Chasing Harlequin Opal in Ethiopia


For the past 60 years, I have been dealing in opals from Australia to Mexico, Brazil and Honduras.  My quest for new sources of Opal has dragged me halfway around the world.  The lure and play of colors from the newly-discovered African Welo Opals caused me to take a recent trip to Ethiopia to see them being mined with my very own eyes.

My wife and I left Atlanta for Washington DC to take the direct flight to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines.  The direct flight from Washington was 18 hours with a 1 hour refueling stop in Rome.  During that flight, we were like caged animals all the way.  The drive from Franklin to Atlanta had taken 3 hours and we had arrived at the required 3 hours before the flight’s departure time.  Then the flight to Dulles was another 3 hours. So we traveled an entire day just to get to Washington before boarding the long overnight flight to Ethiopia.  At the end of this long and tiring journey, we were met by friends at the Addis Ababa airport and taken to our hotel for a much needed night’s rest.

We departed the next day at 10 am for the Wegel Tena opal deposit in the Delanta-area of Welo Province.  This 600 kilometer journey would take 2 days travelling in a late model 4-wheel Toyota Land Cruiser, so we planned to overnight in Kombolcha.   After leaving the congested traffic of Addis Ababa, the first day’s travel was very slow as the roads alternated between paved roadways at 60 to 70 km and dirt strips at 5 km.   After passing several mountain passes and around the Danakil Depression, the weather became very hot and we could see desert conditions with gum and acacia trees scattered on dry hill tops and lots of camels, cows and other animal traffic.  We reached Kombolcha around 6 pm and stayed overnight in a hotel that was surprisingly comfortable in spite of offering only bare essentials.

By 8 am the next day, we were on the road to Dessie which is located in Welo Province on the the paved Addis Ababa – Asmara highway.  Dessie has a large population for the area and many amenities including a Wollo University campus.  From there, the road to Delanta was very rough with many switchbacks as we climbed one mountain range after another – finally reaching our destination around 1 pm.

Delanta is a typical African village that is the center of activity for the local miners who are digging in the area and those who have the right to dig.  Only people who belong to the Opal Association have the right to sell the goods.  And buyers must have an export license from the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines.  The average person from Ethiopia cannot handle the opals because the rules are very strict and the local people are very vigilant.

Located at a height of 3000 meters (over 10,000 feet) on top of a plateau, Delanta is above mosquito level and feels comfortable and cool.  The fantastic vistas in every direction are breathtaking.  But there are no facilities for Westerners to stay over, although there is a “motel” of sorts that offers small rooms at $1 per day.  But no bathroom or toilet facilities in the village at all.   Even though I have stayed in primitive villages in India during early school days, the absence of toilets was something of a shock.

We spent the afternoon taking pictures and looking at production areas.  The opal mining is done with a pick and chisel and production is sporadic and slow.  Some people had 200 grams for sale.  Others had 500 grams.  But we made sure not to handle merchandise ourselves.  And ended the day returning to Kombolcha to overnight before heading on to Addis to conduct the business of buying, grading and selecting.

After completing our opal buying business, we went on to take a cultural expedition to the source of the Nile known as Bahir Dar.  It sits on top of high ground surrounded by the 5000 killometer Lake Tana.  The area is populated with old monasteries dating back 3000 years or more that are surrounded by a simple way of life.  These great and ancient structures in wood and bamboo with their amazing collections of paintings were astounding.

The next stop was Gondar – which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder Province.  There were a lot of European, Japanese and Chinese tourists, but very few Americans.  We stayed in 3 and 4 star hotels, but there were power shortages almost every night.  It was a great sight to see the famous castles which were used as headquarters during the brief Italian occupation and the public bathhouse of the kings.

After Gondar, we traveled on to Axum – home to the Queen of Sheba.   The giant carved obelisks from the Axumite Empire period were inspiring.  Carved from single pieces of granite, these monumental sculptures make one appreciate what Faith has helped people do.  The Palace of the Queen of Sheba was in ruble.  But we had a wonderful archeologist guide who brought the area alive with vivid descriptions.  The Queen of Sheba introduced Christianity to Ethiopia 3000 years ago; and the imperial family of Ethiopia claims its origin directly from the offspring of the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon. This area has always been independent except for a brief occupation of 5 years by Italian colonizing efforts, but in World War II, the region was liberated from a foreign yoke.

