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  • Gucci's latest high jewellery line Hortus Deliciarum features fascinating opals. (photo courtesy: gucci)

Promising future for Australian opals

By Catherine Chan

Opal has a special affinity with Australia where produces the world’s largest supply of the precious gem. Among the different types of Australian opals namely crystal opal, white opal, black opal and boulder opal, black opal from Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is widely known as the rarest and most valuable species. Matthew Hopkins of leading supplier of Lightning Ridge black opals Hopkins Opal unveils the growing popularity of the sought-after gem in the global market.

Established in the late 90’s by Samuel Hopkins and his sons Matthew and Daniel Hopkins, Hopkins Opal is a mine-to-market family run company dealing in mining, buying, cutting and wholesaling of fine Australian opals, with an expertise in producing and distributing Lightning Ridge black opal.

Australian opals, according to Matthew Hopkins, are so sought after because of their obvious beauty and attractiveness. “They are known worldwide as the highest quality benchmark by which other opal sources are judged,” he said.

“The Australian opal industry has a proven track history of over 100 years and proper care has been taken by reliable Australian opal dealers to stand behind the material they sell.”

Prices of fine-quality Australian opals across all types have increased over the last number of years due to an increase in consumer demand relative to its growing scarcity. “Demand for Australian opals has started to outstrip production due to the scarcity of good opal-producing ground across all opal types and mining areas, while younger generations are opting out of entering into the opal mining industry,” Hopkins said.

According to him, field prices (selling prices miners obtained) on rough have gone up at least 25 percent over the last two years which may be reflected to varying degrees at the wholesale and retail level. “We expect prices to continue to increase steadily through 2020 as the consumer appetite is strong and the strong margins obtained at the retail level,” he added.

The unparallel appeal and the unique ‘play-of-colour’ phenomenon of precious Australian opals has inspired numerous red-carpet collections from celebrated jewellery houses which has successfully generated large-scale media coverage worldwide.

With a broader exposure to opals, consumers have become more educated on the particulars and the appreciation for the gemstone. “Beauty attracts interest and interest sparks education. Many individuals are requesting more high-quality opals at the retail level which pushes up demand at the wholesale level to fill the need,” Hopkins said.

As a primary producer of Australian opals, he said it is incumbent upon them to educate the trade and the consumers. “A large component of Hopkins Opal’s focus is education,” he said.

“We find that it is more important than ever to develop a wider audience for our brand through education, carefully curated social media and web presence. Together with our ethically-sourced products, we provide end-customers and retailers with a peace of mind when buying or selling opals from Hopkins Opal,” he added.

Besides Australia, keen interest in opals from the United States, Europe and Asia is steadily increasing. “We have seen the largest percentage increase year over year in China and Hong Kong, while the States is still our largest and most stable market with consistent incremental gains,” Hopkins said.

The opal producer owes its success to the vertically-integrated mine-to-market strategy. “We will improve our reach along the way, while maintaining an extensive stock of fairly priced Australian opals in all categories,” he said.

He looks to a promising future for Australian opals. “We expect to see increasing sales of low- to mid-range material in China and the United States in 2020, while the performance of high-end goods will roughly follow the current trends.”

He expects to see more Australian opals being used in jewellery collections from small or independent designers to well-known international brands. “The momentum for Australian opals to gain larger market share of the coloured gemstone market is just getting started,” he believes. (Loose stone photo courtesy: Hopkins Opal)

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