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Rock to Gems: Making Worthless Stones Valuable

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 Geology   |   Science
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I was recently out in Northern Nevada mining for opals at the Bonanza Opal. Mining for gems is literally one of my most favorite things to do on the planet.

Roughly 16 million years ago in the area that is now Northern Nevada there was a lot of exploding volcanoes. This area eventually collapsed and gave way to a large lake. As sediments collected at the bottom of this lake it created bentonite clay, which is key for Opal formation. Around the same time more volcanic activity took place pushing trees limbs into the lake which eventually sank to the bottom. Some of the limbs partially rotted leaving open spaces in their structure. Over time the lake dried up but the pieces of wood were secured underground. With a high concentration of water soluble silica from the volcanoes in the area as it rained water percolated through the soil and silica gel began to fill these open spaces in the wood. Over millions of years the silica gel hardened in these pieces of wood creating opals.

One drawback to these particular opals and that is they have a large amount of water in them up to 14% in fact.

The issue with a high water concentration is that the more water, the more likely the opal will crack or craze. Also, because the bentonite clay of this area is so good at holding onto water, if the opal was found in wet clay it should be kept in water for display only which is called a “specimen”. This kind of opal will most likely break apart if dried out, however I found my opals in the tailing section of the mine. This is an area that has material that was taken from opal producing part of the mine and left out to dry. Anything found in this area is considered dry and could be made for jewelry, however it also might be cracked and crazed.

So what the solution? Take the dry opal I found in the tailing section and fix it with epoxy! So that’s exactly what we will be doing in this video, showing you how to take specimen quality opal and turning into a gem!

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