Australia’s Lightning Ridge region is known as the black opal capital of the world, and has produced thousands of opals for beaded jewelry, as well as loose stones. But the most famous opal it ever produced has to be the Flame Queen Opal.
Back in the early 20th century, a miner in Lightning Ridge abandoned his claim in order to fight in WW1. The claim was soon taken over by three down-luck miners. For three weeks they dug in the earth, surviving on bread and water, hoping to strike it rich. When they got down to about 30 feet, they struck a hard black nodule. Only when they brought it into the sunlight did they realize what they had found.
One of the miners was very skilled in working beaded jewelry and polishing gems. The other two trusted him to bring out the beauty of the Flame Queen Opal, and he didn’t disappoint.
The Flame Queen Opal is a “red-on-black” opal, and has often been referred to as a “fried egg.” This is because the center of the opal filled in a deeper cavity, resulting in a different coloration. Depending on the light and the angle at which it’s viewed, the “yolk” of the Flame Queen Opal looks red, orange, bronze or yellow. The outer band is a beautiful blue or green, again depending on the angle it’s viewed at. It’s never been set in beaded jewelry, and may be too big for delicate beaded jewelry settings to comfortably hold. At 263 carats and three inches across, it can fill the palm of a hand.
The Flame Queen Opal also has a possible fossil on the back. Some Australian geologists believe there’s an imprint of what might be a ginkgo biloba leaf in the veiny patterns on the back. An ancient tree may have existed on the site.
Unfortunately, by the time they found it, the three miners were so desperately hungry, they didn’t have time to hold out for a suitable buyer. They sold the Flame Queen Opal to a local dealer of opals and beaded jewelry for only £93, about $150 in the U.S. That’s got to rank as one of the greatest rip-offs, or one of the greatest deals, of all time—depending on which angle you view it from!
The Flame Queen Opal has been sold at several beaded jewelry and gem auctions, and is now in private ownership.