Australia plays a very important role in today's gem and jewelry market. Not only does it have one of the largest consumer markets for gemstones and jewelry, but it is also known for the production process. Australia is most famous for its seemingly endless supply of fine opal and diamond, but it produces a variety of other gemstones too.
During the early 20th century, a large discovery of commercial grade sapphire was made near Queensland and Western Australia. Most of the sapphire was considered too dark and had very little value to the gem and jewelry trade, that is at least up until the 1960s anyway; it wasn't long until some local Thai gem traders discovered a method to lighten the material into brighter and more desirable colors. Thus the demand for Australian sapphire saw a dramatic increase, but it was short lived, since newer deposits were unearthed in Madagascar and Thailand that were considered better quality than the Australian deposits. Sapphire mining in Australia is now very small-scale because Australian sapphire is no longer being commercially exploited.
In 1979, an important diamond deposit was discovered in Western Australia, which is known today as the Argyle Diamond Mine. The Argyle Diamond Mine is owned and operated by the Rio Tinto Group and has produced over 800 million carats of rough diamond since commercial mining began in 1983. By the late 1980s, Australia was already producing roughly one third of the entire world's diamond supply. Although a large percentage of the diamond rough is suitable for industrial use only, the Argyle Mine does yield some fine white diamond and fancy champagne, cognac and blue diamond too.
Australia boasts the crown for the world's finest and most abundant supply of precious opal, including the rarest and most valuable variety - Australian black opal. The best black opal is thought to come from Lightning Ridge in north-western New South Wales. Australian opal is famed the world over for its incredible play of color and excellent stability. In 1993, Australia declared opal its national gemstone and rightfully so, as Australia's opal mines are larger than the rest of the world's combined. In addition to black opal, Australia also produces many other varieties of opal including crystal opal, fire opal, boulder opal and white opal. Up until some very recent opal deposits were discovered in Ethiopia, it was estimated that Australia was producing roughly 95% of the world's opal.
In addition to opal, diamond and sapphire, Australia also produces several other striking gemstones varieties, including agate, amethyst, chert, chrysoberyl, chrysocolla, chrysoprase, coral, fuchsite, gaspeite, jasper, kyanite, malachite, petrified wood, prase, prehnite, rhodonite, rock crystal (quartz), sodalite, tiger's eye, tigers iron, tourmaline (schorl), variscite and zircon. Over recent years, more and more gemstones are being discovered in the vast lands of Australia. Due to the tremendous span of Australia's land mass, many of its deposits are located in remote regions, which makes prospecting for deposits very challenging. It's not surprising that a great deal of its area remains unexplored, leaving great possibilities for future gem discoveries.
- First Published: July-14-2014
- Last Updated: August-15-2017
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