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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Jewelry > Gemstones > Opals > The Virgin Rainbow Belemnite Crystal Black Opal

The Secrets of the Virgin Rainbow

The Legend of the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal

Future of the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal

Opal Fever - Media

Images of the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal

Famous Opals
> The Andamooka Opal (The Queen's Opal)
> Aurora Australis
> The Black Prince
> The Butterfly Stone
> The Flame Queen
> Halley's Comet
> Jupiter Five
> Olympic Australis
> Pride of Australia
> The Virgin Rainbow
Buying Guide for Opals
> Opal Store USA
> Birthstone for October (modern); alternate for June
> Care for Opals
> Cutting Opals
> Opal Store Amazon USA
> Opal shop Australia
> Glossary of Terms
> Investing in Opals - The Value of Opals as an Investment
> Lapidary Information
> Buy Opals Australia
History of Opals and Opal Mining
> Australian Museum National Opal Collection
> Australian Museum researches opalised fossil
> Fossicking in NSW
> Fossils, opalised fossils, sea snails and shells
> Legendary Opal Miners
> Opal Legends
> Opal Mines
> Mining Opals in Wyoming USA
> Opal Links
Types of Opal
> Black Opal
> Boulder Opal
> Crystal Opal
> Fire Opal
> Matrix Opal
> White Opal
> Yowah Nuts
> Opal Doublets
> Opal Triplets
> Opal Jewelry
Australian Opal Mines
> Andamooka Mines, SA
> Coober Pedy, SA
> Lightning Ridge, NSW
> Mintabie or Mintabee, SA
> Opalton, Qld
> Quilpie, Qld
> White Cliffs, NSW
> Winton, Qld
> Yowah, Qld

Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide:
A Traveler's Guide to Buying Diamonds, Colored Gems, Pearls, Gold and Platinum Jewelry

by Renee Newman

Virgin Rainbow Opal
 Australia's opal fields hold many secrets a few of them black. Most remain buried in the piles of wasteland left behind by generations of fortune seekers. Few emerged to become legends. They say Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. Unlike this story, that's not exactly true. Lightning has struck again, and in almost the same hellish place and same risky manner as this story reveals. 

The Virgin Rainbow Belemnite Crystal Black Opal
Image 2004 Piper Films SA

If your dad was the legendary Opal King - Spencer Darwin Dunstan you might be considered fortunate to live half way up to his reputation - or better yet - to equal it. 
 Yet therein lays the crux. We Australians chop down tall poppies, we don't readily proclaim our legends, and if and when we do - God help anyone who tries to dislodge them from our jaundiced gaze.

The legendary Spencer Darwin Dunstan was known and loved around the outback soon after the closing days of World War II. He didn't take a soft Government job on offer, but instead followed his heart and went looking for his destiny on the Australian Opal Fields. And he found it - the hard way. He gained a reputation amongst peers and fellow miners as a hard working man, who was honest, frankly forthright and reliable. 

Every-one who met him called him 'mate!' His knowledge of South Australian Opal was especially astute and his opinion was sought by valuers, buyers and sellers far and wide. He taught his young lad John, everything he knew. Everything except how to become a legend - for legends are not born, they are made. This is a story of John Dunstan. It is about his legendary find of the Virgin Rainbow Crystal Black Opal.

John Dunstan was born in 1952. By age five in 1957 he was working by his father's side in Andamooka opal fields. It was tough, hard-yacca and yet the boy loved the life and adventure it represented. More than anything he loved to work with his dad, who introduced the young Dunstan to all his 'cobbers' and it was one of these old timers, a bloke named George Rig, who in mid 2003 pointed John back along the road most travelled. You're probably thinking that ought to read the road 'less' travelled - right? Well there is no mistake. Rig took John aside one day and explained to him of the fortunes found at Coober Pedy few had the qualities of those found at an old mine field called Brown's Folly at the Twenty Three Mile field. 

Like everyone else who've experienced opal-fever, you probably like to know where exactly it is - so for now, mentally draw a line on a map, or go there and draw one in the sand twenty-three miles long out in any direction from Coober Pedy and you'll find it if you complete a three hundred and sixty degree circular search. That's not too hard!

