Australian-based company Opal Horizon Limited aims to corporatize Australiaâ€™s opal industry and introduce the rare, multi-coloured precious stone to the worldâ€™s luxury jewellery market.
It wants to transform the opal industry in a similar way that De Beers did with diamonds and requires investment of around Aus$10 million to achieve that goal.
The funds will provide working capital to expand Australian operations and develop overseas markets. As such around $6 million will be used to purchase opals from existing miners around Australia to supplement production from its own mines.
Opal is a precious gemstone worth up to Aus$30,000 per carat at retail prices and Australia produces about 95% of the worldâ€™s precious opal.
It has been produced from a number of opal mining centres in remote areas of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia by small-scale syndicates, families or individuals. Almost all opal sold in Australia is purchased by tourists.
Opal Horizonâ€™s managing director David Horton says the industry must re-brand itself to survive and thrive. â€œThe industry must be consolidated and must reach much wider markets.
â€œWe need to re-brand opals and you just canâ€™t do that slowly, itâ€™s got to happen now. We need to establish a partnership with an overseas jewellery manufacturing group to make it happen.â€
He explains that up until now Opal Horizon has had steady growth in Australia over some years but it has reached a point where it has to go overseas to achieve its aims, which must happen sooner rather than later.
â€œWe produce opals from two mines in western Queensland but had we decided to take the steady route, it could be another 5 or 6 years before we develop enough mines to supply the world with enough opal at the level we want.
â€œTourist numbers have been down and Australian opal miners have had difficulty selling their stone. This is the ideal time to consolidate the industry.
â€œWe see ourselves as the De Beers of the opal industry where in the short term we purchase most stone from other miners. This gives us time to build up our mining properties so that in 5-7 years, weâ€™ll be less dependent on other miners although we will probably always continue doing that.â€
David Horton says there have been a number of attempts by the industry over many years to consolidate or act as a unified body but with so many diversified groups involved it has been impossible to achieve. â€œIt appears the only way forward is for someone like us to come long and say â€˜OK we can be the central clearing house for most of Australiaâ€™s opal going overseasâ€™.
â€œWe are currently talking with overseas jewellery manufacturing groups for our markets although we see that new investors are likely to be people or groups who are based overseas but with strong connections to Australia where they have investments or do business. In addition they are likely to be associated in some way to the jewellery industry.
â€œOne of the avenues we are investigating is the fashion industry. There are a number of Australian players who love opals and love promoting opals. I hope to meet with them to see what we can do.â€
He says that Australians generally do not appreciate the value of home-grown products. â€œIf there had been competition in other parts of the world rather than opals being largely restricted to one continent, Iâ€™m sure the industry would have taken off.â€
David Horton says there is a perception overseas that opal is a tourist stone. â€œYou come to Australia and you buy an opal to take home. We need to get away from that image.
â€œI took some high quality opals to the Middle East last year and jewellers were stunned. A few had never seen stones like that and agreed there is a market but primarily at the top end.
â€œSome Australian jewellers have used our top quality opal to prepare some luxury jewellery for us and you only have to show these pieces to the right audience and the message about opal and its possibilities is obvious.â€
He says there is a perception in parts of Asia that opal is a semi-precious stone when, in fact, itâ€™s rarer than diamonds. â€œThe reason is that Australian miners have sent low quality material to these places to be cut with the result that the markets consider opal to be of low quality because they donâ€™t see the high-end product.
â€œIâ€™m hoping we can do a deal with a major jewellery manufacturer in South East Asia that regularly attends international trade shows where our material can be sold to jewellers around the world. We are also undertaking preliminary work on a major international brand marketing campaign which will be similar, in some respects, to what Paspaley did with pearls.
â€œOpal tends to create its own demand and whenever there is oversupply, the price goes up but when there is a deficiency, it goes down. Once jewellers start getting the material they want more and the material creates its own demand. With opals being rare, prices should be much higher than they are but because of the false perception of low quality, prices are lower than they should be.
David Horton says there is also a perception that opals are unstable.
â€œOpals contain about 6% water and they do require a little care. The worse thing you can do is put them in a sealed bank vault because over time they may dry out and crack. They are stable for incredibly long periods of time if left exposed to the atmosphere but if you mistreat them, like any other gemstone, they will get damaged.â€
Opal Horizon wound back operations at the end of 2008 owing to the global financial situation and the need to preserve cash but has recently started mining on a small scale and is ready to ramp-up operations.
â€œOnce we are full cashed up we expect to be run off our feet. We have people in place to buy opals, we have geologists ready to go out exploring again and with our own drill rig, and we have two mines to get up to full production so everything is waiting for this to happen.â€
For further information contact Opal Horizon Ltd managing director David Horton, phone +61 7 3839 5088, mobile +61 428 991 950 or email [email protected]
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