I had no idea what kind of a path my opal experience would be like when I bought my first opal rough from Murray Willis in 1982.
If someone would have told me that I would have some of the best times of my life, and I would visit and make friends with miners and opal people personally in Australia and all around the USA, I would not have believed them, but all of this did happen to me and a lot more.
My opals have always been a hobby with me. What a hobby it has turned out to be.
I knew nothing about opal when I started. I had some rock cutting gear and I cut some agates, jasper and other rocks etc, but it got to the point where I couldn’t give them away any more, so I wanted to get into cutting something else.
I sent a small amount of money to 3 different miners in Australia for Opals. Murray Willis was the only man who really took me seriously. He sent me instructions on how to cut and polish opals In general he really helped me get started. I have dealt with him all the years since.
Over the course of a year or so I met and had several friends in The Portland Oregon area who cut opal. They loved the beautiful stones as I did. Most of these people made a supplementary living cutting and making opal jewelry.
I enjoyed every bit of the time I would spend with them. They all had beautiful stones I could admire, and all of them had great stories they could tell of their Opal adventures. One of the men I met “Sam Sullivan” lived in Salem about 50 miles from me. Sam had a bad heart. So, he made his living cutting opal, making and selling his own jewelry, and replacing stones for jewelers. He had some great stones.
About twice a year Murray or his son and daughter would be on a tour of the USA selling their opal to customers. They would make their way across the USA, and eventually I would get a call that they would be at my house on a certain day. I would call all my opal cutting friends and tell them. Whoever would be able to do so would come , and for a whole weekend my wife’s kitchen table would be filled with rough opal being shown and sold to my friends. I have had a million dollars worth of rough opal on my wife’s kitchen table.
When I first got involved in opal cutting I was afraid to buy top quality opal, because of the cost primarily. I cut low and reasonably priced opal. Basically the same quality as my opal cutting friends cut, and about the quality of the stones that are in jewelry stores.
I got tired of cutting the same quality opal as my friends. I was mounting calibrated stones in inexpensive jewelry, selling a few pieces, but mostly I was giving my cut stones to my friends. My hobby was paying for itself but not making me any money.
I sent away for 3 and a half ounces of top black opal. I paid $700 dollars for that. The minute I sent the money I thought I was crazy. $700 dollars was a lot in those days. But. that money came from the sales of my stones and jewelry , so it was not household money.
Best move I ever made !!!! I never looked back.
Just before Christmas there would be a Christmas Bazaar of at least several hundred booths in the EXPO center and the following weekend it would be in the Convention Center. In my first year of sales at the EXPO center I sold about $ 700 dollars worth of my stones and about $500 dollars worth at the Convention Center. I had not learned how to make jewelry yet so I was just selling stones. However I met a jewelry repair man at the EXPO center who asked me to come into his shop. He showed me how to make gold and silver jewelry.
The following year i was back at the Bazaars. This time I was selling silver mounted jewelry. My sales more than doubled.
I didn’t think I could afford to mount in gold. My wife kept urging me on, so I started to make gold jewelry. To this day I make very simple gold jewelry, because i think a beautiful elegant piece of opal does not need anything other than itself to show it’s beauty. It is true.
At my Christmas bazaar shows, in the next years, up until the time my wife got sick with cancer, I had people coming from all over the USA, just to buy my opal jewelry. I would stand there, open mouthed, watching someone digging into his pocket for $ 7500 dollars, $3500 dollars, $5000 dollars etc. just to buy a piece of opal jewelry that I made. Incredible but true.
I didn’t make many sales in a week at the Bazaars but the sales I made were GREAT sales.
I had lots of competition. There would be at least 4 or 5 other opal dealers in the Bazaar. During slack times I would go around and I would ask how they were doing. It would be a good day if some one made $600 dollars. That same day I just had made $5000 dollars or $7500 dollars. I never told any of them the truth of how much money I was making. But, they could see the quality of my jewelry.
One thing I must mention because it is very important!!! Never price top grade opal yourself. Get it appraised by an appraiser who specializes in appraising opal. A regular GIA appraiser will not do.
Opal is the only stone that tells you how valuable it is just by looking at it and it takes a person who understands opal to give you the proper appraisal. It is certainly worth your while to get an appraisal. Otherwise you sell a piece to someone with your own price on it and they take it to their favorite jeweler who knows nothing about opal. The jeweler tells the customer he paid too much. The customer comes back to you, and you are in big trouble. If you give the customer a copy of the appraisal, then it is a qualified person giving the estimate NOT YOU. I would sell my jewelry for one half “KEYSTONE” of the estimate. I made money and I guaranteed the customer to get a good deal.