But just in case you think it might be let's give you an incentive and some helpers. Take Rig. Rig's been a miner since way back when John's dad was still wearing Khaki greens. He takes it easy these days and has time to spend being helpful. According to Rig, if he gave you fifty fit young men to help you dig, and thirty years to do so, that's fifteen hundred man years plus a billion dollars working capital to fund the machinery, equipment, wages, and living expenses of such an expedition, you still would not come back with anything of the class, rarity and value of the Virgin Rainbow - ever.

Like so many men who give up a normal life; if there is such a life as normal, to become ground rats, the literal translation for Coober Pedy from Aboriginal dialect, John Dunstan is no stranger to hardship and danger. He was blessed with his dad's good nature and that's probably why he and another neo-legend, Steve Mr. Opals Zagar hit it off and became partners. Steve Zagar's story has been told. It even made a movie script

Both men are easy going, like their drink, love the life they lead and respect those they meet who've done it just as tough. They are alone a lot, but they're not lonely people. Zagar found himself a reluctant international celebrity in 1990 with his discovery of the Jupiter Five Opal recorded in Guinness Book of Records as the World's Largest and Persephone Opal. There's a similarity to both men's finds and their now being partners.

Steve Zagar was working on a tunneling machine thirty metres underground on July 4 1989 when his cutting blades locked onto what he feared were boulders - they jammed, and weary as he was from hours of grueling effort, he slipped the gears into neutral, or thought he did, and jumped out in front to clear the wedged rocks with a metal bar.

Imagine you have your back to a wall of solid sandstone and glassy ribbons of fossilized silica potch and before you is a great, noisy, powerful machine, weighing many tons parked inches from your body, its engines running. Suddenly you dislodge the offending rocks and the blades begin to whir again, eating the earth besides your feet and biting the metal bar that is between you and those shining jaws of death. You leap out of the way with your heart pounding in the semi darkness as the machine thuds forward and tears great chunks out of the wall right where you stood only moments ago. You scream and swear so loud and with what's left of your pole bang the cavern roof without meaning to and dislodge a large piece of sandstone that falls on your head felling you. That is exactly how the Jupiter Five found Steve Zagar. That chunk of rock fell from the cavern roof and knocked Steve off his feet was encrusted in sand stone. It appeared like rock. Valueless! In his rage and fear of having just escaped certain death Steve picked it up and was set to hurl it into the crusher which would have rendered it to rubble and powder and sucked it up from the mine onto a noodling mound, when he spied a flash of colour where a corner had been chipped. Calming himself he threw it into a plastic bucket and bent down and collected the smaller piece. That smaller piece is the size of a woman's hand. Zagar's flag-stone harlequin crystal gem-quality portion opal fashioned from the hand-sized bit broken off Jupiter Five was named Persephone after a beautiful goddess whom Jupiter a mythological Roman God lured seductively and imprisoned in the underworld

Jupiter Five intact weighed in at 26,350 carats or five kilos, and Persephone 765 carats. Steve Zagar discovered them both by chance at the Jupiter Field at Coober Pedy. Persephone & Jupiter Five have gone out into the world of collectors thanks but no thanks to a once famous Auction House of Christie. It's understood they have changed hands several times since for a lot more than the 1990 world record price they set in Geneva for South Australian Opal. A stunning tale - the stuff of legends. That legend grows. Here's its parallel of lightning striking twice, in the life of John Dunstan, and the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal 

Opal miners do not turn up to work each day like the smart suited executives we see on television from corporations such as Western Mining and BHP! They drag themselves out of bed in an under ground dug-out home, have a coffee, a beer and a cigarette and any other heart starter they enjoy, and maybe if they're lucky, something to eat. They rise before the sun gets on the horizon and they try to be underground before it hits its zenith. Why? When it is 45 degrees in the shade it is near 60 degrees or more in the open wastelands, and if you doubt the harshness of the terrain, hire the 1985 Mel Gibson movie 'Beyond Thunderdome' the final sequel in his Mad Max trilogy. Anyone who has visited Coober Pedy knows what made Max mad? - working for a pittance in the one place on earth that resembles perdition more than any other; hoping for a meteoric rise to fame afforded those lucky few who possess the metal to be legends. 

