“Why Now?” We Asked.
Gabriel Said, “By the Grace of God,
Our village really needed something like this.”
The tribe had lived for hundreds of years at the top of a thousand foot cliff, without ever realizing that at the 400-foot level the World’s greatest opal deposit laid within an 18-inch seam of rock.
Color so pure, so complex, so rich, and so wild it could have only been dreamed up by Mother Nature. This new find of opal in the Garden of Eden in East Africa will someday be regarded as one of the greatest gem finds of the 21st century. Jewelers everywhere are astounded. At Cross, we have a hard time believing that something so astonishingly beautiful could have been overlooked for so long.
Precious Metal: 22K & 14K Yellow Gold
African Opals: 2 = 21.5×7.25mm
Diamonds: 2 = 1.5mm round
Length: 1 3/4″
Style: Pierced Post
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Color unlike anything you have ever seen. Color that sweeps and darts, vanishes and reappears. One moment it’s red, then orange, then violet and on to ghostly blues and spectral greens, apparitions of a long-lost world, playing, dancing, cavorting across the surface. Colors dreaming within the gems. Look once, look twice, look a hundred times, always different. Carry one close to your heart, pendant/necklace, hold colors near the ear, and for dramatic moments of outreach, a bracelet and a ring too.
No matter what we say, it can’t convey, no matter what we show in print and video, they can’t begin to explain. Once you decide and your opal arrives you will see something you never knew existed, you couldn’t possibly have known. Your heart will know, you must have, must have as your own… Everything is Early Welo, amazing values. Welo opals set in 22 karat yellow gold.
We have the definitive collection of Welo opal in New England. Each gem is individually chosen, lovingly handcrafted.
If the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) sends scientists, geologists, gem experts to Welo, the story they report is likely to hold most of the elements of what we are reporting. Our report is from people who have been there, gotten close, but no one I’ve talked to yet, has stood at the cliff face, stood at the entrance to the mine, looked in or carried a flashlight to the back wall where opal is being mined. So what we are reporting is from parties interested in opal who are circling Welo in concentric circles that are close or circles that radiate out from the center.
I know Maine gem miners. They keep tight circles around their mines. Few get in and when someone is allowed near, access is surprisingly limited and for good reason. Welo has every reason to be closed, tight, restricted and the government of Ethiopia has every right to be looking out for everyone’s best interest in this national treasure.
What we are reporting on Welo, is second-hand information. It’s interviewing seven blind men who have gone out, gotten close, but have not actually touched or seen the location, and they have returned and reported what they perceive to be true. We are reporting their observations as we understand them. This is the deeper story as we know it today. Inevitably more will come forth 10, 15 or 20 years from now, but by then it may be too late. Mines may be exhausted. Governments change, policies change, so much can change if we wait too long.
What we do know: A new find of an historic gem has been discovered. A new mine of solid, stable, unbelievably colored opal is now available. How long it will last – today, tomorrow, two years, 20 years, no one knows. What we do know is it is real. It is natural. It is available now and the color, the colors of this opal are setting new standards for opal in the world today. Even the language to describe these opals is changing. Some of the terms used by Australian opal experts no longer apply, a new language is emerging. As the story develops we will keep you updated.
I have an opal friend, who thirty years ago left college mid-term with his new bride and went to the south Pacific to start a South Sea pearl farm. Ended up in Australia, where he bought the equipment of a retiring opal miner and just started mining, cutting and selling opal and loving every minute of it; eventually buying three opal mines in Australia. He still owns one mine.
Over the years he became an accomplished opal cutter. Knew everything there was to know about Australian opal. At the 20 year mark he’d heard about a new discovery of opal at Welo, Ethiopia. Everyone was skeptical because of the stability of the opal that had been previously found in the country of Ethiopia.
The Australian mining community was rife with rumors. Team Australia said no way, no how. Our American friend got hold of three Welo nodules and cut a collection of gems. He said for color he had never seen anything like it. It was Australia’s finest times 10. At giveaway prices he and the whole opal community had every right to be suspicious – awesome color with prices too good to be true.
He cut the gems and gave them the definitive opal strength and durability tests: tossed them into the freezer to super chill. Brought them out to intense heat then dopped them up with flaming hot wax, then plunged them into ice water. Kevin and Joann, his wife, were astonished. No Australian opal they had ever cut survived so much extreme testing.
