Prepare for an opal revival

After years of typecasting as an inexpensive vacationer memento, might the opal now be receiving revered fame and standing amongst Australians? EMILY MOBBS investigates.

Opal has precipitated division inside the trade for years. It’s a daily fixture within the jewelry collections of high-end luxurious manufacturers and sometimes resides within the pages of magazines and on-line model editorials, but has been relegated in Australia to ‘cheesy’ vacationer shops and duty-free retailers.

Aussies is perhaps identified for his or her patriotism however they’re reluctant to embrace their nationwide gemstone. That’s till now, in accordance with Atheka Le Souëf, director of Melbourne-based retail retailer Lightning Ridge Opal Mines.

“The gemstone has really grow to be much more well-liked with Australians and there has undoubtedly been a rise in opal gross sales inside the native market over the previous 4 years,” Le Souëf states, particularly citing black and boulder opal in each completed jewelry and unfastened gems pretty much as good sellers.

Le Souëf attributes this surge in demand to latest media publicity: “There was a variety of media consideration in all probability about 4 years in the past and I feel that heightened the profile of opal inside the native market.”

Scott Coggan, supervisor and opal cutter at Sunshine Coast-based Opals Down Below, agrees.

“Over the previous six to seven years our home gross sales have elevated enormously,” he explains.

Coggan, who acknowledges that the enterprise has invested in important advertising and marketing throughout this time, says opal engagement rings are a standout, significantly with shoppers aged round 25 to 30 years outdated.

“I feel the youthful era is searching for a person piece quite than the usual diamond,” he says, including, “Opal is a softer gemstone so what many are doing is carrying their marriage ceremony ring on an on a regular basis foundation and treating their engagement rings extra like a gown ring.”

Coggan additionally feedback on the recognition of free-form boulder opal pendants set in gold.

It’s not solely opal specialist retailers who’re noticing an increase in demand. Rick Stearns, director of Stearns Showcase Jewellers in Bendigo, Victoria, says he has additionally observed an elevated curiosity in opal jewelry prior to now two years.

Stearns has offered opal jewelry for about 30 years however admits he solely lately began giving the class particular consideration. Unsurprisingly, it was at the moment that demand surged.

“We noticed a gap,” he states. “Nobody else was doing it as a result of a variety of jewellers simply don’t carry opal however, as soon as we began to develop the vary, the market simply grew.”

Stearns says increasing his product selection performed an enormous position in stimulating gross sales: “You possibly can’t promote what you don’t have. We weren’t promoting a variety of opal prior to now as a result of we by no means had a variety of totally different items; nonetheless, as soon as we put in a full vary of it with earrings, pendants and rings, swiftly there was some curiosity.”

The shop carries the Firegem Australian Opal vary, distributed by Paterson Wonderful Jewelry. Stearns says all jewelry items within the vary are well-liked however provides that ring gross sales are significantly larger than what they’ve been prior to now.

Different choices

Black and boulder opal stay firmly ingrained on this gemstone’s narrative however triplet opal – usually outlined as a skinny slice of opal sandwiched between a black backing and a transparent dome-shaped capping – can be discovering its area of interest, in accordance with Paterson Wonderful Jewelry managing director David Paterson.

“Now we have been promoting opal jewelry for greater than 70 years and the demand has by no means been larger for us,” Paterson says. “Triplet opals have at all times been second cousins to the primary market, that includes Australian boulder (QLD) and black opal (NSW); nonetheless, these gems have grow to be highly regarded in Europe and Asia and the costs have been pushed up accordingly,” he explains.

Paterson says value rises have meant costlier items are actually typically out of the realms of the impartial retailer, thus giving rise to a higher reputation and demand in triplet opals.

“Boulder and black opals will at all times have their sturdy place available in the market, particularly for custom-made items, however triplet opal jewelry is now rather more widespread in readily-available inventory and retail collections,” he states.

Dennie Fickling, director of DF Opals, suggests doublet opal – comprising a slice of opal with a black backing – is an alternative choice for retailers to contemplate.

“Doublet opal is an effective entry-level opal piece for the first-time opal purchaser,” Fickling explains, including, “I’ve had prospects which have bought a doublet opal piece after which later they need a stable, pure piece. I feel doublet opals are superb so long as they’re sorted and are offered as doublet opals.”

Fickling, who he has been promoting unfastened opals for a “very long time” and commenced promoting boulder and doublet opal jewelry about 5 years in the past, says most of his unfastened opal inventory is offered abroad however provides that he’s beginning to promote extra jewelry in Australia.

“I don’t actually know why that is the case,” he states. “I feel the jewelry retailer house owners are beginning to give opal a go and it appears to be working.”

Put money into data

Le Souëf says jewellers stocking or contemplating opal jewelry want to understand the significance of investing in schooling.

“Opal shouldn’t be like a diamond that may be simply quantified; opal will be fairly subjective in a variety of methods so that you do want various expertise to accurately determine it and worth it with the intention to promote it correctly,” she says, warning that incorrect valuations can harm the trade. “If individuals are offered an merchandise they assume is value some huge cash when really it isn’t, it will have a adverse affect on the picture of opal.”

One provider specializing in educating retailers and the end-consumer is Opals Australia, which has a branded-jewellery providing comprising greater than 1,000 jewelry designs in 18-carat gold, 14-carat gold and sterling silver.

In line with Opals Australia nationwide accounts supervisor Clayton Peer, the primary motive for growing a model versus promoting unbranded product is as a result of it is among the simplest methods to offer schooling about Australian opal jewelry.

Peer says Opals Australia stockists obtain quite a few help instruments and providers to assist improve gross sales. “These embody, however usually are not restricted to, a wide range of show stands, implausible easy-to-follow coaching supplies for workers schooling, a big collection of skilled pictures for use as promoting help and a web site that holds 1000’s of jewelry designs for simple ordering,” he explains.

Peer provides that Opals Australia’s vary performs nicely within the Australian opal-producing areas of Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy the place “Child Boomers are experiencing the numerous sights that Australia has to supply”.

He admits that there’s nonetheless numerous jewellers and shoppers who’ve little to no data of Australia’s nationwide gemstone.

Maxine O’Brien, coordinator of the annual Australian Opal Exhibition and secretary-manager of the Lightning Ridge Miners’ Affiliation, believes it’s going to take time earlier than any opal publicity ends in noticeable native retail gross sales.

“The home market caters primarily to worldwide vacationers; nonetheless, I do imagine opal has misplaced its adverse connotations in Australia as a result of an increase in worldwide jewelry designers utilizing Australian opal and successful worldwide awards,” she says.

“Australian jewelry designers are creating lovely works and it will hopefully translate into extra gross sales over time,” O’Brien provides. “Prior to now, Australians associated opal to a vacationer memento and had been by no means actually uncovered to high-end gems or effective opal jewelry however that is altering and social media will proceed to have a significant affect as Australians come to understand the spectacular great thing about their nationwide gemstone.” 

Just like Coggan, Paterson states that younger client demographics are spearheading the opal hype.

“Our expertise has been that the youthful era are main the revival due to the colorful nature of the gemstone, the story that the gemstone has and its rarity,” he says. “It can at all times be a well-liked vacationer product as a result of 98 per cent of all opal is mined in Australia and the 2 per cent that’s mined abroad has poor, incomparable color. Additionally, new jewelry traits are all about color and distinction and what higher gemstone to function than Australian opals.”

Whereas opal jewelry may not be on the wish-list of each Australian proper now, there’s no denying that tides are turning. Jewellers would do nicely to pay this class some consideration as a result of, as Stearns says, “You possibly can’t promote what you don’t have.”

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