While Australia certainly has unique characteristics that set it apart from the rest of the world, a little known fact about the outback is its vast array of precious gems primed to dazzle crowds around the globe.
Australia’s gemstones are among its best-kept secrets. For the curious, however, here are some of the most precious nuggets the great southern land has to offer.
Opals are coveted around the globe for their cloudy glow and the way light dances behind the surface of the smooth, multicoloured stone.
Almost all the world’s precious opal is produced down under, and each stone is entirely unique. Ranging from any colour to all colours at once, the value of an opal is generally determined by its colour composition and clarity.
The most expensive opals can easily set you back a healthy $15,000 a carat.
Various opals can be mined around Australia, but generally only from in specific areas in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia.
The shining beauty comes in several forms, with the milky white opal being the most common and the stunning black opal being the most rare — and subsequently most valuable.
It’s hard not to get lost in the deep beauty of the black gemstone as the solid darkness intensifies the playfulness of the colour that darts around the stone as it reflects the surrounding light.
A small town in New South Wales called Lightning Ridge is the only place on earth the elusive black opal can be found.
No other gemstone diffracts white light the way the opal does, making it one of the most sought-after gems worldwide.
Sapphires are often associated with a striking blue, but the precious gem can come in almost every colour of the rainbow.
While the sapphire is perhaps not as exclusive to Australia as the Opal, the quality and value of the Australian gemstone are among the highest in the world.
Other countries can produce lower-quality sapphires ripe for colour-altering chemicals, but Australian sapphires are generally of a higher quality and, as a result, a higher value.
Sapphires can reach over $16,000 per carat, but the world’s most expensive sapphire sold for a whopping $25 million (US$17 million).
Sapphires have an unmatched deep colour offset by their natural lustre. The gem has been historically associated with royalty, making the stone one of the most sought-after of all time.
In fact, rubies — which are among the most expensive gemstones worldwide and seen as a sister gem to sapphires — are actually just the red form of the sapphire stone.
Sapphires are generally mined in Australia around north Queensland, New South Wales, and north-east Tasmania.
The rich green beauty of the jade stone is enough to make even the most amicable jealous.
The gem comes in two forms: nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is the toughest natural mineral known to man and is even tougher than steel.
While jadeite is not quite so tough as nephrite, is still comes in as the second toughest mineral in the world. Out of the two, jadeite is harder to find and thus generally brings in more bank — with some fine-grained jadeite costing more than diamonds.
Australia, however, is a major global producer of nephrite jade, and the gem is rampant enough in certain parts of South Australia that in 1965 a farmer happened to come across a four-kilogram boulder of the stunning green mineral.
Most of Australia’s jade comes from this deposit in South Australia, but some areas of New South Wales house the deep green stone as well.
Jade is unique among the Australian gemstone world in the way that it doesn’t sparkle or gleam or change colours with the light.
Rather, jade’s allure comes from its simplistic confidence: the strong, solid colour of the stone is mesmerising and when polished can draw the room’s attention.
A not-so-commonly-uttered name when speaking of precious stones is Chrysoprase.
However, just because it may not be well-known by name, Chrysoprase is by no means an unpopular gem.
The gem generally has a lighter, more lively green than that of the jade stone, though some forms of Chrysoprase can be rich enough to be mistaken for imperial jade.
Though Chrysoprase deposits exist around the globe, Australia is the only major producer globally. The stone can be mined in Western Australia and South Australia, but the highest-quality Chrysoprase is found in the Marlborough district in Queensland.
The uniquity of Chrysprase’s apple-green colour combined with its global scarcity means even rough, unshaped cuts of the mineral can set you back thousands of dollars.
Chrysoprase is essentially a form of quartz stained green by nickel. In fact, it’s one of only two green gems known to man coloured by nickel — meaning its colour is unlike that of any other precious gem.
As such, it makes for the perfect kind of ornament or piece of jewellery for those wanting to stand out and flaunt their individuality.