The Welo find was in 2008. In 2009 he made a decision, a commitment, and was in a position to make an historic acquisition. Not an ounce of gems, not a kilo or two, but an entire pickup truck of some of the most concentrated, fine, gemmy opal the world has ever seen.
When I talk with him his eyes glitter. He’s got this smile, a knowing smile. It’s the look of a guy who is holding the 100 million dollar lottery ticket the next day after he’s visited the Lottery Commission. He has that look every time I see him.
Now we come to the really good part. By chance and serendipity, his wife has a degree in jewelry design, and not just a degree – she has an innate sense of awesome jewelry design. Simple, pure, 21st century Danish Modern-type design with just the slightest curve and frame to compliment and contrast in 22 Karat gold the awesome color performance of first cut early Welo opal. This is an historic collection.
We met Kevin the desert. He had his entire collection of mounted opals. The quality of the gems before us was breathtaking. Colors and combinations of colors unlike anything we’d ever seen. Prices, like it was 40 years ago. If you are considering a Welo Ethiopian opal, don’t hesitate. Just be sure it’s Welo and not just Ethiopian opal. With a Welo opal you possess all the colors of the earth in a stable, durable form.
How long will the find of Welo opal last? We hope forever, but alas all great gem discoveries are finite. For a while there are many, then suddenly it’s gone and everyone says I should have bought it back when. They are digging deeper into the cliff, tunneling, labor and extraction costs are rising. Two years, five years, ten years, how long will it last is one of the big unknowns.
For 100 years Australia was the center of the opal universe. Colors and blends of colors unlike anything ever found anywhere on planet Earth. For years Japanese connoisseurs stood at the gates to Australian opal mines ready to buy the best and brightest gems. Prices reached astronomical heights. Then there was a discovery of opal by a shepherd boy in Welo, Ethiopia.
Shown above, "Victoria Falls" a 37.86 carat Ethiopian Opal from Cross’s private collection.
Gemologists, gem collectors, jewelers took a deep breath. So awesome, so excellent is this find that we haven’t yet exhaled. This new Welo opal discovery is a seam of opal 400 feet down on the face of a 1,000 foot cliff. They are mining this 14 inch seam of opal 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet deep into this cliff. One false step at the mine entrance and it’s 600 feet straight down to the valley below.
Opals are found on Welo’s cliffs in nodules the size of cherries, to the size of apples, filled with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet opal colors.
Awareness comes slowly. I stopped at a gem table today where a 3×3-foot section had hanks of Ethiopian opal 7, 12, 18 strands. Each strand of beads were from $90 -$400 per strand. Yellow opal, white opal, blue-green opal, each bead with flickering flashes of rainbow light.
Attractive, yes. Approaching beautiful, yes – considering the last 100 years of Australian opal a serious competitor on the world market. Yes, if I’d had my red garden wheelbarrow this single lot of Ethiopian opal would have filled my barrow with opal strands heaped in the middle spilling the edges. I suddenly realized what the Ethiopian opal discoveries represented. This was just one of hundredsof locations throughout the international gem show in Tucson, AZ where opal has come to market. The question was – was this the new Welo find, or was this run-of-the-mill Ethiopian opal that the Australian opal dealers are so afraid of because of its stability?
I bought an antique estate Australian strand of opal beads about 30 years ago. It was finely made with a platinum diamond clasp. I remember sitting with it in the evening and marveling at the flashes of color. At the time it was a treasure for its age and rarity. Today, with opal history having been re-written, it could have been with the thousand strands on the open air table where hundreds of people were passing by every hour. At other tables there were open-air dishes with handwritten signs: $25, $50, $100 per selection. Better gems were under lock and key.
There are two takeaways from this apparent abundance. Opal is found throughout Ethiopia. Almost all the Ethiopian opals possess varying degrees of instability, tendencies to fracture, chip and craze. Opal can be sensitive to heat and cold, can fracture if the air is too dry. Opal dug in Australia’s progressively deeper levels are noticeably more sensitive to chipping and crazing. Ethiopian opal found at the canyon and cliffs of Welo, is stable, remarkably stable. Almost other worldly stable (more about the stability of Welo opal later).
What may not be known at the moment of purchase and sale, is this stable, strong material or will it crack and craze? How ripe is the fruit? Is it close to its expiration date? There are tests for short and long-term stability. Some opal can fail within a few weeks of cutting, some a few months; some may take years to fail. I’ve learned this lesson first hand.
