In 1994, a new opal discovery was announced in the east African country of Ethiopia. It was located in the province of Shewa, near the village of Mezezo. People always get excited about gem-quality opal, and these opals were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. They were dubbed “chocolate opals” for the dark brown body color, which provided and excellent backdrop for their striking play-of-color. Unfortunately, the opals from Mezezo proved to be unstable at best, and most crazed or even entirely broke down within just a few years.
But something phenomenal happened in 2008. North of Mezezo, in Wollo (Welo) Province, Ethiopia, opals were found in the volcanic rock near the village of Wegel Tena. The opals from Wollo are vastly superior in stability to most of the Mezezo opals, and they are astoundingly beautiful.
Wollo opals have a fierce play-of-color that has its own unique character as far as opals are concerned. I’ve been trading in opals for over forty years, and I’ve never seen anything like them before. They are different, and they are beautiful in a way that is uniquely their own.
One thing that blows me away about the Ethiopian opals from Wegel Tena is their durability. That’s not usually a term anyone in the know would ever associate with an opal, but there’s something about their structure that makes them impact- and heat-resistant. I can display them in my front window on a summer day and not worry about them crazing or shattering – something you just can’t do with many, if any, Australian opals.
There’s also a story from GIA about a lab technician who accidentally dropped a Wegel Tena opal from shoulder height onto a concrete floor. There were no signs of damage to the stone, even under the microscope; it wouldn’t be uncommon for a sapphire or diamond to break in that situation. GIA had license to do destructive testing on some other samples, and they repeated the accident with five other stones, all showing the same results. They then conducted the test with five opals from Mezezo and two white opals and one white boulder opal from Australia. All eight specimens broke.
You have to come in and see my collection of Ethiopian opals. I have a little more than a dozen white opals from Wegel Tena right now, all of them loose, and all patiently waiting to be set in a beautiful piece of jewelry. Of course, if you’re looking for something more, I can always source other stones for you. Ethiopia produces some astounding black opal and fire opal, as well. All you have to do is ask.