The Virgin Valley gem opal production is only a tiny part of the worldwide opal industry. The different formations here make for a style of fire play that's unusual to say the least. The rarest and most valuable opals are bright rainbow full spectrum colors on black. Black background opals show off the rainbows of fire, or play of color, the best. Super gem bright opal is that which you can't see through to the background opal color. A lot of "black" opal is some background behind a bright crystal. Some Virgin Valley opal must be cut into doublets or triplets to let the light in and the rainbow colors out. On the commercial market, Wollo opals from Africa closest resembles our precious opal play of colors, but without any wood or cast features.
Virgin Valley Opals have been found to contain a higher percentage of water (that all opals must have) than in some Australian mining areas. This water content also makes many craze (cracking) when dried too fast. Possibly the charcoal or manganese that causes the black color in them, or it could be the sulfates, but until dried out well, all opal is a gamble. We know a percentage is as good as any opal on earth. Mexican opals and African opals (Ethiopian, Gondor, Welo, Sudan, etc) are the same type of opal CT as is the opal from Virgin Valley. All opals when abused by fast heat and humidity changes can be expected to crack. The volcanic opal has been found to be partially crystallized when formed.
Specimen gem rough is optically stunning, while being physically interesting with natural wood pseudomorph's. That means that we get perfect limb and things casts in precious opal. Ancient plants such as twigs, pinecones, and branches that range up to logs that weigh many pounds along with unfortunate animals or their remains from the forests and seas have all been discovered replaced by precious opals in these mines over the last century. This You tube video is a plume play of color type in a black crystal twig. http://Youtube/l6J9tmaxy7g
Miners and sellers say "specimen" because a large number of the bigger pieces are bought for mineral displays, not for cutting rough. Only untested opals will look so nice as a rule of thumb. When dried, most large opals become small opals or cracked, as the water that is an essential part of them evaporates. All opal eventually loses this water and cracks to dust the Australian scientists say when talking about their opal experiments. Past published studies of the most commonly found in stores; Australian opals, are reprinted online by such as "The Australian Mineralogist" magazine.
Black twig cast core with excellent play of color. This specimen from the Toni is on display at the Winnemucca BLM office. More opals are displayed in the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Center downtown Winnemucca. Items are for sale there but not at the BLM.
The opals are cut up for use in jewelry only after being dried for a period of time. I dry mine for months before even worrying about what to cut. I dry most of the wood with opal specimens when found. Out of water and onto a board in the desert. Gem torture is a good description of the proving of the gemstones used. Then there are dry and colorful cachalong opal that looked good damp, along with dry white out. Cut the small pieces and marvel at the big. The blacks here are just as rare as mining down under. We have been called root beer glass disparagingly rather than true blacks. Still, the dark crystal and jelly opal can be huge and commonly weigh ounces, if not kilos.
Lit by a quartz shop light at a 90 degree angle, Evening Starfire shows both play of color in moving tubes of rainbows and Contra Luz in waves. (Owned by Crystals Opals)
You can see thru the black crystal opals holding them up to the light. This black opal was the cover of GOLD PROSPECTOR magazine. It was pictured and named Evening Starfire in one of the ROCK & GEM articles by James Mulkey; "Opals of Nevada" in Rock and Gem Magazine. Museum sized gem specimens for a digging fee is Virgin Valleys' treasure that everybody wants.
Swordfish Mine opal is on display in Gaumers Rock Museum; Red Bluff, CA among others. This mine and mineral display museum, with a modern rock shop, is well worth stopping at as it's right off I-5. That particular opal has the Plume POC in a pattern after manganese or sulfide inclusions. You can not go in there without buying more rough material, unless you are broke. Not Virgin Valley, but other quality cutting rough. The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine outside Helena, MT also has several excellent casts and gemstone fossils in their shop museum.
