I’m Aussie and I recently went on an exhibition to Lightning Ridge to scout around and also visit Family. Do you guys like black opal (or indeed any opal)? I have some very nice specimens but other than the ones I own (I love them for sentimental reasons) I don’t like opal all that much. The super expensive stuff is gorgeous but I loathe all the low-grade opal I see EVERWHERE, especially in all the Aussie tourist traps. Horrid stuff, an offence to the opal name and to the gem/jewellery trade. But that’s probably just me.
As a side note, opal mining seems to be one of the most unrewarding aspects of the gem trade. Very rare to get a good seam and so much hard work. It’s like hell there, very hot and dusty. On the way home we stopped off in the New England area which has one of the most mineral rich belts in the world. You literally get out of the car and fill your pockets with agate and petrified wood, and if you want sapphires/garnet/diamonds/beryl/zircon etc you grab a sieve and get panning. SOOO easy, it takes longer to get larger pieces but you’re in a cooler climate and your chances of finding nice material is so much higher (you’re guaranteed to get gemmy material of some sort).
(Also, if you’re interested in NATURAL opal/opal jewellery I have some contacts I can give you. March has the New England gem festival so I hope to grab some good contacts for sapphires then too).