Unlike Actors and Performing Artists to whom opal is patron gem, sacred talisman or good fortune magnet, opal mining partners don't sign on dotted lines in reams of contracts for lawyer and agents to witness. It's done by a few grunts, several drinks, a few nods; usually some swear words, and finally consummated by the traditional manner, a stern gaze in the eyes and an old fashioned handshake. It is binding while partners agree to agree. No doubt if pressed, George Rig could point out those odd few sealed mines scattered amongst the lunar-like landscape which hide evidence of partners whose partnerships fell foul of an agreement. That's how it was in the old lawless times. Have time's changed? Not much!

"Trust me" said old George Rig - even though he knew John Dunstan did - but with added emphasis - wanting to help steer an old comrade's son to the Twenty Three Mile and a hopeful find. "Trust me on this!" 

What's a hopeful find? Ask the same question of the opal experts and you'll learn! One such expert was Stuart Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Opal Cutting or lapidary at Coober Pedy TAFE (Technical and Further Education College) who has devoted forty two years teaching miners how to cut and polish their best quality opals to turn them into more valuable gemstones. He did so to help miners end years of exploitation they experienced at the mercy of on field buyers, often shrewd business agents of Middle and Far Eastern origin who paid a mere pittance for rough uncut opal, then went away turned it into gems and sold them for vast fortunes, or worse, to buttons for silken harem garments. 

'This represents the entire Coober Pedy Mining Area'. Jackson pointed to a large dining table and walked to it. He then took up a coffee cup on a saucer and placed it in the centre of the table, adding, 'This white cup and saucer represents all the primordial silica that ever formed into opal, any kind of opal!' 
He took a sugar-lump from another bowl, and placed it besides the cup, 'This lump represents all the Gem Quality Opal that's out there'. Looking over his glasses rim he asked, 'But do you know where to find it?' Next with a broad sweep of an outstretched arm he made a circling gesture and came down fist clenched to pulverize the sugar cube into thousands of tiny particles which he blew on so it scattered all over the table. 
'It's out there somewhere,' he said, 'but if I gave you five million dollars and asked you to go find me one exactly like Persephone, you won't, not in your life time.' That's a hopeful find! Good luck! Was better luck possible? Apparently so - as even Jackson now admits these fourteen years later. "How do you set a price for the Virgin Rainbow? You cannot! She is the find of a lifetime, priceless!"

Rig was a typical knock about miner. He had worked mines at Coober Pedy, Mintabe, Lightning Ridge, Andamooka and White Cliffs. He recalled many tales to John of some great and significant discoveries, none you'd get to read about in books, and always insisted that though the better quality black opals were found elsewhere, the best quality opal and black opal too in terms of hardness, durability and clarity had come from the Twenty Three Mile. "At Lightning Ridge" he'd say with a toothy grin, "once a year something decent in black opal is found. Here at Coober Pedy it's rarer than an honest politician!"

He told John he'd only seen one or two rare fossilized pipes of gem quality opal in his life until now, but never in black opal. To understand what a fossil pipe is it helps to know how opal is formed. Let's start with something else. We could take Gold which began its life as a pocket of gas, but let's use a lump of carbon, commonly known as anthracite or black coal. If you subject coal to enormous pressures for long enough and heat it to quarter of a million or so degrees, well, until it's very, very hot, voila! - You have a Diamond! 

Every day you look through windows or at objects made of glass. Glass is formed by heating certain sand like particles known as silica. It wasn't always in particles. Around the time dinosaurs roamed the planet, specific silica somehow formed a sludge or ooze like substance. As it gathered momentum, at slower than snail like pace crawling at the effect of gravity, it slipped deeper into substrate silts and sand, finding cavities and pockets that formed way below the water-level where it came to rest. These cavities may have been a decayed tree branch or a shell or pre-historic animal. A pipe is the name given to the major vessel in the back of a Belemnite an ancestor of today's common squid. Sixty to one hundred and twenty million years later the evidence of these creatures exists as fossilized silica that formed semi precious and gem quality opal. It is a rare find indeed to discover a pipe. It is a rare find indeed again to find a black opal. But to discover a black opal pipe - do you see what this is about yet? Billion to one odds and them some! No insurance replacement value on earth could do justice to such a find especially when calculated at ten cents in the dollar. That's true - they risk ten per cent against your ninety as they know the rarity involved. 