In 2003 Leah found this large black opal "core" in our mine. A core is a hollow limb cast in the clay, empty but for the opal mass laying in the hole un-attached. 190 Grams in 2 pieces. The limb was segmented prior to precious opalization. A N1 black crystal opal. It has that distinctive Nevada burning fire on all sides and reddish multicolor harlequin on the top and bluish multicolor harlequin on the bottom with a brightness of 3 out of 5. Swordfish Mining has many various grades of opal. The rarest are complete and not chipped or broken in any way. Precious opal loves to break through the best color when being mined it seems.
Leah's Black from her Toni Fire Opal Mine- call for Crystals Opals for particulars
The pieces have no cracks or crazing and were never dried. The larger half is in a custom heavy duty Pyrex glass display with a black rubber stopper. This opal measures 4 !/2" by 1 3/4". The Asteria harlequin pattern is visible from all sides giving a different view of the bars, tubes, flames. Unpolished, it has red, green, blue, and yellow rainbow rolling bars. A 1" wide color band 360 degrees around. My smaller one to the left is what it would look like polished. Electric bright shifting pillars of full rainbow multicolor's.
Swordfish Mining has several large opal specimens both dry woods and wet casts for sale. Several are larger diameter opal limbs with bright veining. Requests are filled on a first come first served basis and all opals pictured are subject to prior sale.
Any of the never dried wet opals may change appearances on drying and are therefore sold as specimens only with no assurances of dry-ability or cut-ability. I'm in no way responsible for their state if dried out after being shipped unless it is due to breakage of the packaging during shipment. You have to file the damage claim immediately with the carrier upon seeing the smashed package. Really, the way I pack the boxes, they have to be smashed to be damaged and I am not funding your experiments with museum pieces.
If one dries out to become the cherished cutting rough; congratulations, it beat the odds. If not, you're the one who dried it out, and what you see is what you have left. Putting it into Glycerin in a dome makes the cracks or crazing less apparent. Do not over heat opals during cutting either as CT from around the world is more heat sensitive than the agate like opals from certain areas in Australia. Be aware some opals will re-absorb water and crack after being dried. This is not crazing but the opal cracking to it's stable size due to the porousness of it's individual structure; because opals are like people - no two are exactly the same. This is why some cutters go all the way from wet rough to polishing compound before proving the gemstone by letting it dry. You will be selecting gems from the small percentage of natural gemstones made from material found here.
They can now be made into something now that the drying question has been answered. You can restore it back as a specimen by some sort of enhancement process and then polishing it if desired. Opticon or 330 Epoxy are used for many gem materials. Immersing them in Glycerine or mineral oil wets them and hides the fractures well. Each wet specimen dome comes with instructions for display, storage, and the continued care while in storage. You can polish them while wet without ever drying them out to increase their eye appeal in the dome.
Wet pieces start at $5 each. These specimens all have straight up play of color except wonderful specimens of contra luz opal or pastel glowing specimens. Those wet opals are not sold as cutters. You must state you wanted a non precious one before I would send a specimen without play of colors. None of these lower cost opals are solid blacks without cracks or crazing. The black is only a minor part of most stones and is usually not as bright as the white or crystal areas.
Contra Luz is where the play of color shows with the opal held up to the light. A good quarter of all the clear non-precious areas have contra-luz color. The precious and common areas don't show contra luz play of color. Opals are very difficult to photograph well without cheating with over-amping the colors with photoshop or some other program for manipulating images.
DOMED SPECIMENS are all filled with Virgin Valleys' pure artesian spring water. Domes of bright pieces, are sold at a huge discount of the proven dry rough. I don't open domes to split them up. Any single stone is individually priced by how rare it is from my own experiences in the mining district, not by paper comparisons to what others in third world countries are willing to sell one for. That's the gemstone business; most individuals are out for themselves, so just buy that one offered by others and don't beat my chops about it. When buying that one you get to find out how skilled and honest they really are. Most dealers are good blokes, but there are bad apples among us.
