Rare and Renowned Red-on-Black OpalThe Flame Queen
Property of a Family Trust
Bald Hill Workings, Lightning Ridge, Australia
Ever since it was found at Lightning Ridge in 1915 by miners Jack Philips, Walter Bradley and Irish Joe Hegarty, this famous opal has attracted worldwide attention as one of the rarest and most superb specimens of its kind.
At the time Lightning Ridge was a risky place to speculate for opals. Early miners used picks and shovels, battling fatigue and hunger in their desparate search to find opal-rich clay. The three men took over a claim that was abandoned by a miner who left to fight in World War I. Hegarty completed the partially dug tunnel, but when he reached the typical opal level, usually around 30 feet down the shaft, it did not reveal any colorusually an indicator of the presence of gemstonesand he suspected the claim was worthless. Once Hegarty reached the clay strata, he and Bradley tunneled vertically, a dangerous procedure that could result in the collapse of the entire site. At this level nearly 35 feet below the surface, in a tunnel little more than 2 ½ feet wide with little ventilation and light, Bradley discovered a great nobby. He was hoisted up so that he could examine the stone under daylight.
Of the three partners, Bradley was the most skilled lapidary and had the best equipment to cut and polish the rough. He took a bite at the great black nobby with his steel snipswhich revealed the brilliance of the opal withina dazzling red domed center with a greenish-blue border. The three men, broke and exhausted from their labor, and hungry from eating only pancakes and syrup for three weeks, hastily sold the 263.18 carats opal to a gem buyer for £93.
The most unusual color pattern of this remarkable opal is best described as having the appearance of a fried egggemologically known as the eye-of-opal effectcreated when opal infills a cavity. The Flame Queen is the best known gem of this type. Polished as a broad, pear-shaped buff top cabochon, its flashes change from vivid red to fiery bronze when viewed from different angles and in different light.
The cut and shape are highly unusual and enhance the natural formation of the stone. Under differing lights and angles, the stone reflects numerous combinations of color in a unique and remarkable way. In his The Opal Book , Frank Leechman writes It is interesting to note that Mr. B. Dustan, sometime Queensland Government Geologist, mentioned in a report that the back of the Flame Queen is impressed with what appears to be traces of a gingko, a prehistoric tree which still survives in eastern Asia, where it is known as the Chinese maidenhair tree.
A unique stone with a rich history, the Flame Queen was exhibited in London in 1937 on the occasion of the Coronation of King George VI during the time it was part of the famous Kelsey Newman Collection of Opals. It was subsequently sold at Christie's Geneva on 21 November 1973, when it was bought on behalf of a client by David Callaghan of Hancocks & Co., then of Burlington Gardens, London. David Callaghan, appointed Chairman of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 1980, negotiated to borrow the stone from the client for display at the Geological Museum, South Kensington, to mark the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Gemmological Association. The stone was displayed in its own security case.
The Flame Queen takes its place in gemological history with other notable opals found in Lightning Ridgebut as a red-on-black opal it is a world-renowned, unique specimenand one of only a handful of museum-quality examples ever to come to auction. Weighing approximately 263.18 carats and measuring approximately 72.13 x 57.73 x 11.5mm