OPAL COCKTAIL RING

A cocktail ring by Gareth Eckley, with a large Crystal Opal from Australia. Set in a ring designed to echo the ocean. Yellow and White Gold waves cradle the Opal. The gem is accented with Diamonds.

OPAL CAMEO PENDANT

This Antique Opal cameo jewel works so well. The portrait is cut to the profile and enhanced with Diamond and Gold detailing. The Opal is backed by a red enameled 'Guilloche' or engine turned gold plate. A delicate surround of entwinned scrolls with Diamond accents completes the jewel.

OPAL CAMEO JEWELRY

Opal is a beautiful stone for a cameo. The portrait details are more subtle than Agate, due to Opals softness. The play of color adds a special beauty to the Jewel. Carving Opal is a delicate process and great experience is required.

Cameo Portrait of a Daughter in Precious Opal

The original precious Opal is shown on the left.  This was supplied by Just Opal and was found in CooperPedy, Australia.  As this was a crystal Opal I made a black onyx slice to back the stone. This enhances the color and makes the portrait more prominent. The play of color in a fine Opal gives a wonderful effect, especially as the gemstone is turned, as this changes with movement. The dual purpose setting is in Gold and can be worn as a brooch pin or a pendant. The stars engraved around the carving  are a tribute to her sports team's logo. The reverse is engraved with a personal message and a posy of flowers.

Portrait Cameo Carving in Opal

Precious Australian Opal. This is carved with a portrait of a young wife. This was a difficult carving as the play of color layer was quite thin. I had about the depth of a coin to carve her profile.

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Opals Suitable for Cameos

A stable stone, free from cracks and with a thick layer of fire is needed for a good carving. Ethiopian Opals have a higher water content than others, this makes them less stable.  Brazilian and Australian Opal are the best sources for Opal for carving. Opal is a soft stone and does not like heat or pressure. The carver has to have a light and delicate touch to avoid damage. Opal carvings must be polished. This makes carving Opal a long process and great experience is needed to create the best results.  The Black Opal from Lightening Ridge or Mintabe is so rare in large sizes that a cameo sized stone could cost more than $100,000.

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Black Opal

Black Opal with Blue and Green color from Lightning Ridge, Australia
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White Opal

White Opal with a play of color from Cooper Pedy, Australia.
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Crystal Opal

Crystal is a transparent Opal. It is often backed by a Black stone to enhance the Color.
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Boulder Opal

Boulder Opal with a layer of Opal on a black Ironstone Matrix
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Mexican Fire Opal

Orange - Red Opal from Mexico. Some material has a play of color ' fire ' within the gemstone.

Mexican Fire Opal, Green 'Prase' Opal, Honduran Opal, Peruvian Opal, Pink Opal.

Opal is found around the world. White Opal with a play of color was found in Hungary, this source is now mined out. The most highly prized is Cherry Opal from Mexico, which sometimes has a play of color. Honduran Opal has a black base and there are some very good gemstones found there. Green, Blue, and Pink Opal with a strong body color is great for carving and cut stones. Peruvian Opal is also known as Andean Opal as it is found in the Andes mountain range.

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Mexican Fire Opal

Cherry Red or Orange Opal from Mexico. Some material has a play of color.
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Green 'Prase' Opal

A deep vivid green color with no play of color. Found at Caernarvon in Western Australia.
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Honduras Black Opal

Opal on a Black matrix found in Basalt. Often enhanced by treatments to darken the background.
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Peruvian Blue Opal

Sky blue Opals with no play of color from Peru, South America.
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Pink 'Mookaite' Opal

Found in Peru and in Western Australia. Actually not an Opal, it is a rock known as Radiolite.

Antique Opal Cameos

These cameos show the different looks that an Opal can give. The cameo on the left is a white Austalian Opal set in a gold, Diamond and Emerald brooch pin.  The center Opal is cut to the profile, which does accentuate the portrait. The cameo on the left is a darker Australian Opal and is set in a gold ring.