The cheerful smiling children we met made our trip joyous.  Even in little towns and villages, it was refreshing to see kids going to school in uniforms instead of tattered begging children along the roadside that one so often encounters in certain countries.  The Ethiopian children would only accept writing pens or ball point pens because they could be used for school work.

My observation about Ethiopia is that it is a pleasant nation whose people are gentle and honest. It is very crime free.  It has been independent for the past 3000 years except a 5 year occupation by Italy during World War  II in Mussolini’s  time.  The country is 80% Eastern Orthodox Christian and 20% Muslim and others.  The remarkable quality of harmony among the people  attests to their long history of religious devotion.


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Druzy Quartz: From Bombay to Minnesota to Your Jewelry Studio


Druzy quartz is 100% natural quartz stone that has an agate (quartz) base and a top thin layer of crystalline quartz.  The thin layer of crystal growth that is tightly spread out on the base is what gives druzy the beautiful look that makes it such a popular gemstone.

For the past 5 years, I have been pursuing a project to mass produce calibrated and flat surfaces.  The small occurrence in Mexico and Brazil in Amethyst and Citrine Druze is no comparison to vast quantities I have acquired in South India, Madhyapradesh and Maharashtra where growth comes from nodules as  big as 2 kg per piece.  We finally obtained 100 tons of materials in the raw – from which a final stock for 100,000 stones in different calibrations has been produced.

Cobalt Blue Ovals

The yield per kg (2.2 lbs) was two or three useable stones with flat and even surface selected from the raw roundish nodules based on the nature of formation.   To get stones flat in sizes of 20×15 is almost impossible.  So calibrations have been kept to 8, 10, 12 rounds and some 14 mm as well as ovals:  10×12, 10×14, 16×12 and 18×13 ovals.

The uneven stones are produced in free sizes and some are even drilled for beads . We also produce the so called “eye stones” which has flicker on top of the cabs, but is not as attractive as the flat calibrated stones.

The selected quantities of flat and calibrated stones are gathered and collected in our warehouse in Bombay.  From there, they are sent a distance of 300 miles to Cambay for the hand oriented process called “hand trimming”, which is done with vertical spike of steel and wooden or steel mallet.

Then, the stones are transported for final grinding and polishing to the Jaipur area factory where we control the thickness, polish and calibration of the final product.  The calibrated stones are then returned to Bombay for export to our facility in the USA.

S. I. Opal Ovals

When the final product arrives in the US, it is sorted for different grains of crystal growth before it is sent to Azotic Coating Technology, Inc. in Rochester MN for the final vapor deposition.

The patented Azotic® process is a proprietary procedure that combines different salts and elements at high heat for even distribution of colors and hues.  Once treated, the stones are then ready for outsource marketing in their perfected colors of cobalt blue, peacock blue green and green blue hues,  S.I. Opal and other shade variations.

Anil B. Dholakia, Inc. is a respected manufacturer and supplier of wholesale quantity Drusy Quartz loose gemstones.    Calibrated sizes available in Azotic® designer colors  including  S.I. Opal and vibrant Cobalt Blue.  Visit our Wholesale Gem & Jewelry website to learn more.

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New Blue Sapphire – Nepal’s Kyanite

Kashmir Blue Kyanite

Nepal's Kyanite

Everyone is looking for the rich velvety blue Kashmir Sapphire gem.

Yes!  We have an alternative solution:  Nepal’s Kyanite.

The name “kyanite” comes from the Greek “kyanos“, meaning “blue,” the common colour of the species.  Oftentimes the rich Kashmir blue color is mistaken for sapphires.  So much so that  in the past, unscrupulous dealers in India have sold it as sapphire in set jewelry to the unsuspecting tourist.

Kyanite is a rare gemstone and is only available in small supply.  It’s yield is  3% to 5% and supplies are finite as mines do run out of production.  Also, because this Kashmir Blue Kyanite is from Nepal, the political situation there makes it very difficult and expensive to get it to the cutters.

The cutting of Kyanite is very difficult because it comes in blades and three (3) hardnesses.  It is tricky to polish as well.  We have found a few “expert” cutters who can skillfully cut and polish this rare gemstone – providing us with a select inventory of beautifully cut loose gemstones and cabochons in addition to our accumulated stock of fine quality rough.

