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hand pick
standard equipment
opal cutter machine


When the miner had the good fortune to find a good pocket of opal underground, he extracted it very carefully, usually with a hand pick and smaller tools to ensure maximum recovery and minimum damage. Above ground he examined his material by cleaning away the clay and other easily removable material, and then by careful chipping of the edge of the sample with pincers. This process may reveal any colour hidden inside the stone, allowing a better estimate of its value.

Nowadays the tendency is to take out the 'opal dirt' in bulk and agitate it in tumblers or washers to remove the clay and other soft material. The coarser material, which may range in size from gravel to small boulders, is mainly composed of quartzite. It is then sorted by hand to find any opal stones or pieces.

When mining open cuts by means of bulldozers, the machine is used to carefully scoop at the opal level, with miners following the machine to gather any opal released. While there is a greater prospect of damage and breakage of larger pieces, the rate of recovery is much higher, so that it is considered that the risks are worthwhile taking.

In most areas, the miner sells his opal to the buyer in the raw state. This is largely the case in South Australia and Queensland, but less so at Lightning Ridge. The sales mostly occur on the fields, some to buyers who dwell in the opal fields much of the time, some to buyers from outside Australia. The latter, usually from southeast Asia, are especially active in South Australia. At other times the miners may submit parcels to established buyers and merchants in the Australian capital cities.

A large proportion of the opal produced, especially the good quality material, is now cut and polished in Australia. In the cities, automated machinery has been developed for cutting standard stones (R1624).

While most jewellery outlets stock opals, especially opal jewellery, there are numerous companies which specialise in marketing opal, both wholesale and retail. There are major retail showrooms in all the large cities. These are worth visiting, if only to see the arrays of beautiful stones on display, as well as other exhibits such as opalised fossils, both large and small. The showroom of Cody Opals in Melbourne is decorated to resemble an opal mine, as well as having models of mines and their activities.