My Opalized Belemnite Story
Opalized Belemnite is just one of the wonderful tales of great wealth, great loss, pain and joy that encapsulate Australian opal mining history. My friend Peter Blythe, opal miner/cutter and owner of Mineshaft in Canberra, Australia, is a big part of many of those stories and has been sharing them with me for the last 30 years. They always fascinated me and transported my imagination to far away deserts. I could imagine myself as an opal miner living in a dirty cast iron shed with no water; just drinking beer and talking about opals, explosives, holes in the ground and exciting finds.
This fascination with the beauty and history of opals has led to my collection of gems, purchased over the years with help from Peter Blythe and another Peter, who happens to be the largest wholesaler of opals based in Hong Kong. All my opals are wonderful pieces, but there are a few that are beyond compare – the black opal that got away, and the magical belemnite opals that finally found their way into my collection.
The Royal One that got away
The one that got away was not a belemnite opal but one of the largest, highest quality black opal ever found. It was a few years ago when Peter told me about this 306 carat black opal from Lightning Ridge.
Mined many years ago, the miner had decided to finally offer it for sale and had taken it to show Peter. I was very enthusiastic about it, even though Peter assured me I would ‘need a wheelbarrow full of money’ to buy it. I was in Sydney for one day and the miner, Bobby, was coming to show me the stone. I was like a child waiting for Santa, filled with excitement and anticipation about seeing this beautiful gemstone.
It also happened to be the day of a big international rugby game in Sydney, and the city was crowded with excited fans travelling to the game. The miner and his bodyguard arrived at the train station to take the ride to go and see me, but decided there were too many drunk fans on the train and it was not safe to travel with the precious stone, so they went back home. I was booked to travel back to the USA the next day, so I never saw the opal.
Soon after, the miner formed a business connection enabling the gem to be auctioned in Las Vegas for 3 million dollars. I am not sure if the opal was sold or not, but it is a story that will stay with me for years to come – as the one that got away!
The story of my opalized belemnite collection
Opals come from many parts of the world, but Australia is where the best and the largest opals are found. Coober Pedy, in the South Australian desert, is considered the opal capital of the world. A small town of about 3,000 people, Coober Pedy is 528 miles north of Adelaide and, aside from the opals, is famous for its underground dwellings – homes, hotels, and even a church reside below the desert floor.
About 150 million years ago, Coober Pedy was covered by ocean. Over millions of years, the water receded and the sandy silica minerals from the seabed flowed into the rocky cracks and cavities, solidifying over time into multi-colored gemstones: opals. Two such opals from Coober Pedy made their way into my collection – the belemnites.
Belemnites are extinct cephalopods that lived some 40 to 70 million years ago. They have many names, including thunderbolts, Devil’s fingers and Jien-shih (meaning ‘sword stones’ in Chinese). And in the case of Australian opal fields: ‘you bloody ripper’.
On a visit to Canberra, Peter told me about a beautiful belemnite opal with aqua colors of the sea. This almost 200 carat (199.97) opal was the largest crystal opal belemnite he had ever seen, or even heard of. I went to check it out, but the miner wasn’t keen to sell.
This belemnite had been mined prior to 1980 and the miner had never been able to part ways with it; perhaps he was as captured by its beauty as I am. A few months after my original visit, Peter told me the family of the miner wanted to sell a whole parcel of rough opals, including the aqua-color belemnite. Along with other contacts, Peter purchased the parcel and I bought from him perhaps the largest, most beautiful opalized squid ever seen. We called it ‘The Aqua Princess’. It has been polished, but not completely (in order to keep it as large as possible). The stunning crystal opal can be seen throughout the stone.
A few months later, when I returned to Canberra, Peter handed me The Aqua Princess, but he also had a really big surprise for me – a second amazing belemnite opal. This one was in four pieces and not polished. Together it weighs 331 carats, with the largest part weighing 227 carats. Thanks to the broken pieces we can see the amazing blues, greens and reds. The raw, unpolished beauty of this belemnite is encapsulated by its name – ‘The Virgin Queen’.
I am now the proud owner of two of the largest, most beautiful opalized belemnites ever found. Browse the images of these glorious stones and dream about these creatures swimming in the ocean many millions of years ago. What a story they could tell!
Enjoy the belemnites and Rocky Gem!
Below are some more images of my Opalized Belemnites