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The New Opal from Welo Ethiopia

There is a lot of excitement about a new kind of opal found in the Welo (sometimes spelled Wello or Wallo) region of Ethiopia. It was just discovered in 2008 and it is considered the most stable opal yet found in Africa. Opal was previously found in other areas of Ethiopia.  It is often very beautiful but has a reputation for being unstable (prone to cracking or crazing). This Welo opal takes a little patience to cut properly, but by most accounts, once cut it has proven to be every bit as stable as Australian opal. The fire is generally very bright, usually 4 to 5 on the 5 point brightness scale! These opal gems display the full spectrum of colors with red being very prevalent. They also display a wide range of fire patterns and base colors.  There are Welo opals displaying harlequin patterns, rolling flash, chaff patterns, floral patterns and virtually every other pattern recognized in Australian opal.  And then some!  Some show amazing rainbow patterns. If you look closely at the opal pictured at left, it shows an unique feature sometimes seen in Welo opals. It shows an internal cellular pattern sometimes called honeycomb. This structure is apart from the base color or the fire pattern. You'll also notice that it has a bi-colored base, being amber colored on the right side and translucent milky white on the other side.

The opal material from Welo is usually "hydrophane", which basically means that it can absorb a great deal of water. When dry hydrophane material is soaked in water, it causes the base color to clear up...sometimes highlighting the play-of-color, sometimes making it vanish! If soaked in water, it can take from a few hours to two weeks to completely dry out and return to it original state. You should not try and accelerate the drying by any artificial means like a lamp, for it could cause cracking. 

The price of this opal has risen dramatically and well may continue to do so. The Ethiopian government has taken control of the mines and is controlling most all of the material coming onto the market now. But prices at this point are still very reasonable compared to equally bright opals from Australia or Brazil. On the right is a picture of a piece of Welo opal rough.

Anyone who loves and appreciates opals is sure to fall in love with Welo opals. They can be mesmerizing! The colors can be almost unbelievably bright. They show an endless variety of base colors, patterns and colors.

Go here to find finished Welo opals for sale