I'm also kinda tired of calls about NOT MY OPAL. I'm in business to sell my products here, not to help every recreational digger compete with me. Please don't ask for free appraisals or the locations of my buyers. That appraisal is normally 10% of the appraised value charged fee from any certified appraiser. So what IS a opal over an ounce with multi color 360 degree fire worth? I've never seen anything the size of our wet stones cut in any actual store or online. Sorry they are subject to the same laws of nature we all must obey.
Aunt Jeanne's' (RIP) Black. This one looks like puppy paws or scales, over one oz.
Conk not Dinosaur bone....SOLD, but some slabs left.
Here's a short video of a natural black opal from Virgin Valley.
The surface wrinkles are not cracks and don't penetrate the opal. When dry, they look waxy but do not penetrate like the angel hair in so many Australian stones. Skin to skin play of color; full rainbow, this pattern is as close to Harlequin as you can get without being square tiles. Measures 1 1/2 " x 1 1/2" x 1" and it's over an ounce.
This opal is one of 4 pieces of a crystal branch that has a ghost, or white inclusion down the center. This has it's own broad flash winking play of color. It is Green multi color showing some irregular pattern harlequin from one angle.
This remaining section is priced at $600 ~1"x11/2"x3/4".
There are many domes or parcels of smaller pieces in a wide variety.
Fossiliferous opals from our digging on the Bonanza Mine. 2 pcs great twig casts in skin to skin gem opal. And root inclusion- $225.
These crystal and white opals come from various of the claims. A well cast twig with inclusion (a root) running from one end to the other. Along with an assortment of gem bright pieces representing our Nevada State Gemstone well.
Another view showing the root inclusion better.
Bright contra Luz wet chunks with roots cast as above in inclusions are $20 and up. These are usually pastels or contraluz, rarely precious, but better opal specimens than others have for sale. Quantities limited as always subject to prior sale.
This next long (over 3") Specimen was mined at The Royal Peacock Opal Mine fee dig. Leah found this Black Precious Opal the same day the Travel Channel filmed "The Best Places in America to Find Cash and Treasure 1." We're in the second show of the series of 3 shows that first aired in 2004. The segment with us shows her picking at the bank as the show starts. Our interviews were edited out along with every other mention of the word Opalholic or Opaholism. I think the producers wanted to downplay the addictive and obsessive nature (like gold fever) of any sort of treasure hunters while they fan the flames of greed with the show editing. All you see of me (other than picking in the background) is my hand displaying one of the opals I found that day. AND Pat did say the one she found would be worth 50,000 if it cut, not as found. It didn't dry.
Very bright opal on a off green base with some wood structure. The outside has been polished to display the extent of color play. The opal fills an undulating layer around the limbcast. This came from the mines' clay bank with the outside layer crazing off. Most opals that will craze usually start crazing immediately on exposure to air. The center appears more solid. Some opals are just that way. The insides and the outsides are of different compositions of opal. Wet specimens won't change when kept wet. Most will clean up brighter. A dental pick or Dremmel tool is usually used to follow the contours of the fire layers when carving baroques. The Peacock mine has advised storage in mineral oil for many years now.
I don't always find something, but usually do quite well. Nicer opals were found by some folks from Washington on vacation. They also edited out most of Lenny Markeys' explanation of the local geology in forming opals (owner of private The Opal Queen Mine who arrange for the show to come and film in Virgin Valley).
As a side note...When the Travel Channel was at the Bonanza (the second season show on Virgin Valley); My friend Steve mined out a very nice black and showed it to us all through the TV also. Well, years ago now, he asked me if I'd like to see it again. It looked better than what Becky saw. It was DRY and looking real good. Any one who thinks our opal is not gem grade has not looked at the gems most diggers have cut.
This little twig could really make a wood collectors day. Great outside surface features reproduction with a gem bright center that faces out well.
Root cast thought the middle of POC opal twig fork.
Nevada Black Opal Bead. This wet specimen lost the water and crazed. It has been enhanced with Joe DiPietros Opal Cure and made into a focal bead which I wear daily.
Over 90cts after being "Opal Cured"
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