Gemologists know how exciting the world of opals and gemstones are, and now, so do movie-lovers around the world. In the 2019 dark comedy film, “Uncut Gems,” funny-guy Adam Sandler swaps his go-to humor for a gambling jeweler in the high-stakes gemstone arena. And that’s not all — he navigates the steep switchbacks of gambling, enemies, and business in a shady effort to pull off a big win.
While Sandler’s character might have the lead role, the real star of the show is the Ethiopian opal at the center of this tangled plot.
With every thread tugged, a subplot shakes loose. Let’s unravel the layers of “Uncut Gems” and dive into the real-life gemology of the featured Ethiopian opal.
In the film’s opening act, tension floods Howard Ratner (Sandler) rapidly vacillates between a gambling addiction, high-stakes gemstone dealing, debt-collectors, and dysfunctional family drama.
Contrasting the intensity is the allegorical magical jewel: a smuggled Ethiopian opal matrix. The fantastical and mystifying presence of this opal weaves itself throughout the plot, and we’re first introduced to it in Ratner’s shop. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Diamond District and frequented by the rich and famous, the plot thickens when Ratner reveals his prized jewel to former NBA star, Keven Garnett.
Like most of us, the opal mesmerizes Garnett, who temporarily swaps his prized NBA championship ring for good luck for his upcoming game that night.
Constantly evading and side-stepping multiple loan sharks, Ratner, entangled under the weight of thousands of dollars in debt, sees an opportunity:
Pawn the ring and use the money to bet on Garnett’s performance for the game that night. Of course, he’s banking on Garnett to play exceptionally well thanks to the opal.
If only it were that simple. As the plot unfolds, Ratner’s luck runs out when his prized opal (which he estimated worth millions of dollars), is appraised at $175,000. Which leads us back to real-life opals.
The movie showcases that even a whopping 4-5 thousand carat opal matrix is, well, primarily heavy from its host rock. Ratner believed the opal to be worth $3,000 per carat but failed to estimate that host rock is heavy. In other words, the final portion of polished opal gemstones is significantly smaller than the original matrix opal.
So, we know that the opal featured in “Uncut Gems” is massive, but is it all opal? As with all uncut gems, or rough specimens, the opal forms inside of host rock. When the opal is mined, portions of the host rock envelops the opal nodules within.
What does that mean? Essentially, at a glance, the size of an opal wrapped inside the matrix is not a reflection of its value. Why?
Matrix opal forms inside the rock in the hills of Ethiopia. While the opal within the ironstone is valuable, its casing isn’t.
In other words, gemstone dealers sell the final product of polished stones. The Ethiopian opal in “Uncut Gems” might look massive, but that’s because it hasn’t been faceted yet. Within the ironstone are multiple nodules of opal. Opal nodules are seams of opal that grow within the host rock. Once the matrix is cut away to reveal the opal, the final specimen is much smaller.
In the movie, Ratner mistakes the size of the opal as being incredibly valuable. Reality hits when the auction house appraises it at a fraction of his initial assessment. Ultimately, the host rock occupied most of the actual specimen, leaving only a fraction of opal left.
Before appraising an opal, the host rock must be removed to reveal an accurate weight of opal carats. This ties into the relationship between opal size and value.
Matrix stone contains almost no value. In order to truly value an opal, the nodules have to be cut, shaped, polished and removed entirely from the matrix rock. Unfortunately, this “trimming down” drastically minimizes the initial specimen’s weight.
If an uncut gem is appraised, great care must be taken to assess the mass of the host rock. Otherwise, a gemstone dealer could find themselves in a pinch, and that’s what happens with Ratner in the film.
Throughout the decades, gemstones have moonlit as Hollywood stars in films like “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, “Stardust”, “Ocean’s 8”, “Indiana Jones”, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, and more! It’s easy to see why; gemstones are irresistible and universally adored. However, most often diamonds, rubies, and sapphires glitter on the big screen.
It’s amazing to see a giant uncut opal grace the screen in “Uncut Gems” because they truly are unique and rare gemstones.
The formation of one opal spans across centuries. For hundreds of years, rainwater creates tiny silica which clings to sandstone or ironstone. The water flushes these particles down into the cracks of the earth’s surface. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind dried silica. Over hundreds of years, the silica grows into a rough specimen.
Finally, when light hits the gemstone, fiery rainbow colors flash across the gem. This is known as play of color, and it’s the feature that transfixes basketball star, Keven Garnett. From there, the plot unfolds.
Sure, diamonds are seasoned stars, but this is essentially the film debut of Ethiopian opal. After all, it’s only been in circulation since 1994. Before that time, Australian Opal dominated the marketplace.
Featuring Ethiopian Opal in Uncut Gems puts the spotlight on this relatively new opal contender. Hollywood has a way of making gemstones famous, as we’ve seen with diamonds in major films. Will Hollywood amplify Ethiopian Opal to new heights? Time will tell.
If ever there was a shred of doubt about the value of Ethiopian Opal, “Uncut Gems” enforces that this rare African gemstone deserves the spotlight.
Ready to get your hands on your very own uncut gem? We thought so!
Browse our collection of uncut and faceted Ethiopian opals here!
Was this article helpful?3 people found this article helpful
Great that I thought this will happen with these great stones in the future and have a great private collection of special sized and quality stones my own. I fell in love immediately with these stones and the prices rising is just nice to watch but not the most important for me. For me it is to have something I love watching over and over again and call it my own :)