Australian Opal Locations

The finest Opal in the world is found in Australia. Lightning Ridge, in New South Wales, is famous for Black Opal, the play of color is displayed on black. Grawin, Mintabie, and Andamooka can also produce Black Opal. White Opal, with the play of color on a white background, is found in Cooper Pedy and White Cliffs. Crystal Opal has the play of color in a transparent material. This is found in many localities. Boulder opal has a thin layer of precious Opal on a layer of ironstone. The Yowah nut is a nodule of ironstone that can be split open to reveal opal patterns inside. This is only found at Yowah in Australia.

Black Opal

Lightning Ridge, Grawin and Andamooka, Australia
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White Opal

Mostly found in Cooper Pedy, Mintabie, and White Cliffs, Australia.
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Crystal Opal

Crystal is a transparent Opal. Found in many locations.
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Boulder Opal

Boulder Opal with a layer of Opal on a black Ironstone Matrix
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Yowah Nut Opal

Ironstone Nodules with an interior of precious Opal.

Brazilian Opal

Brazilian opals are rare and have been unavailable on the international market for many years. Brazilian opals are the oldest and hardest Opals known. They formed 60 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. The hardness is 7.0 on the Mohs scale. They have less water than other varieties and are more resistant to cracking.

Australian opal miners explored Brazil in the 70s and 80s, and mined all of the Opal that they could find. They taught Brazilian miners the art of prospecting, mining, and polishing opals.

There is a new generation of Brazilian opal miners. A company that respects commercial and environmental, values. They sell beautiful Brazilian opals, directly from their mines in Pedro, Brazil.

Ethiopian Opal

Crystal Opal with a great play of color is mined in Ethiopia, also known as Welo Opal. Large sizes are available and this is a very striking stone. This Hydrophane Opal has a high water content due to its young age.

The first Ethiopian Opals had many issues with cracks and fractures. The Opals now found are mined from deeper underground and are far more stable.

This Opal presents a problem for the gems carver. Opal has to be tested for stability. Immersing in water can reveal cracks before carving. However, even after taking precautions, I could spend many hours carving an Ethiopian opal only to find that it cracks after I have finished. I cannot take that risk with a customer so I do not work on Ethiopian opal.

Pineapple Opal and Fossilized Opal, Shells, Belemnites, Wood, Teeth, and Plants.

Opal starts as a solution of silica in water forming within cavities within rocks. If the silica fills in space left by plants, shells, or bones the Silica can produce an opal cast of the original object. If the conditions are right for precious opal formation then the fossil can become opalized but this is rare.

Pineapple Fossil specimens are not real Pineapple fossils but the result of a rare combination of Glauberite and other chemicals that form this specimen that resembles a pineapple.

It is estimated there are less than 500 opalized Pineapples in the world. The only place on earth where these are formed is at White Cliffs, South Australia in a small opal field.

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Pineapple Opal

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Fossil Belemnite Opal

Fossilized Wood Opal

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Fossil Opal Snail Shell

Antique 19th Century Boulder Opal Cameo Pin

An unusual technique where the matrix, or the ironstone rock under the Opal, becomes part of the design. This matrix is usually cut away or left hidden. The precious Opal layer is carved with a winged helmet. The face and reverse is carved into the ironstone. This gives a very strong contrast. Believed to have been carved by William Schmidt, this sold for $17,497 in 2015. For more information on this, and other Opal carvings visit the excellent blog by Cathleen McCarthy - The Jewelry Loupe

Fine Art Nouveau Jewelry with Carved Opals

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Water Lily Opal Necklace

Carved Opal water lilies with an Opal drop in Gold. By Rene Lalique, one of the finest Art Nouveau jewelers.
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Opal Commesso Cameo Pendant

Opal is inlaid to enhance the portrait cameo. This won the Grand Prix award for best of the show at the Paris Expo of 1900 for Henri Vever.
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Hat pin by Rene Lalique

The third image has an exquisite carving of an Opal sun. This enameled hat pin has Wasps made of Gold with Diamond set wings.
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White and Black Opal Art Nouveau Brooch

Superb Art Nouveau Brooch. Finest quality white and black opals with Diamond and Emerald set Filigree work
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Reverse of the Art Nouveau Brooch Pin

Detailed Close Up

Unusual Carved Opal Jewelry

Left is a Bird brooch pin by Cartier, with an Opal center. Next a pair of Diamond and Gold earrings with Opal spheres. An Opal pendant with a well designed Diamond accent. The last example shows a ring with an Opal cameo set onto a Lapis Lazuli gemstone.