John Dunstan had kissed Yoka, wife of thirty years good bye to go off to work, with various partners over the years and for the last year it was a couple who tried their luck and decided to move on. Together they found a Belemnite pipe out near the Twenty Three Mile - and it proved to be opal and a decent find, but it was not gem quality nor crystal black opal. This couple wanted to sell it to a museum for its rarity as a fossil - but generous to a fault - John gave them a better price and sold it to a collector to cover his costs. 

Rig led him to an area that had been fairly well worked over. It had mounds of white sand mullocky heaps everywhere. He suggested John move in with his Bulldozer and use an open cut method on an area well to the side of those mounds. He began in early September 2003 and by the morning of the eleventh without a single find was set to pull out of there. For a week John had carved out an area as large as a small dam, the kind farmers cut on their land, twenty metres long, ten metres wide and ten metres deep at one end. It was dangerous work and it almost proved too dangerous. His 'dozer weighed sixty tons and his excavator close to thirty. Prompted by intuition and knack for self preservation that had served him well so far, on the eleventh, a morning he'll always remember for a better reason than most, John left his machine and went down a nearby abandoned shaft about fifty metres east from where he had broken ground and in an area that experience told him had not been worked for years. He got down by rope and flashed a torch light around. The area at the bottom of the shaft opened out into a huge cavern, commonly known as a ballroom. It showed evidence of having been picked over by numerous men and machines at various times, some as far back as ten years or more, so much so that all the solid sandstone had been etched out leaving a few thin walls here and there supporting all the weight of the earth above him. 

The cavern rose gradually upwards here and downwards there where miners had followed seams of worthless potch hoping for a trace of colour. He followed it to where he estimated his Bulldozer to be just a few metres above him. He plotted that point on a drawing and went back up to the surface. 
Had he gone a metre or so deeper with his bulldozer blade, it and the monstrous excavator would have caused a land slip and he would have dropped to certain injury or probably worse, he would have certainly perished in that abandoned ballroom. Steve was away, so no-one would have found him for days. He returned to the ballroom for a closer inspection and discovered a section higher up an incline where with a brighter light a slight trace of colour was revealed. He went back to the surface again and using his excavator machine carved away carefully at the substrate until he had opened up a safe gradient entry. At first what he extracted didn't prove much to get excited about. There was no obvious opal exposed by those sudden flashes of colour, miners look for, but he took pains to capture everything and put it over the noodling machine, a giant metal sifter that screens and catches particles larger than a child's small finger. 

As was the case in Zagar's chance find, Dunstan had a blower rigged up to his noodler so that all worthless sand, potch and spoil that fell through the mesh ended up at an exhaust extractor, to be sucked out, shredded and blown onto a mullocky heap. Were it not for the fact the 75 mm x 15 mm chunk of sand stone encrusted pipe lodged in the noodler mesh it would have been destroyed without anyone's knowledge. The other pipe John found had also gotten wedged this way - so he was wary as he pried it free with a metal scraping tool. It was truly stuck, so he gave it a tap and a small chip flew off one section as bright colour caught his eye in the dim light. Vivid bright colour! He dropped it in his bucket and began to close down. There was no other opal, and further searches of that mine proved fruitless. 

Belemnite Fossils or 'pipes' as the miners call them, are pretty rare. Rarer than opalised pippies, those small obliquely oval shaped mollusk shells that turn up now and then, or other ancient sea creatures such as a porpoise skeleton that gain a lot of interest with price fluctuation depending on the quality of the opal. 

Steve was not working with him this day - he'd taken his new 4wd truck to Adelaide for Warranty Repairs. By the time he got back a few days later John had looked at that chipped section so often he was certain there was top value in it. He waited patiently for his partner's return and a second expert opinion. 
'I reckon she's a black pipe John!' His younger partner had examined it carefully with a trained eye. 
Dunstan nodded, as if reassured by the answer. 
'That's what I reckon too Steve.' Said the son of the legendary Spencer Darwin Dunstan.
With Yoka and Steve watching on, John set about polishing their prize specimen and stopped after he'd exposed an exceptional gem quality Belemnite 63.3 mm in length and averaging 14 mm thick at its girth, cylindrical shape weighing 72.65 carats. It was pure solid crystal black opal. 
'She's bloody pure mate!' Exclaimed Steve excitedly. 'Pure as the blessed virgin!' he said and he's catholic!
'Crikey look at that colour! My God! She's lit herself up like a bleeding rainbow!' 
What they had found proved to be both a rarity indeed and of exceptional beauty. Pricelessly so!