Current loose Kyanite gemstone stock includes:  Oval and Emerald shapes in 8x 6, 9 x 7 and 10 x 8 sizes; Rounds in 6mm, 8mm and some 10mm; and a selection of large stones in free sizes and cuts.   Anil B. Dholakia, Inc. is currently offering this rare gem at $50 (USD) per carat.

Physical and Optical Properties of Kyanite

  • Chemical Formula: Al2OSiO
  • Lustre: Vitreous, Pearly
  • Diaphaneity (Transparency): Transparent, Translucent
  • Colour: Blue, white, green, yellow, orange, pink
  • Streak: Colourless
  • Hardness (Mohs): 5½ – 7
  • Comment: 5.5 parallel to [001], 7 parallel to [100]
  • Cleavage: Perfect on (100), good on (010)
  • Fracture: Splintery
  • Density (measured): 3.53 – 3.65 g/cm3
  • Density (calculated): 3.67 g/cm3
  • Optical Properties: Transparent to translucent.
  • Color: Blue, white, rarely green, gray, yellow,pink, black, can be zoned; colorless to pale blue in thin section.
  • Luster: Vitreous to pearly.
  • Optical Class: Biaxial ({).
  • Pleochroism: Weak; in thick sections.


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Rare Fibrolite: Cat’s Eye Sillimanite

India’s multiple gem producing wonderland – Orissa – is yielding another gem-quality colored stone which is highly valued due to it’s rarity:  Sillimanite Cat’s Eye.

Sillimanite Cat's Eye

Some pieces of this rarity have reached museums and a few are treasured by proud collectors.  These stones were never earlier available for commercial use in jewelry.  They were previously found in Sri Lanka and Burma.  The stone has a hardness of 7.0 to 7.5 and a specific gravity of 3.24.  Now found in Orissa, the sharp cat’s eye producing gemstone is coming to the market in white, gray and black shades.  This gem is very difficult to manufacture due to peculiar characteristics of layering out while shaping  – a unique condition that causes  the yield and the size of stones to be very low.   These cat’s eye cabochons may be required to keep a slightly heavy bottom.

When this correspondent visited Orissa to observe the site where people are exploring, I found that most of the material coming out was very small in size — which ultimately is wastage.  The cat’s eye cabs for commercial use are available up to 5 carat pieces only.  Sizes from 5 cts. and above may not be enough for collectors and museums.  At the time of this writing this article (1995), Cat’s Eey Sillimanite was coming of out from one small area.  And there were concerns that the unscientific manner of exploration would further reduce the availability of big size pieces of this rare gemstone.

When asked about the stone and its prospects, Badri Modi of Modi Exports House told the Journal that it may be a relatively better replacement for Chrysoberyl Cat’s Eye it has good hardness, a sharp cat’s eye, and can be cut without inside cracks — something uncommon in very expensive chrysoberyl.

Another gemsman, Rajendra Bardia of Bardia Exports, welcoming the discovery said, “I have seen the rarity from Orissa.  It’s a beautiful stone with fine appearance due the sharp cat’s eye and good hardness.”  He added, “The prospects of this stone are very high and I am sure its finished gems will sell like hot cakes in the world market, strengthening its position progressively.”

This informative article below is reproduced by the courtesy of the Journal of Gem Industry, Jaipur, India:

by Mrs. Shymala Fernandese, Gemologist

December 1992 saw an introduction of yet another “new find” from Orissa within the rough gem trading circles in Jaipur.  Initially, it was sold as a “moonstone cat’s eye” rough, but as the finished goods were made available, it started selling as “Cat’s Eye” rough.  Meantime, a number of specimens – both rough and finished – ewre examined and identified as Sillimanite Cat’s Eye (Fibrolite) at the Gem Testing Laboratory, Jaipur.

Sillimanite is a metamorphic mineral, polymorphous with Andalusite and Kyanite — ie. basically an Aluminum Silicate.  Sillimanite is indicative of high stress and temperature conditions produced from originally argillaceous rocks.  It is usually found in gneisses and schists associated with Corundum, Zircon, Almandite, Andalusite, Cordierite (Iolite) and Quartz.  It occurs as fibrous aggregates (hence the name Fibrolite) as well as long slender prismatic crystals.