I bought a dozen Australian opals from a young guy 25 years ago. They were beautiful. The price was amazing, seemed too good to be true. He talked fast, seemed to be in a hurry, talked them up, still very reasonable. He offered an additional 20% off without my asking, told me the total. I wrote the check. I asked for a receipt. He said he didn’t have any more receipts. I said well just write it up on a blank piece of paper and staple your business card to it. He said he was out of business cards. He said here, and tore off a piece of the brown paper bag his lunch had come in. He wrote 12 opals $450 and his name.
I remember thinking at the time how odd. Most business people are super prepared and provide a wealth of information to give one the opportunity to get back to them for future business. About three weeks later, after I got home, I opened the stone paper. All of the opals were either cracked or crazed. Three opals had actually broken in two. Stability issues in opal can show up in just weeks after cutting or it may be years. There are tests a dealer can run to prove high probability of stability. Clearly I had been taken.
The sting of that transaction has always stayed with me. I watch for natural, comfortable, easy, non-rushed cadence. I’m watching for nervousness or someone that seems too slick. I listen to my gut instincts and I’m watching for records and documentation, history, longevity. I’m prepared to be a jeweler at times with a 10 power loop magnifier. It can reveal so much. And, I always ask a thousand questions. I’m listening for the answers and I’m listening for the clues in the spaces between the answers. I’m listening for the questions asked for which there are no answers given. Opal inquiries really require time and a deep knowing of the seller.
The second takeaway regarding the abundance of opal at Welo, Ethiopia – is how long it will last. There is the town of Welo which sits on a plateau. A thousand foot cliff drops from the plateau down to the canyon riverbed below. At approximately the 400 foot mark below the plateau is the seam of Welo opal. I’ve asked many repeatedly how thick the opal seam is 1’, 2’, 3’? The answers have been vague from everyone and I’m going to call it 14” (February 2, 2018 subject to revision).
The quantity coming out appears to be astounding, but then again that wheelbarrow full of opal beads may be from other Ethiopian sites and it’s just waiting two months, two years, ten years to craze, check and crack.
Crippled by years of drought and famine. Images of starving children on the nightly news. The world responded somewhat slowly. Logistics, gathering, and getting stuff there. No rain, no water, no crops, no food. In one season, in just a few months, all the food runs out. Hunger spreads rapidly.
It was tough for a while, really tough. Then the rains returned. Everything was lush and green again. Fruits and vegetables grew. Everyone was happy.
Then something else happened. A shepherd boy finds opal. It seems wild, beyond belief; people have lived in this area for
200,000 years so, “why now?” everyone asks. Gabriel, an Ethiopian jeweler we met, said it well, “It was God’s will.” The villagers at the top of the canyon, where just decades ago the world was sending food to feed the starving, the world was now coming to Welo to secure a place at the auction to buy opal and not just any opal, some of the finest opal the world has ever seen. There is a parable here, a biblical story of sorts.
After the rains and after the harvest the men mine for opals in the dry time of year. It’s safer to mine after the rains stop. The miners are going deeper into the cliff. This cliff holds apples and pears of earth’s beauty. All the colors of life. The world now comes and sits on Welo’s doorstep, asking for the opportunity to be on the bidding schedule.
A week early, a week late, but spring comes in many shades of green then in colors of flowers and later colors of fruits and vegetables. Spring comes with green grass, purple and white crocuses, and daffodils as yellow as the sun. Spring unfolds into summer and colors keep coming. The calendar can predict with near certainty when red roses bloom, when blueberries are ready for picking and the first orange pumpkins will appear.
Gems are rare. There is no season, no rhyme and little reason. They are exotic, precious and scarce. They are treasures waiting to be discovered. We mine tourmaline in Maine. We hunt for green, we hope for blue and maybe pink or watermelon too. Some summers are great, some summers little to nothing is found. Miners come back and mine for a year, or mine for ten years, until it is all gone. No one ever knows how long any gem mine will last.
All Welo Opal from Cross Jewelers comes with the above “Statement of Origin”; an important document for your records attesting to source and provenance of your new acquisition – from the early find at Welo, Ethiopia, Africa.
Gas slick at the gas station. Colors running across the cement surface. Entertaining myself taking pictures while the car fills with gas. One molecule thickness of gas separates purple from blue and blue from green and green from yellow. There is something so beautiful about how the physics of optics work. Every oil slick in the world follows the same rules. In a similar way, the colors in opal and their progression follow the same rules. Understanding this makes the study of opal so much more interesting.