Useful Resources

Good information sources to learn more about precious Opal. Opal Auctions sells opal from miners and collectors.  If you are considering bidding on an Opal, share the info with Gareth for advice on if the stone is suitable for a carving. They have an ebook that you can download. They also have a guide to each variety of Opal that they sell. Black Opal Direct has a YouTube channel where Justin cuts and polishes Opal. He is a good source for information and finished gems.

Opal Auctions

A resource where you bid on Opals offered for sale my miners and cutters. They also have up to date info about Opals and an ebook that you can download.

Just Opals

David and Ro have a wide selection of Black, White, Crystal and Boulder Australian Opals. The Opal for my portrait of a daughter cameo on this page was found by them.

Black Opal Direct

Gem quality black, white, crystal, and boulder Opals for sale from a trusted source. Justin has a YouTube channel where he cuts and polishes Opal. Visit his website to see more.

The Jewelry Loupe

For more information on carved Opals visit the excellent blog by Cathleen McCarthy The Jewelry Loupe.

GIA Guide to Opals

Authoritative resource and buyers guide from The Gemological Institute of America.

About the Author Gareth Eckley

An Award-Winning Jewelry Designer and Gemstone Carver

gareth-david-eckley-sq-3Gareth David Eckley has won many accolades for my custom Jewelry design and gemstone carving. These include major national awards from prestigious national organizations.

De Beers Diamonds Today Award for jewelry design, Goldsmiths Craft Council, Craftsman of the year competition - 7 awards, The Platinum Guild Award for excellence in Platinum design and manufacture- 3 awards.

His award-winning work has been exhibited at Goldsmiths Hall, the British Design Centre, De Beers, The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Olympia in London and at the Basle fair in Switzerland.

An International reputation for Excellence

Each portrait is hand-carved from your photos by Gareth. Widely regarded as the finest portrait cameo artist in North America. Gareth also designs and makes the exquisite settings for every custom jewel.

Gareth has created custom jewels for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, The Prime Minister of Canada, a Crown Prince from the United Arab Emirates, a United States Senator, Lady Diana Gibson-Watt, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Lady Janice Mitchell and other clients throughout the World.

A life devoted to creating beautiful jewelry

For the last 36 years Gareth has been gemstone carving, hand engraving and carving family crests in gold and stone, gold-smithing and creating custom jewelry designs. He carved his first portrait cameo in 1997.

Gareth is one of a very select group of gemstone portrait artists. Great skill, artistry and experience is needed to be able to create accurate portraits.

He is very passionate about his art and loves to travel to meet his clients whenever possible. He has been creating work for over 28 years. Some of his clients have been collecting his work for over 20 years.

Gareth feels strongly that for a cameo portrait to work he must feel that he "knows" the subject. It is very important to know the persons name and their nature so that he can enthuse the portrait carving with their spirit.

Professional Training and Expertise

Education

Medway College of Art & Design, United Kingdom, 1980-1984. Four year Degree covering all aspects of  Jewellery, Silversmithing, Hand Engraving, Jewellery casting, Jewellery design, Wax carving, goldsmithing, and gemmology.

FGA: Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain. 1979-1980.

Work Experience

1982-1984   George Lukes Engravers Ltd, London, England. Worked as a hand engraver with the top engraver in the UK at the time.

1984-1987   Christopher Wharton Designer Jewellers Ltd, London, England. Worked as a Goldsmith, engraver and Diamond setter.

1987-1991   Gareth Eckley Designer Jewellers, Wales, UK. Self employed as a Jewellery designer, Goldsmith, hand engraver, diamond setter, jewellery valuation, gem cutting, family crest carving.

1991-1993   Customgold Jewelers, Vancouver, Canada. Employed as a Goldsmith, hand engraver, diamond setter, wax carver, jewelry polisher.

1993-2020   Gareth Eckley - Portrait Cameos. Self employed as a gemstone carver, cameo artist, portrait artist, Jewelry designer, Goldsmith, hand engraver, diamond setter, jewellery valuation, gem cutting, family crest carving.

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