History of Slovak Opal

The beginnings of Slovak opal

The history of Slovak opal begins with a curious piece of information — some say that the gemstone was known to the Romans. There is no evidence to support this claim, though, but what we do know is that the historical trade relations between the region of today's eastern Slovakia and the Roman Empire existed.

History of Slovak Opal Yophine mineralogical sample

Slovak opal's presence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Several museums possess artifacts containing a tiny piece of precious opal from the Middle Ages, but it cannot be determined unambiguously if the small gems originate from Červenica.

According to a document found in the Austrian State Archives in Vienna, the first opal was found all the way back in 1523. The Hungarian National Archives in Budapest have another interesting document describing the mining of mercury ore near Červenica. This isn't the only reason the document is valuable, though — it also mentions Libanka Hill for the first time in writing.

All art forms bloomed during the Renaissance, so it comes as no surprise that pendants become a fashion statement back in the day. Some of those pieces decorated with precious opals and other gems are preserved in several museums.

The most famous piece is the one John Zápolya, the king of Hungary, allegedly gifted to his wife, Isabella Jagiellon, on their wedding day.

It is also a well-known fact that Rudolph II, besides many other natural and historical curiosities, also possessed opals that were obtained from the Červenica locality.

Opal from Dubnik — post-Renaissance appearances

Jean Baptista Tavernier, a well-known gem merchant, recorded in 1676 that there was an opal mine in Hungary, emphasizing it was a one-of-a-kind locality in the entire world at the time. Today, we can say with utmost certainty he referred to Červenica.

The "opal fever" of the 18th century

In the early 17th century, in service of Rudolph II, Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt studied the gemstone and described it closely. His description matches that of the stone we today call opal from Dubnik.

The first groundbreaking study of Hungarian opals and their deposits at Dubnik appeared in 1777 and was done by Christopf Traugott Delius. The growing volume of circulating gems attracted the attention of the Imperial Court in Vienna officials, which resulted in a ban on opal extraction.

Between 1785 and 1790, the State explored the opal deposits at its own cost. Afraid of losing the heavy investment in opal mining, the State ultimately offered the land for rent. This step was crucial since, through private entrepreneurs and subsequently the French Court jewelers, precious opulent opal parures got into the hands of Napoleon's wives, Joséphine and Marie Louise. It is also known that Napoleon's opponent, Lous XVIII, had some opals from the Červenica locality as well.

Yophine History gem

The golden age of Slovak opal in the 19th century

As time went on, the State required all leaseholders to adhere to the mining methods and the contract conditions more severely. Paired with the steep rise of annual fees, there was a seven-year halt in opal mining between 1823 and 1830.

Once the State realized how unfavorable the leasing conditions had been, it allowed Gabriel Fejérváry, a new leaseholder, to obtain a lease for 15 years.

The Goldschmidts as leaseholders

From the 1840s onward, J. Goldschmidt and his son Salomon were buying a big portion of the opal production. Salomon leased the opal mines for 25 years, beginning in 1845. Six years later, in 1851, at the World Fair in London, he came forth with a large gem he called the Opal Mount.

After his passing, his widow Emilie took over the business. After selling the precious gemstones to solvent visitors at the World's Fairs in London and Paris and to Queen Victoria's jewelers, Emilie had enough resources to extend the lease for another 10 years.

Since 1870, Salomon and Emilie's son, Louis, had taken entrepreneurship in Červenica over. The presentation of opals at the World Fair in Vienna in 1873 resulted in Louis’s ennoblement and, subsequently, he was allowed to add "Libanka," as a noble predicate, to his name.

The Eggers as leaseholders

The Eggers became a new leaseholder of the mines in 1880. Their first lease lasted for 10 years in total. In 1881, at the wedding of Stéphanie of Belgium and Prince Rudolph, they made a parure for the bride that was decorated with more than 300 opals.Today, this parure can be found in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna.

The Eggers terminated their second lease in 1896, which led the State to take over the mines. Unfortunately, it didn't manage to match the successes of private entrepreneurs, which resulted in the precious opals being accumulated in safe vaults in Budapest. At the time, Australian opal started gaining popularity and got more attention than Slovak opal.

Largest opal revealed

In 1889, perhaps the largest opal bonanza was unearthed in the Libanka mine and described in detail in writing. No larger discovery was recorded in writing either before or after 1889.

Slovak opal in post-WWI times

Shortly after World War 1 and the demise of the Kingdom of Hungary, Czechoslovakia sought to save the opal mines. After long peripeties, a contract was drawn with a French consortium in 1922. The new entrepreneur terminated the contract shortly afterward, though, and opal mining ceased.

Nonetheless, the opal reserves in Libanka continued to attract entrepreneurs’ attention. Since 1922, there had been several unsuccessful attempts to resume mining.

Recent history of Slovak opal

The most promising attempt began in the 1990s. Until 2005, it was unclear how much opal was left in the mines. A new report on opal resources revealed there were still enough gems to be extracted. Despite the good news, mining was resumed only in 2012. Since then, mining has been just an occasional occurrence. All opals are gathered from the rock that was extracted in the past.

In 2016, the geographical designation Slovak Opal for gems originating from the Červenica locality was formally registered on a national level (Industrial Property Office of the Slovak Republic) and on an international level (The World Intellectual Property Organization).

The value of Slovak opal

Precious opal deposits have always sparked scientific interest, and due to the exceptional nature and beauty of the stone, this will not change. Considering just how rare it is, Slovak opal's popularity is on the rise — its value may even appreciate over time.

With such rich history and cultural significance, pieces featuring Slovak opals are jewelry connoisseurs' prized possessions.