When I was a kid, after a rainstorm, I remember we would go out looking for rainbows in puddles. Cars back in the fifties leaked oil and gas; it showed up in puddles. I haven’t seen a good rainbow gas slick in years until today while filling up. This is that slick. And no, I didn’t spill the gas.
We have introduced a new collection of African opals from Ethiopia’s Welo region. The optics and physics of the gas slick are substantially the same as the optics of an opal. Each color in a gas slick is a molecule thickness different than the next color. The same is true for opal.
As kids, we often got down on our stomachs beside the puddles after a rain to see if we could figure out what made the different colors. It was fifteen years later and a course in gemology on opals that revealed the secret of the physics of colors in both opals and gas slicks.
I could say this is a photograph of microscopic color molecules in opal all smiling with happy faces. It would not be true though. This is a close up of a black pickup truck in the grocery store parking lot. Photograph shows the sun on metallic paint. The camera was so close, the microscopic spicules of paint are enlarged and out of focus. I have no explanation for all the colored smiley faces.
Last summer we restored an old flower garden – dug out the weeds then Nancy and I went flower shopping. This is the truckload of flowers we brought home, a dazzling array of color and diversity of delight. Nancy was thrilled with her new flowers even if they only lasted 6 weeks. We’re looking forward to this coming summer and an extended bloom season.
Welo opals possess a wild array of natural color. Opals last longer than 6 or 12 weeks. They are millions of years old and with care will last your lifetime and your grandchildren’s lifetime.
We think in color. We celebrate in color. We imagine and design in color. There is a logic to color, a progression, and relationships. We honor color. Here are five Adirondack chairs at the Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville, Maine, set on the hill overlooking the vineyard. Opals often possess the full dynamic range of colors.
This is a photograph of a contemporary painting. Curves and swirls, red and blue and green and yellow. Who does wild color better, the artist with paintbrush in hand, or God in nature? God’s paintbrush is infinite. God always wins.
Fruits and vegetables are among nature’s best displays of brilliant primary colors. Red, orange, yellow, green are dreamy warm summer colors that play through the inner landscape of opal.
I keep a bowl of fruits on the kitchen counter for the wild colors and voluptuous shapes. Grapes, cherries, Valencia oranges, clementines, grapefruit, pears, bananas, Granny Smith apples, Macintosh apples, lemons, limes, tomatoes, avocado. Late afternoon 4 – 5 o’clock when the sun comes in the kitchen window the colors of my fruit bowl come alive. As ripening continues, the Vitamix is on the counter 2 feet away.
Curiously, depending on the mix, the blended fruits often come out a tan or taupe color. In traditional gems, ruby, emerald, sapphire, precious topaz, amethyst – the colors are bright, pure, true. In gem opal, a gem of joyful excess, colors are a four-second chop in a Vitamix mixer.
Opal colors are wild. They spin, shimmy, dip, swirl, scatter and shine. Little pieces of opal color confetti through each gem with colors all locked inside. Tilt the gem in the sunlight, colors play and echo inside. Colors dart, dash, appear and disappear then glint and gleam like ghosts. Opal, great opals, have whispers of color that never stop echoing through.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 5:21 PM. The sun has gone down. I’m sitting beneath the dining room light with three 45 watt high-intensity bulbs. I have made a random selection from our collection, a 4-carat pear shape Welo Ethiopian opal. It looks like a dollop of Jello with a cascade of colors flowing through. It possesses all the colors of the rainbow, so much so that it looks like the best rainbow ever seen stuffed into a blender, poured out into a Jello mold, refrigerated for two hours, allowed to cool, solidify, cut and polished then set into 22K yellow gold.
Lying flat on my writing pad this opal is capturing, collecting light, then returning that light as a thousand points of color. Swooshes, swirls, flames of red licking the right and left sides, orange and yellow firing within, blues and greens and violets, cooling embers flickering from below.
Held vertically, all the colors shift and move. The opal becomes the flame above the candlewick. Colors sail through the interior.
Get close to the surface, inches away, tilt the opal slightly, red rolls across the surface, moves to a deeper red, then shifts orange, then shifts yellow. Green and yellow trade places, blue and purple slide into one another and out again. Colors morph and move according to rules of nature.
12-15 years ago I was sitting at the breakfast table when there was a loud sound of breaking, then falling glass. I sat for a moment got up and went through the kitchen to the laundry room. I could see the large hole in the window then looked at the floor to see where the brick was. I couldn’t imagine anything else coming through the window. I looked toward my feet and saw something moving, gasping for air, wings in the last flutter. It was a big bird, a Pheasant. Catching last breaths, he died in moments.
