Discover the World’s Most Expensive Opal (Worth More than Most Houses!)

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: October 22, 2023
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Opals are mesmerizing gemstones known for their kaleidoscope of colors. Their captivating play of light has long fascinated jewelry enthusiasts and collectors alike. Among these remarkable gems exists a rare breed that stands above all others in terms of sheer extravagance. The world’s most expensive opal! In this article, we delve into the enchanting realm of these precious treasures, unraveling their mystique and shedding light on why they hold such immense allure. Join us as we embark on an exploration to discover what makes these opals so highly coveted and learn about their astonishing worth that surpasses even that of most houses.

The World’s Most Expensive Opal

Natural gemstone black opal on gray background

Black opals like this one are rare to find.

©galka3250/Shutterstock.com

The Flame Queen opal is an incredibly valuable black nobby opal that weighs 261 carats. It has a triangular shape and a somewhat pear-shaped form. Notably, this opal is known for its rare red color flashes, making it a “red-on-black” opal. The outer edges are greenish-blue, while in certain lighting, the color appears electric blue. This opal is worth more than many people’s homes.

Do you want to know which is the priciest opal in the world? The Flame Queen opal is the answer! It is a black opal which is the rarest and most valuable kind. It’s a loose gemstone, not attached to any type of jewelry or display. It has a dark body tone of N1 to N4 on the body tone chart. This color allows for a brighter play of color when it is precious rather than common. Additionally, the Flame Queen is a nobby shape that is mined in the Lightning Ridge fields of Australia. This shape has a flat base and cone-like shape with a peaked center.

Who Discovered It?

This opal has become quite famous in the history of Australian mining. Who is responsible for finding the Flame Queen opal, and when did it happen? There are different accounts of this discovery. Some say it was three partners in the Bald Hill Workings mining area that uncovered it around 1914. While others credit Charlie Dunstan with its discovery at the Angledool Diggings mining area in 1906.

The origin of the world’s most expensive opal, known as The Flame Queen, remains shrouded in mystery. While we are uncertain about the exact person or location responsible for unearthing this magnificent gemstone, historical records reveal that it eventually found its way into the possession of a renowned British opal collector named Kelsey I. Newman.

In 1937, The Flame Queen made its mesmerizing debut as part of Newman’s impressive collection. It was showcased at the prestigious Geological Museum of London. This momentous occasion coincided with King George VI’s coronation and served as a fitting tribute to commemorate this significant event in British history.

For decades thereafter, The Flame Queen remained securely nestled within Newman’s prized collection, captivating all who had the privilege to behold its radiant beauty. However, in 1973, an extraordinary turn of events took place when one of the world’s leading auction houses—Christie’s—acquired this exceptional opal from Newman.

How Rare is It?

The rarity of the Flame Queen Opal is truly remarkable, thus justifying its status as the world’s most expensive opal. Not only does it boast an impressive size of 263.18 carats, but its distinctive shape and captivating color pattern further enhance its exceptional nature. This opulent gemstone stands out among a select few museum-quality opals known to mankind. This makes it a true treasure in the world of precious stones.

Auction 1—$3.4 Million Dollars

Christie's Auction Rooms, South Kensington.

Christie’s Auction Rooms sells many types of precious stones at their auctions.

©Picture taken by Ian Dunster 18:33, 2 May 2005 (UTC);https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated – License

The historic sale of the Flame Queen opal took place in 1980, leaving a lasting mark on the world of gemstones and auctions. The prestigious event occurred under the esteemed auspices of Christie’s, renowned for its expertise in facilitating high-profile sales. With an astonishing final bid of $1 million, this opulent treasure found its new home with a private client expertly represented by David Callaghan.

Speculation surrounds the identity of this fortunate buyer, strongly suggesting it may have been none other than Jack Plane. A figure shrouded in mystery and luxury alike, Plane possessed an affinity for rare gems that matched his lavish lifestyle. Acquiring such a remarkable piece would undoubtedly enhance his already illustrious collection.

To comprehend the magnitude of this extraordinary transaction even further, one must consider that its value today would soar to approximately $3.4 million due to inflation over four decades. This staggering appreciation highlights both the rarity and timeless allure possessed by the Flame Queen.

At the time of this momentous sale, David Callaghan held a distinguished position as Chairman within the esteemed Gemological Association of Great Britain. This is a testament to his unrivaled knowledge and reputation within gemstone circles worldwide. Utilizing his expertise and persuasive ability, he successfully convinced Jack Plane to temporarily loan out their prized acquisition for an unprecedented occasion: Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee celebration.

A true spectacle awaited visitors at London’s Geological Museum in South Kensington in 1981, where the Flame Aueen was on display.

Auction 2—$120,000

Bonhams auction house

Bonham’s Auction House sold the Flame Queen in 2008.

