All About Mintabie Opal
Mintabie (like 'meant-t'-be') Opal is the name for opal that comes from the Mintabie (or Mintubi) opal mine in Australia, or more specifically South Australia. The mine is situated around 980km northwest of Adelaide and is now pretty much abandoned (bar a few hardcore lone rangers that still choose to try their luck there). The reason the mine is pretty much abandoned now is that it is thought to be relatively empty of opal. Mining is an expensive business in Australia, and one that gets more expensive year on year.
The first 'official' opal is meant to have been found at Mintabie in the 1920s by a well digger named Larry O'Toole, and this is when the mine was discovered to hold rich seams of top gem quality black, white and crystal opal, with the sandstone surrounding much of the opal to also be of a much harder quality than most sandstone. It was because of the hardness of the sandstone that the mine wasn't really exploited until the 1970s and 1980s, when large and heavy machinery was brought in to help. The larger equipment led to a major rush. Indeed, Mintabie was a relatively new field and the opal was proven.. On top of that, as well as the sandstone being hard, so was the opal (a good benefit, as opal is one of the softer and more delicate gemstones you can find). A harder gemstone means a more resilient one, less prone to breaking. All this mining exhausted Mintabie. Indeed, most miners, as mentioned, have now left in favour of the Lambina mine. The Lambina mine, however, produces very scant amounts of gem quality black opal (but does make up for it by producing some absolutely terrific precious amber opal, which in itself is very rare).
We are self-confessed Mintabie opal lovers and tend to buy more Mintabie opal than any other kind of opal... This isn't just because of its extra resilient qualities, although that is a bonus, it is also because it was the first variety of opal that caught our attention. You always remember your first opal! For us, it was a strand of skin-to-skin, round and absolutely sparkling, white opals that at the time were far, far, out of budget (the opal bead strand being around $18, 000 unstrung). Hearts were honestly beating fast!.. And that's the thing with opal, each opal is different - what one person might prize, another might not. Red fire may be the most valuable fire in an Australian opal (and the most common in an Ethiopian opal), but if you prefer purple flashes, then you may not like the redder stones.
Different opal fields produce different types and qualities of opal, with Mintabie opal being one of the very finest.