I turned on the light and stood silently in awe at the brown, black, white and rust patterning, the order, symmetry of this bird of field and forest.
When he stopped moving, I got down on my knees for a closer look. I’d never been this close to a bird that had just been alive. The feathers were so perfect. How the colors layered in, how they were grouped and layered, one color would stop and another begin. I studied my pheasant for a long time; the feathers coming up to the neck were brown with a clear white line, and then the most beautiful progression of green, blue, purple iridescent layered colors shimmering under the laundry room light. I was in awe of nature’s perfection.
I felt for this bird and whatever he was suddenly escaping that sent him through my window. I left him there, closed the door with the intention of settling things in the evening when I returned from work.
That evening I took the pheasant down to the lower yard and laid him on a large granite boulder by the stream and again spent time studying feathers, patterns, colors, color shifts and the iridescent green, blue purple around his neck, natural living colors I’d never seen so close before. That nature can create color in a living creature and also in an opal gemstone seems amazing.
Choosing from a line-up of any dozen Welo opals. Toss a dart, whichever one it lands near is the best.
A long time ago I went on a group trip with the Institute for Noetic Sciences to Ireland. The poet John O’Donahue hosted our Anam Cara jaunt. We toured for a week along the west coast of Ireland north of Galway.
One night a group of us decided to go dancing. I was in my 40s. I agreed and went along. The music was loud. We went to a club. It was shoulder to shoulder, colored light pinpoint glitter rainbows, shooting everywhere. We stayed until the other 40-somethings decided we were having more fun than anyone over 25 deserves. My take away 20 years later is that the colors of a spinning disco ball are like stepping inside of a living breathing music filled opal.
Sunrise. Sun on the edge of the horizon, coming through a high window into the still dark room. Pure red, orange, yellow, then a big stretch of green, then on to blue and purple. Catch a glance in the morning light, blink, and then it’s gone. Opal, millions of years old, capturing all the colors of the earth. Solid, tactile, real. Take one home.
I grew up on a farm in the 1950s, 20 miles outside of the city of Portland. We had 40 acres of hayfield and thousands of butterflies in July and August. Viceroy, Monarch, and yellow and black Swallowtail. The yellow and black Swallowtail had blue and red iridescent dots that glowed like opals.
I’m not sure where the sun rises over the opal mines. I imagine Welo on the cliff on the western side of the river valley and that when the sun rises, its first rays of dawn bounce off the cliffs. The first rays of a new day go right into the tunnels and fire up the opal.
Snow. The fury of the gale. Wind pounding the side of the house. The light at the porch corner catching the snow whipping by. All earth pure black and pure white, no color outside. While inside I sort opals.
I am sitting this evening in the midst of another late spring snow storm. The world is devoid of color. Just white and shades of gray. All the detail and precision of light, lost just a few feet away from the house in a haze and flurry of snowflakes racing in the wind from north to south. Later this evening I will sit with a riot of color. Opal discovered 10 years ago, opal mined in the cliffs beneath the town of Welo, Ethiopia.
The villagers go to the cliffs to mine opal. The cliff drops a thousand feet down to the river. Four hundred feet down from the plateau and town, there is a seam of rock in the cliff that contains the most beautiful opal in the world.
They mine chunks of opal the size of cherries to the size of oranges. Inside each of the opal chunks are all the colors of the world, opal with intensity and patterns of color no one has ever seen before. Someone said, “it’s as though you took all the rainbows ever seen on planet earth, all the colors of sunrises and sunsets, took all the tropical fish, birds, flowers, it’s as though you gathered all the colors of summer, all the colors of fruits and vegetables, butterflies and flowers and shrunk them down, put them in these spheres and then planted them beneath the village of Welo, Ethiopia.”
Some might say it was the beginning of all the trouble. Others might say, because it came from the Tree of Knowledge we were able to see with color and clarity for the first time. There has been a discovery in Ethiopia’s Garden of Eden. Opal the size of cherries, the size of apples in colors, unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
We met an early investor, an opal cutter and his wife, a jewelry designer. We’ve never seen anything so beautiful, so exquisite, so preciously dappled with racing colors as these gems that make up our Garden of Eden Opal Collection. Our collection is 22K gold in the opal surround, attached findings are 14K yellow gold.
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