This morning Steph and I went to Lightning Ridge Opals and to the National Opal Collection. The National Opal Collection was a little bit of a let down because it is normally half museum, but they were in the process of moving locations, so there wasn’t much to see. Lightning Ridge Opals however, was very cool. They were super nice and super informative. The owner was an elderly gentleman, who was very enthusiastic and he had been opal mining all his life. He told us about these underground communities built out at the opal mines. About 80% of the worlds opals come from Australia, and the majority of those come from Lightning Ridge Mines, which are very far inland. It gets up to about 50*C which is about 122*F, so they have to live underground which is about 68*F. They have these whole communities complete with shops and churches under the ground. It was really cool to hear about, and he had pictures to show us. Then his assistant showed us how the opals are cut and polished and she explained to us all of the different kinds of opals and the different aspects that they are rated on to determine their value. First off, opals are made of silica dioxide that fills the crevices in rocks and hardens over time. They even have shells that have been fossilized in opal. And apparently opal fossilized dinosaur cartilage is very common… Then there the different types of opals, the white opals, which are most common, black opals, which are only found in Australia and then the boulder opals which are opals combined with ironstone, creating really cool patterns that look like works of art. Each stone is hand polished, they do this so that the polisher can follow the color and the value of the opal from the rocks their formed in. The opals are valued based on their brilliance, clarity, color, size, and a number of other things, and the overall value of each individual stone is base on the cumulative total of all of its attributes. One stone could be medium sized with blue/green flecks and be average, while another stone could be tiny with red streaks or patterns running through it and be much more valuable. I also learned about doublets and triplets versus solid stones. So the most expensive, as one might guess, would be the solid stone. Then there is the doublet, which is a piece of opal that has been mounted on black glass. These are generally white opals, and mounting them on the black brings out their color and they look like black opals. Then triplets are a slice of opal that has been mounted on black glass with a quartz overlay (three pieces, thus triplet). They are all beautiful, but the doublets and triplets are lesser in value (significantly so) because there is less physical opal involved. I think my favorite was the boulder opal because of all the beautiful patterns and colors involved. It was such a cool experience, and I learned so much. I feel that I am now very well equipped to go opal shopping!
After that Steph and I had lunch and did a little shopping. We had a homework session in the study room which was actually quite productive. Then after dinner a bunch of us watched Hot Fuzz (part 2 of the Cornetto trilogy). The heavens also opened up and a waterfall fell from the sky for about seven minutes just after dinner. There was a lot of thunder and it was the heaviest rain I’ve witnessed thus far. I overheard one of the RAs saying that a part of the roof caved in… so that’s encouraging. The theory for tomorrow is a Sydney planning party and more homework!