A new star among the opals!
Much is known about the opals from Australia, but in recent years a new Opal has stolen the show; the Welo Opal! This stone is white and translucent with the famous play of colour. Its deposits are located in the North Wollo Zone in mountainous northwest Ethiopia. We do not actually know when this stone was discovered, although some sources mention its appearance in 1993 in the markets of Nairobi. Its discoverer is considered to be the chemist Tilahun Yohannes, and in 1994 the existence of this novel gem was reported by geologist Dr. N. Barot in an article in the “ICA Gazette”. In 1997, 10 kilos of this gem were extracted, but it was not until 2008 that commercial operation really started and the Eyaopal gemstone workshops in Addis Ababa extracted 400 grams of the gem. That same year, the Welo Opal was presented at the International Mineral Show Sainte-Marie and one year later showed 350 Eyaopal cut opals at the trade fair in Tucson. The new star of the opal family was born.
Rare and difficult to produce
This gems production has steadily increased since 2008. The Ministry of Mines of Ethiopia reported only a few dozen kilos extracted in 2008, several hundred in 2009, and finally a few tons in 2011. Only 5% of these mined stones are of sufficient quality to be used for commercial purposes and 1% have the quality required for use in Jewellery.
The Welo Opal is found in quartz veins at a depth of two to three meters below the surface. The difficulty of its extraction is mainly due to the methods used. Only the people of this region are allowed to mine in these deposits. These people are rural, they use archaic and sometimes dangerous methods to extract stones. In January of 2011, a new production site was created with higher standards and with 500 professional miners. The Ethiopian government now regulates and monitors its valuable deposits by prohibiting direct trade between gem buyers and miners. The opals are traded at a market located outside the mining area.
Characteristics of Welo Opal
Welo Opal is distinguished by its bright colours, beautiful transparency and impresses with its shimmering play of colour which occurs in all colours of the rainbow – mainly in yellow, orange, red and green. Some in the past have claimed that it is more fragile and prone to breaking than its Australian cousin, although today this assertion has been denied and even contradicted. The presence of hydrophane in Welo Opals means they can absorb up to eight percent of its own weight in water. In case of contact with water, just let the gem dry in the open air and it will revert to its original appearance on its own. It is interesting to test for yourself the effect on a Welo Opal when it becomes wet!
The hardness of the opal is located between 5.5 and 6.5 on the Mohs hardness. So it is best not to wear this stone near a quartz or any harder stone (beryl, corundum, diamond, etc …) at the risk of your Opal being scratched by the harder stones.
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