In 2008 there was more Black opal rough to view than chickens in a barn. Opal miners at Lightning Ridge were always showing us or sending us rough opal on a weekly basis. They were the good days when Black Opal rough was plentiful and the Cochran field was producing good black nobbies.
These days it’s hard to find Black Opal nobbies. From experience it was these types of parcels that every now and then had surprises in them. We had one miner who had a good Nobby opal mine. Most pieces were smaller than one inch, but when you found a good opal it was spectacular. It had great gem red color and it was a quality opal.
I would take it in turns with my friend to purchase the weeks production from this opal miner. Sometimes we did well other times we lost and every now and then we found a top gem opal. That made it worthwhile.
A normal load of opal rough would be 2-3 kilos and take about a week to rub down and to finish off. We would send the cheaper stones to a runner to sell to other opal dealers at Lightning Ridge.
The first lot of black opal rough from this miner I did well with. That week I met a guy from the USA who purchased a $5,000 parcel from the same miner. He cut nothing from it. $5,000 gone in a blink of an eye. The next day I looked at his rough and he had rubbed it the wrong way and he didn’t realise it. Not only did he rub from wrong side but he went after size rather than trying to get clean opal.
We would spend a lot time studying opal rough before cutting it. Many buyers don’t know what level or what mine the opal rough came from. So we would visit an opal mine with the miner and inspect the claim and surrounding mines. The idea is to check if they produced good opal or not.
This mine was hard to cut and eventually we found out that lots of cutters were losing money on his rough opal. We negotiated a better price to take his entire production and this mine produce opal for over 12 months.
I once sold a parcel to a mate from the USA for $1,000 which was my cost. He bought it back the next day and showed me what he had cut from it. Not even $300 worth as he also had cut it wrong.
Once we bought 3 large nobbies with black bars running around the edge. Each about the size of fist and showing lots of promise. We paid $30,000 for the 3 pieces of black opal rough. I wish I had pictures to show the bars 2-3 mm thick. They looked fantastic and should cut well.
We rubbed down the smallest one and what shock and horror, the bar only went in 2-3 mm around edge and the rest was black potch. No colour at all!
This was not good moment, we did not feel good.
So I rubbed the second largest black Nobby, it looks promising, and I rolled the edges and slowly took the top off rubbing down.
Oh no not again the same thing. The Opal colour bar was only on the edge. It was not even worth $300.00.
We were so disappointed. How could we get it so wrong. So we had a runner to take the gem black opal Nobby around and the best offer he had was $14,000 for the one Nobby. The offer was for that day only.
Most opal miners and dealers used runners a lot in those days. These guys would run your opal around and show other dealers and try sell to them on a commission basis. Some runners made really good money in those days.
So we discussed do we take the offer and lose about $7,000 each or cut the last rough opal which looked so good and had a thicker colour bar than the other 2 pieces. So we made the decision. Even if the colour bar only goes in say 4-6 mm we would get more than $14,000. So at 8 pm I started to rub this Nobby
At 8.30 I had a rest. I had rubbed top down to colour bar, and had cleaned the edges so the Opal at this stage was around 4 inches’ in diameter. The middle of the opal had lots of potch showing on top and looked like 60%. would be lost to sand.
It was not looking promising.
Next morning, we gave to another runner to show to other opal dealers.
He came back later that afternoon with best offer for $10,000 only from same dealer who offered $14,000 the day before.
That was it, we had made our decision to go the full way and finish off the opal Nobby. Paul rubbed the top off in 5 minutes to expose a beautiful gem colour on black opal. Not harlequin pattern but similar mackerel pattern. We ended up with 6 opals. 5 opals under 3carats each and one large opal 12 carats.
The 5 smaller ones we sold in that week. The larger one took 6 months as it was free form shape. We recut it to an oval shape that was 9 carats and it sold.
We ended up making $8,000 each but aged about 5 years so that was last time I gambled on just few pieces.
Later we found out that this mine produced empty centres and many people lost money. We were just lucky!
If I look at the hundreds of deals I made buying opal rough many times I broke even or took too long to get my money back. Today even on our auction site about 1/3rd of the Opal rough you loose on. About 1/3 rd you break even and about 1/3 rd you make good money.
That is true for virgin rough opal. If rubbed down you pay more but more chance to make money.
It’s also important to know what level the opal miner is working. It was good with our connections to visit the opal miners mine and go down and chip away and see the operation. More important was to see how deep they were working.
I remember one miner who we would buy from weekly over many years, we noticed that the rough was different and looked like it had come from another mine. He said he was still at the 30ft level on his second tunnel, but I remembered it a shard potch.
He had a new partner and his new opal mining partner lived in Sydney and didn’t want people to go down his mine. So I drove out to his mine one day and saw the potch that was coming out. It was different to what we had seen 6 months earlier and I stopped buying from him as the opal didn’t look good. It chipped too much when I rubbed it.
About 6 months later I found out from his neighbour who helped dig that they went down to over 80 ft deep. So our suspicions were correct.
One day a new opal miner bought in a tray of opal rough. It was semi black rough but so many Nobby’s with colour bars, that looked really promising.
The tray was 3 ft long by 18 inches wide and over foot deep. There was lots of colour showing and good colour bars. The Opal miner had a partnership and wanted $20,000 on parcel. No offers. I had just spent my budget and had no money left but really like the parcel.
As there was another opal cutter on the coast I rang him and told him about this parcel if he wanted to go half. I told him it was semi black opal rough. Lots of grey material with heaps of light crystal opals showing and just few chips of black potch.
He said he would go half and pay me $10,000 the next day. I gave he opal miner a cheque for $20,000. The next day he rang me and said something had come up and he couldn’t pay so he reneged on the deal. This is the first and only time someone cancelled deal with me.I was furious. So angry. At this time I had just bought a house and was to settle in 30 days’ time.
I cleared the cheque and went about rubbing the parcel down. It was the best parcel I had ever had. It took months to cut. I rubbed the parcel down and polished the opals. We polished on average of 120 opals per day and made $100,000 clear profit.
That was over 10 years ago. This opal miner never found any more opal. I never told the opal cutter about the parcel he reneged on. There must be a lesson in this story as this one parcel helped establish my opal business. I never had another parcel like it.
Opal buyers pay a premium for virgin black opal rough untouched gamble with colour bars as there is always chance snagging top gem. Black opal rough sells better at Lightning Ridge than anywhere else. Opal cutters are more experienced at Opal cutting and have better knowledge on how opal will cut.
Good luck with your opal cutting and enjoy whatever you polish.
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