©Umuiowiadupia, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

In 2008, the highly anticipated Natural History auction hosted by Bonham’s took place in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, California. Amongst the remarkable treasures showcased was “The Flame Queen,” renowned for its rare and captivating red-on-black hue. The anticipation surrounding this breathtaking gemstone reached unprecedented heights. Enthusiasts from around the world eagerly awaited their chance to bid on this extraordinary piece.

When it finally came time for bidding to commence, eager participants raised their paddles with fervor. Many hoped to become proud owners of this magnificent opal. Bidding escalated rapidly as passionate individuals vied for possession of such an illustrious treasure. A testament to both its rarity and allure.

Ultimately, after an exhilarating display of intense bidding, it found a new home at an astonishing price tag of $120,000.

Auction 3—$87,500

Christies auction house in New York

Christie’s Auction in New York sold the Flame Queen in 2020.

©Leonard J. DeFrancisci, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The Flame Queen has been passed down through the hands of several private collectors over the years. However, in 2020, this remarkable gem took center stage at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in New York City. Showcased as part of the esteemed “Property from the Collection of Gloria Manney,” the Flame Queen drew considerable attention and anticipation from both connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike.

With its mesmerizing play-of-color and exquisite craftsmanship, it was no surprise that bidding for this exceptional opal reached unprecedented levels. Many eager participants vied for ownership of this rare treasure. Offers quickly escalated to a staggering final sale price of $87,500.

Why Is It So Expensive?

The Flame Queen opal is an expensive gem due to its historical value, size, and unique appearance. Miners discovered it during the 1900s ‘opal rush,’ making it one of the oldest known opals. Although it is not the largest opal ever found, it is still sizable. Additionally, the Flame Queen opal stands out from other opals due to its special colors. It is a black opal that has red flashes that can appear electric blue in a certain light, and its border has a greenish-blue hue. All of these features contribute to the opal’s rarity and value.

Other Famous Opals

While the Flame Queen is exquisite, it is not the only record-breaking opal in the world. Here are a few others.

Virgin Rainbow Opal—$1 Million Dollars

A majority of opals from Australia can cost anywhere from ten dollars to six thousand per carat. The Virgin Rainbow Opal, however, is one of the most prized and expensive Australian opals. Appraisers value it at one million dollars – more than the price of many houses! It isn’t the world’s most expensive opal, but one million dollars is a lot of money for a rock!

The Virgin Rainbow Opal is a unique phenomenon due to its vibrant colors and luminescent glow. It is composed of water and silica, two abundant elements in the Earth’s crust. This stone’s special color display is caused by light passing through the microscopic silica flecks that make up the opal. The light, being bent at different angles, creates a prismatic halo of color.

The Virgin Rainbow Opal is an incredibly special gemstone, showcasing a captivating rainbow-like radiance in the darkness. Despite its extraordinary value of one million dollars, it is actually quite small. It is about the size of an average thumb and weighs 72 carats (14.4 grams).

Olympic Australis—Biggest Opal

The Olympic Australis, a magnificent opal of unparalleled beauty and size, has captivated the world with its extraordinary dimensions. Measuring an impressive 11 inches in length and standing 4.5 inches tall, this remarkable gemstone has etched its name into history as one of the largest opals ever unearthed. It is 17,000 carats and weighs 7.5 pounds! Appraisers valued the Olympic Australis opal at 1.3 million dollars USD back in 1997. It is currently worth 1.9 million dollars USD.

For years, the Olympic Australis proudly held the prestigious Guinness Record for its colossal proportions, setting a new standard in opal discoveries. However, even such a remarkable feat could not withstand the inevitable march of time and progress. Eventually, someone discovered another breathtaking opal Coober Pedy, dethroning the Olympic Australis from its long-held title.

This opal is not admired by throngs of enthralled visitors at museums around the globe. This treasure finds solace within Sydney’s enchanting Altman & Cherney showroom. Under careful guardianship and surrounded by an aura of exclusivity, this majestic jewel resides silently but magnificently behind closed doors.

Halley’s Comet Opal—1,982 Carats

Halley’s Comet opal has the record for the most significant uncut black opal nobby. It weighs in at 1,982.5 carats and was located at Lightning Ridge. It got its name from the fact that it was discovered at the same time Halley’s Comet was visible in Australia. In 2006, it was available for purchase at an auction for $1.2 million. It is one of the largest uncut black opals ever found. It does not hold the record for the biggest opal nobby.

Sea of Opal—Biggest Black Opal

The Sea of Opal is the world’s largest black opal. It holds the Guinness World Record for its impressive 11,340.95 carats. When viewed in bright light, the stone reveals a blue patch that looks like a fish swimming. It has a green sparkle resembling seaweed. This may not be the world’s most expensive opal, but in 2015, auctioneers offered it for a starting price of $150,000!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © galka3250/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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