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Summer travels: enjoying the gems of Australia

By Staff | Jun 4, 2009

Through the summer months, many of us travel away from Southwest Florida in search of cooler climates, summer getaways, and relaxation. With this column, you’ll be able to stay right at home as Lily & Co., uses the summer months to travel around the world in search of precious gems.

We’ll start in a land down under: the continent and country of Australia. With its huge area and range of geological environments, Australia produces a number of different precious metals and gemstones. Silver, gold, copper, diamonds, opals, and sapphires were discoveries of major economic importance. Other gemstones that are mined include jade, emerald, garnet, zircon, quartz, and topaz.

Mining contributed significantly to preventing potential bankruptcy for the early colonies in Australia. Silver and copper were discovered in South Australia in the 1840s, leading to the export of ore and the immigration of skilled miners and smelters.

Precious Metals

The first economic minerals discovered in Australia were silver and lead in February 1841. The value of these mines was soon overshadowed by the discovery of copper. In 1851, gold was found near New South Wales. Weeks later, gold was found in the newly established colony of Victoria.

Australian gold rushes, in particular the Victorian Gold Rush, had a major lasting impact on Victoria, and on Australia as a whole. The gold rush colored every aspect of Australian society, and elements of it are still clearly visible today. The influx of wealth that gold brought soon made Victoria Australia’s richest colony by far, and Melbourne is the island continent’s largest city.

Australia” population changed dramatically as a result of the gold rushes: in 1851, the population was 437,655, and a decade later, it was 1,151,947. The rapid growth was predominantly a result of the recent immigrants from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth states who contributed to the ‘rush.’

Although most Victorian goldfields were exhausted by the end of the 19th century, and although much of the profit was sent back to the United Kingdom, sufficient wealth remained to fund substantial development of industry and infrastructure.

Diamonds

There have been many diamond occurrences recorded in Australia, but the largest and most economic deposit to date is the Argyle Mine, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, which produces a huge quantity of stones each year for the international market. Most are used in industry, and only approximately five percent are suitable for gemstones. The Argyle mine is unique for its rare pink-to-red diamonds that form a minute, but dependable, percentage of its production.

Numerous diamond occurrences have also been reported in New South Wales, and some areas have been mined. The most consistently mined occurrence has been Copeton/Bingara, in New England. Diamonds were discovered by tin prospectors at Bingara in 1872, and the area has been worked intermittently since then.

Black Opal

Most of the world’s black opals come from Lightning Ridge, New South Wales in Australia. The mines at White Cliffs, New South Wales supply mainly light opal. Both fields have produced fine, opalised fossils, which formed when opal filled spaces left by bones, shells, and wood.

Opal can also form in cavities in volcanic rocks.

Australia provides about 95% of the world’s precious opal. Small quantities of precious opal are also found in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States.

Sapphires and Rubies

Sapphire is found in many east coast locations in Australia, from north Queensland to northeast Tasmania. However, the largest and most economic deposits are in New England, New South Wales, around Inverell and Glen Innes, and central Queensland, around Anakie and Rubyvale.

The New South Wales sapphire fields produce Australia’s finest blue sapphires, as well as a range of other colors.

Ruby is found at various sites in New South Wales, including the Macquarie and Cudgegong Rivers and the Tumbarumba area. It also occurs in significant proportions to the accompanying sapphire near Gloucester, in the drainage of the Barrington volcano.

Lily & Co. is a full-service jeweler, offering jewelry repair and restoration, expert Rolex watch and clock repair, glass and metal hand-engraving services, bead and pearl re-stringing, pewter and holloware repair and restoration, and appraisal services.

The gallery features couture jewelry collections and a wide variety of art from local artists Myra Roberts, Rob Pailes, Eleanor Ward, and new artist Lucas Century.

Store hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. 5 p.m. For more information about Lily & Co., call (239) 472-2888 or visit www.lilyjewelers.com.