And so the pipe came to be known between them as the Virgin Rainbow - except no-body else but they and Yoka knew about her. That's how it is with opal miners. They've been taught by experience to be cautious when sitting on colour or holding valuable items to be secured in a bank vault. It didn't take long for the good news to spread amongst friends and trusted well wishers, nor for the experts to give their opinion. 
Stuart Jackson who'd taught them cutting and polishing techniques was one of the first to see it. He said it was "awesome" - the best opal he had ever seen, much the same as did Alan Bartram, arguably the world's foremost authority on South Australian Opal who said "This exquisite 'Belemnite' fossil specimen, freeform in shape, aged as old as 120 million years from the Coober Pedy Twenty Three Mile Field displays the most brilliant colour and clarity that I have ever had the good fortune to see in more than forty years personal experience in all sectors of the opal industry." Bartram is a global identity when it comes to opal. He agrees with George Rig and all the old timers who've seen it or know just as much about opal, that John Dunstan and his partner Steve Zagar have a large fortune on their hands. They own the world's best and most beautiful Belemnite Crystal Black Opal. A rare find the boys named the Virgin Rainbow because of its crystal clear purity and the dazzling rainbow like colours. 

There's one person who'd recognize another legend if he ever met one - heard their tale - knew their story, had tested their metal. That man had been there and done that more times than most. Who was that man? 
Why none other than the King himself - Spencer Darwin Dunstan whose presence John consults every night gazing starwards. You see, Spencer Darwin Dunstan left this mortal coil, headed for another world in August 1977. Were he here he'd agree with all the experts, old timers and opal lecturers who have had the good fortune to see this amazingly beautiful stone. It was found by John Dunstan, through his persistence and consistence not to mention forty three years of hard grind that led to his chance find of the worlds most beautiful and rare South Australian Belemnite fossil Black Opal- this is indeed the making of a legend. 
Were he with us now he'd grin and say. 
'Good one son! It'll do.'


The most frequently asked questions are what will become of the Virgin Rainbow? 

Q. Will she be sold? 
A. The answer is very few people on earth can afford to buy her, but yes. 

Q. Does her sale transfer the legend to the buyer? 
A. No! John Dunstan is the legend, because of his discovery. Trade Mark does transfer

Q. Would it really take 1500 years and a billion dollars to find another Virgin Rainbow? 
A. No! Unique is unique! - It could take longer and probably cost more. There is only one Virgin Rainbow.

To put that into a modern perspective - for a minute recall those two massive steel and glass structures in New York known as the World Trade Centre Towers. They took years to create at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars yet were destroyed in a matter of hours by an act of violence waged by terrorists, a rag tag bunch of desperate people who elected to make a sacrifice of their lives at the expense of other's in protest about foreign values and a religious view at odds with sanity. It was senseless, sad and tragic for a world desperately needing peace and a steady hand to guide it, and none suffered more so than the families and friends of the 3000 souls who perished that day - 9.11 2001. Yet after all the dust cleared and the last of the rubble was dragged away - what was left for the living was hope; faith and confidence the Towers could be rebuilt and reborn anew. Who amongst us has the right to proclaim what is sacred and holy?

Conversely, the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal is truly one of a kind. She is the Talisman's talisman - as much of an icon as the Blessed Virgin Mary is to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. These words were written in the former Holy Angels Catholic Church. 

In due course she'll be shown off discreetly, and then scheduled for sale by private treaty tender in early 2004. The Virgin Rainbow Black Opal will be shown in June next under an exclusive arrangement with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the South Australian Film Corporation and Piper Films, professional members of the South Australian Film Industry. The film sequences for that event were shot on location in Adelaide, Coober Pedy, and Farrell Flat, South Australia.

 The name Virgin Rainbow Black Opal is copyright protected pending registration of Trade Mark. Please send all or any communication on the Virgin Rainbow Black Opal to the address below.

 Text 2003 Universal M& Copyright 1998-2013 Chatelaine's Antiques Virgin Rainbow material
used with kind permission

 The Virgin Rainbow Black Opal is being offered for sale through Chatelaine's Antiques.
 For sales and other enquiries contact:
PO Box 311, Wingham, NSW, Australia, 2429


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