The new gem quality from Orissa ranges from transparent to translucent.  It is colorless, gray, honey-brown, light yellow and green, pinkish-brown, and blue-green with almost all the material giving a well defined and sharp cat’s eye effect and a strong vitreous luster.  Facetting grade as well as cabochon grade rough is available in sizes ranging from 3 carats to over 25 carats in the rough stone.

Physical and Optical Properties

  1. Crystal System – Orthohombic
  2. Cleavage – Perfect, easy one direction.  Cleavage parallel to one pair of prism faces.
  3. Hardness – 6.5 to 7.5 (generally less than 7) for fibrous material.
  4. Specific Gravity – 3.23 – 3.27, 3.16+/- 0.02 (for dense compact, jade-like material).
  5. Optic Character/ Sign – Biaxial positive.
  6. Refractive Index/Dr. – 1.658 – 1.678, 0.020  1.64-1.66 (for less compact material).
  7. Pleochroism – Strong trichroism in deeper colored stones.
  8. Dispersion – Low 0.015.
  9. U.V. –  Weak pinkish-red.

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Timeless Observations About the Gem Market

As a gem merchant since 1950, I buy and sell precious and semi-precious gemstones from all over the world.  Below is a reprint of a June 1995 article I wrote describing my observations about some of the gem markets at that time.   While prices have certainly changed over the last 15 years, these observations about the factors that influence gem prices remain as they have always been – valid and useful.

Reprinted from “The Gem News” – June 1995 – by Anil B. Dholakia:

Please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Anil Dholakia and I have been in the gem and precious gemstone business for approximately 45 years.  I would like to share my observations about some of the markets that I have done business in during the last 45 years.  During that time frame, many new gemstones have come and gone.  I have noticed a number of factors that can contribute to this.  One such factor is the fact that sometimes the deposits become depleted.  Another factor includes geo-political conditions that can affect the prices of gemstones.

When I was in my 20’s, I started visiting Far Eastern gem sources and traveled to Thailand, Burma, Indonesia and  had an extended stay in Japan during the 1950’s.  The Japanese market was young and most of the jewelry was made of pearls and some white gold.  Some opal, jade and amethyst was also used; however, there were no colored gemstones being used in Japan to make jewelry.  Now it is one of the largest gemstone markets in the world.

During this period, Burma was under various socialist/communist regimes which was the main reason why there few gemstones coming out of this area.  One good example of a gemstone increasing in value was in the late 1950’s when Jade was becoming scarce in the United States.

Another example of gemstones increasing in price includes Kunzite.  Back in the early 1950’s, Kunzite could be obtained from Brazil for as little as 25 cents per carat.  Good Kunzite now sells for $35 to $50 per carat.

Of course everyone is now familiar with the increasing value of Tanzanite — which back in the 1960’s could be had for about $2 to $3 per carat in commercial quanity.  Now Tanzanite can sell for up to $200 to $500 per carat.

Iolite was not even on the market back in the 1960’s.  The only people who bought Iolite were collectors who purchased the gemstone for themselves.  Back then, Iolite sold for about 25 cents a carat.    A good Iolite now is in the range of $50 per carat and above.

Alexandrite is another exmaple of gemstone that rocketed skyward in terms of price.  When Alexandrite first came out, it was considered only semi-precious.  It has now become one of the rarest and most expensive gemstones in the world.

Demantoid Garnet is another example of a gemstone that has become rare and very expensive. Back when Demantoid was not considered rare or precious, it was used in the United Kingdom in silver jewelry during the last century.  It is not an extremely valuable and expensive gemstone – often bringing anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per carat.

It is not hard to see that there is a pattern here.

Anyone who has dealt in selling gemstones for profit and replacing their inventory can tell you that this story repeats itself over and over again.  The gemstones you used to buy ten years ago at 25 cents per carat cannot be had for less than $25 per carat.  It happens over and over again.

Some other factors that affect the prices of gemstones are:

  1. Demand for the gemstone.
  2. Acceptance of the gemstones from one or another major world markets (Asia, Europe, USA).
  3. In many cases, a particular mine or deposit will become depleted with a 5 to 10 year period.
  4. Political conditions inside a producing country can change.

These different forces alone or in combination with one another have almost always had the effect of pushing the price of a particular gemstone(s) upward for as long as anyone can remember.

More information about Rare and Collectible Gems is available on our business website –

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