Murray had mentioned I was missing something. I should be trading for goods. So I did. I made some fabulous trades including a Christmas trade I made with a lady in the next booth to mine. We called her the Gold Lady because that is what she was selling Gold. Gold jewelry.
She loved my stones and my jewelry. She would take my jewelry and my stones to other shows she would be in and resell for a PROFIT. She suggested that we trade gold for stones, so when my wife came that afternoon to visit me in my booth. I asked my wife to go over and pick out something Gold that she would like for Christmas.
While my wife was there the Gold Lady told my wife to pick out anything she wanted. It was trade gold for opals.
My wife had a great time. It almost cost me the farm, but it was worth it. I am wearing a golden bracelet around my wrist as I write, that came from that trade.
I have traded Opal jewelry for Hunting Dogs and their training, to having my teeth and my wife’s teeth repaired and looked after, and in the course of doing this trading I met some wealthy men.
I was a member of the Portland Kiwanis Club. Every 6 months we would have a money drive for the Crippled Children’s camp. I would hit these men up for money to help- sponsor the camp. They would be looking for charity spots to help with their taxes. I got some of this money. Every 6 months I would come up with at least $7000 dollars. I was a hero in the eyes of the club.
I have 3 daughters They lived at that time one in Alaska one on the East Coast and one in Los Angeles. My wife and I would visit them from Portland Oregon. I would take some of my finished opal stones, and my opal jewelry wherever I went. I would always sell enough stuff to more than make up any expense my wife and I ever had in our trips.
For several years I think, all the opal jewelry that was ever sold in the tourist jewelry shops from Portland Oregon to Juneau Alaska, had one or more of my opals in it. I supplied it all. We would go to the East Coast to see our daughter there. I have sold thousands of dollars worth of opal jewelry to people I met in Washington DC and New York. Same thing in Los Angeles. I am not telling a story. All I have said has really happened.
One evening in 1987 I called Murray on the phone, to order some more opal. I mentioned some day I would like to go to Australia. Murray told me “George” you are wealthy in comparison the the rest of the world. He was right. I went to Australia in Sept 1987 for a month. ALL PAID FOR BY MY OPAL MONEY.
My OPAL adventures just started.
Murray introduced me around among the miners as his American Uncle. I was no ordinary tourist. I went down into the working mines 90 or 100 feet down the shaft on rope ladders, then 2 or 300 feet or more out from the shafts. I ran jack hammers, picked opals out of the walls with small picks, helped set dynamite blasts, helped dig holes and had a great time doing it.
I was with Murray at dead of night when he was buying opal rough from the miners. I was inspecting the miner’s opal piles, and had my hands in thousands of dollars worth of rough opals, just as he did.
I lived in the underground houses and ate Kangaroo and Crocodile meat and we visited the aborigine camps.
In 1990 I went back to Australia for another month. This time I took my 35 year old daughter Kim. All paid for by my opal sales. We fossicked for opals out of the mining heaps and found opals. We lived in an underground house in Coober Pedy. We went to Mintubi and almost stepped in the small test holes. We looked in awe at the great rubble heaps that make Mintubi look like a moon scape. We ate Australian food. We looked in the jewelry shops at the beautiful opals for sale. We visited the BIG WINCH and the underground Church of Coober Pedy. We had another great time.
4 years ago now, once again I went to Australia. This time I paid for a friend to go with me . My cousin also went with us. My cousin and I rented a motor home and we toured north from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef. Then we went to Darwin at the top of Australia, 12 degrees south of the Equator. I spent my 81st birthday on the Adelaide River, just out of Darwin in a small boat with my friends and a guide looking for salt Water Alligators.
We found them too. Very dangerous creatures!
We then went down thru the center of Australia visiting opal fields as we went. We met Murray in Andamooka. He took us out on the opal fields,where we helped him look for opal at his mine site. I am now 85 years old. My wife has died. I moved to Anchorage Alaska where I lived with my daughter and her husband for the last 10 years. Even in Alaska there is a market for Opals.
I have sold opal jewelry to people who loved to buy good opal jewelry. I now live in Texas close to where my daughter is now living. My opal adventures are drawing to a close but I can tell you, “IT HAS BEEN ONE GRAND RIDE”.
OH THERE IS A KICKER IN THIS: As I have said this has always been a hobby. I didn’t want it to be anything else.
Well this hobby has left me with over a half to 3/4 million dollars of opal jewelry and cut stones.
Some hobby EH?