Australia has always been reported as producing 95% to 97% of the worlds opals. But our statistics are now showing a different pattern. Opal Auctions is worlds largest specialist Opal website that has sold over 330,000 Opals to 184 countries since it started in 2004.
To work out percentages, we have calculated on sales only for the last 12 months of just under 40,000 opals sold.
All Opal producing countries have different problems that have affected production over the last 5 years.
Opals are loved by so many different nationalities as opals are a unique gemstone and patterns do develop in many countries for a certain type of opal. Google Trends is a good source for information in terms of search volumes for traffic of opals. In the last 12 months USA searches for Opal are down around 20% but countries like France, Belgium, and Australia are up. Searches from china are down 79% (based on Baidu search results), so many complicated reasons for this country.
Opal production is down on most opal fields in Australia. The Government policies and land rights claim by local indigenous people have greatly held up exploration. Many mining leases are held up by court applications, especially in boulder opal fields in Queensland. Lighting Ridge, the home of the black opal has had many problems from farmers rights to the mining departments strict regulations and limiting new leases. On top of these problems miners must comply with so many new regulations that didn’t exist several years ago. These range from electrical specifications to strict compliance on land lease ownership . Opal mining is now complicated and lot more expensive than in past. Opal miners insist on cash policy so no accurate records are available on production, and the industry is full of rumours and exaggerated stories of production that no one can verify.
Red fire on black opal with a body tone of N1 is very strong on the field with many cash buyers circling miners waiting for these top gem opals. Top gem prices have risen consistently for last 10 years and production is down considerably but hard to get exact figures in this cash industry. This year one opal field in Queensland hit a pocket of fossil wood opals and was extremely popular adding 5.5% to boulder opal sales. Boulder Opal sales are made up of many different types of boulder Opal from different regions so we have created another chart wth the breakdown.
Production of Ethiopian opals has been a roller coaster ride the last few years. In 2013 the Ethiopian Ministry mines banned the export of rough opals and prices sky rocketed. This policy only lasted a few months before the ministry realized it was a mistake.
But in 2016 the Ministry implemented a new policy that you need to register to buy opals and for every kilo of rough opal you need to buy the same value of cut polished stones. This also was bad move as many Indian buyers stopped buying and marketing Ethiopian opals. But there are not many, if any? Opal cutters in Ethiopia so it is very impractical to police this. Today most opal rough is bought out through Kenya and carried by hand to world destinations so no accurate figures are available on production quantity. Demand is strong for top pattern Ethiopian opal.
Mexican opal is Mexico’s national gemstone and are the third largest producers after Ethiopia and Australia. Faceted Mexican fire opal has a strong following as a gemstone. Buyers like clean faceted gemstones and Australian opal do not readily facet like Mexican opal. Production has been stable for many years with no new opal fields found. Mexican Opal accounts for 3% of international sales.
Brazil has never been a high volume producer of opal but has a reputation of good stable veined crystal opals. Opal is found in seams in sandstone or alluvial and suits small scale mining. The government has tried small scale opal mining clusters, but with limited results Brazil Opal accounts for 1.65% of international sales
Indonesia does have volcanic opal but most opal sold in this country is Ethiopian opal. Exact production figures are not reliable. Baten does have unique petrified wood with is deep black bitumen colour with veined or flashes opal colours. Opal mining is small scale. 1.2% international sales
Mining of this silica quartz style opal is limited to the Andes mountains regions as pink or blue Peruvian opal. Limited demand and production. Less 1% international sales
Small production, as this country has never been opal producing in any quantity. Small operations, Virgin Vallery, Idaho, Utah. Less1% international sales
Small scale mining operation with limited production. Less 1% international sales
World’s Oldest opal mines but limited production Tanzania, Madagascar. Less 1% international sales
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