The summer of 2002 was hot and dry. Opals miners were taking very little good material out of the ground. When opal carver Christine Roussel had a large black opal on her bench, she was initially afraid. She knew that she had never carved a Lightning Ridge black opal of that size before. She studied it for two weeks. Slowly, she began to remove the sandstone in which the opal formed. Since you never know what will be underneath of a layer, a big patch of gorgeous opal or a big patch of undesirable sandstone, Christine grew more nervous with each layer she removed.
Christine is quoted as saying that “mother nature is finished producing opal,” so if she blew this shot at carving, she couldn’t just start over. Thankfully, it seems that she had steady hands and nerves of steel because 5 months later, the world’s largest freeform opal (6,ooo carats) emerged from the matrix.
Christine must have felt a lot like Michelangelo carving David. It’s rumored that the famous artist had said that David already existed in the marble. All he had to do was remove the excess material to reveal the sculpture inside.
There are some people who do more than others to promote something. Christine Roussel is one of the biggest influencers in making Lightning Ridge black opals what they are today. She was a big proponent of the opal and cutting trade and helped put Lightning Ridge on the map.
Christine believed that all the opal that came out of the ground was precious and none of it should be wasted. Before her, all opals were cut in oval cabochons which wastes a lot of opal. Christine’s goal was to help the world understand that different cutting styles preserved a natural resource. Opal takes millions of years to form, so it’s not something that can be found easily. There’s a finite amount of ANY opal that the Earth can give us and Precious Black Opal is even more scarce. Cutting it in a way that allows more of the opal to be preserved is important. Christine promoted a freeform cutting style to allow that preservation. Today, she is so well known for changing the industry, that she has a cutting award named after her.
Unfortunately, Christine lost a battle with breast cancer, but the lessons she taught us all have changed the dynamic of the opal industry.
You can sometimes find opals that Christine cut today at auction. In December, Bonhams will be auctioning a Lightning Ridge black freeform opal that Christine cut for designer John Ford. As you can see, she imagined the only portion of green/blue colors in the gem as a fish and cut the opal to display that. The rest of the opal was cut in an undulating form to give the impression of waves. It was a clever way of not only preserving the precious opal itself, but allowing her artist’s imagination to shine.
I support women jewelers and artists. I raise awareness of the contributions that women make to the jewelry industry. Breast cancer takes women jewelers from us every year. If you’d like to help support the efforts that women jewelers make to the industry, you can click this link and donate to Breast Cancer Research.
International Opal Jewelry Award Association