Opal is a hydrated amorphous form of silica. As it is amorphous in nature, it is classed as a mineraloid, unlike crystalline forms of silica, which are classed as minerals. There are mainly two types of opal: precious and common.
The first published report of gem opal from Ethiopia appeared in 1994, with the discovery of precious opal in the Menz Gishe District, North Shewa Province. It put Ethiopia on the worldwide opal map. This was followed by important discoveries in 2008 and 2013. It is now producing beautiful precious opal, fire opal, and black opal with spectacular play-of-color in a variety of patterns and body colors.
Opals from Menz Gishe District are available in a wide range of body colors. Most of the opals are available in brown, red, or orange body color. However, opals are also available in yellow, white, and clear body colors.
The most important opal discovery in Ethiopia to date was made in 2008 near the town of Wegel Tena in the Wollo Province in the northern part of the country. This opal can have vivid play-of-color flashing from a body color of clear, white, yellow, orange, or brown. It is more stable than the North Shewa opal. This material quickly became known in the trade as “welo opal,” but the names “wollo” and “wello” are also encountered.
Much of the welo opal is produced from a single area of stratified volcanic rocks. The main vein is an opalizedrhyolitic ignimbrite up to one meter thick that overlies a base of clay. The opal likely formed as silica-bearing waters accumulated on top of the impermeable clay. Silica gel precipitated in the pore spaces of the ignimbrite and was later transformed into opal. This is the type of material we use to carve our unique gem pieces.
Superior to Australian Opals
They currently sell for very reasonable prices when compared to similar-appearance material from Australia. Significant amounts of Ethiopian opal are being produced and the country might become the first important challenger to Australian opal, which has dominated the world opal market for over 100 years.
The future is very bright for Ethiopian opals. They are becoming much more visible in the gem and jewelry market, and the gem-buying public is becoming aware of them.