It takes a great deal of skill and patience to cut or carve an opal. Opal cutting is normally performed on a wheel to create ovals or circles with a dome surface. Opal carving uses similar equipment to a dentist. Rather than cutting away imperfections to create an even surface, you can use these smaller tools to get rid of sand and waste the least amount of opal possible.
Franka Friedrichs cuts and carves opals for a living but believes that carving opals is where she has the most creative lease. She doesn’t like to put a pre-determined shape on her stones, rather, she follows their natural shape and asks the question’how would mother nature have wanted that stone?’
“I usually like organic shapes. I don’t have sharp corners. I round everything.”
She enjoys seeing the transformation from a rough piece, through the different stages of polishing, to the glimmering finished gem.
Every two years there is an opal design award run by the International Opal Jewellery Design Awards Association in Lightning Ridge. In 2013 Franka entered her carving, Shades of Purple, in the Non-Professional Abstract Carvings category and came away from the event with a first place prize. The winning piece is pictured below. Franka insists that it is very difficult to capture an opal’s beauty in a photograph because it looks so different depending of the diffraction of light. The play of colour that characterises the opal is only properly visible through movement.
Franka originally came to Australia as a backpacker from Germany and decided to visit outback Australia on a five day tour – “I wanted to see the real Australia”. When she arrived in Lightning Ridge the tour stopped to fossick for opals. Franka found a couple of substantially sized gems and sold them. This was the first time that she had seen a black opal and became fascinated with the colours it refracted and the town of Lightning Ridge itself.
When describing first coming to Lightning Ridge from Germany Franka says that it was “like landing on a different planet”. She was overwhelmed by the friendliness of people there and became interested in all of the incredible stories the locals had to tell. Eventually, sponsored by Lost Sea Opals in Lightning Ridge, Franka was able to stay and work in Australia.
She now lives with her partner, an opal miner, in Lightning Ridge and tries to make it back to Germany each year to see friends and family – “The opals brought me to Lightning Ridge but then the opal miner, he kept me here”.