History of the Land
Here at Western Opals we are carrying on a family tradition that has been growing for decades.
The first opal mine in Mexico was discovered in the 1950s on the same ranch that Western Opals currently has family land, just outside Magdalena, which is in a region laden with igneous rocks, obsidian, volcanic lava, and more than 200 opal mines.
Of the 25 or so varieties of opals, the fire opal is the only naturally faceted opal and the most significant fire opal deposits are found in Mexico. One of the two largest sites for mining the Mexican fire opal, which just so happens to be the “national gemstone of Mexico,” is located near Magdalena, Jalisco.
The first opal mine in this region was discovered in the outskirts of the volcano of Tequila. It was named “la unica” which in English means “the only one.” The mine is not currently working, but it is renown today as being one of the best mines for the stable high quality opal that it produced.
Since then, after much time and work, with the help of many people who had a lot of mining knowledge, new mines were discovered in Magdalena. Some of the names of the mines are San Simon, Pata de Gallo, San Andres , El Oaxical, San Martin, El Cobano, San Jose, La Perla, and La Estancia among others.
An Abundance of Minerals
One might ask why this region in Jalisco is ideal for mining opal. The answer is that only about a million years ago during the Pleistocene age, volcanoes erupted in the region exposing a land rich in mineral wealth containing vast deposits of gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, tin, and hundreds of other minerals. As a result, Mexico became the world’s leading producer of silver for centuries. A great portion of the Mexican silver has been mined in this region.
There are approximately a dozen distinct classifications of minerals with hundreds of varieties that exist in Mexico. As an example, the silicates class alone, contains more than 60 different minerals such as jadeite, zircon, topaz, and quartz, a subgroup of which includes amethyst.
The mineraloids class which contains amber, obsidian, and opal; minerals that are frequently carved, ground, cut, and polished for objects of art, jewelry, etc. Many of these minerals, including most opals, were formed during the Cretaceous period and brought to the Earth’s surface during the Pleistocene age.
In the Mines
Where to excavate is based on the statistics and where they have discovered more opal in the past. There is no guarantee you will find opal each time you excavate, but your chances are higher when you follow those standards.
In Magdalena, most of the mines are open pit mines. There will be a section that has a high concentration of opal for mining, where normally a wall has been made. You are basically tearing down a hillside little by little with the backhoe loader. It is then loaded onto the dump truck to be transported to a safer part of the mine or for people to take it wherever they wish to prospect it.
Some common machinery needed for mining is a backhoe loader, and a dump truck to load all of the virgin material to find opal. Mining tools include a mining hammer, a pick, and a shovel. Depending on the situation you may need sometime you will need dynamite.
At some mines, there are opal that you can find in the dirt. There are other mines, however, where the rocks are more solid and each of them has to be broken down until you find an opal inside. The opals that come inside the dirt have to be separated. You have to remove the dirt from a specific size rock and wash it with water until you find an opal.
There’s no rule regarding how many opal you can get from each mine. Mines are mostly run by local people who invest in all of the machinery and pay the people who have a salary based job. Some mines are privately owned and can be exploited to the point where now they are only used for tourists to come and get a taste of what people in Magdalena do for a living.
Running an opal mine can be very expensive and also a risk, because if there is no opal production it will eventually lead to the mine shutting down. The mine can be shut down for some time until other investors come back to work the mines. Mining opal is really a leap of faith and matter of luck.
We hope this article was informative for you and hope you check back to read part 2 on the polishing process that the opal goes through before arriving in your fingers.