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Precious Opal

Natural History Museum Vienna
Natural History Museum Vienna

Opal.13 x 7 x 7 cm. Dubnik (Červenica), Slovakia. 1672.

At 594 grams, this precious opal is not only the largest from a European deposit, but also the most valuable gemstone in the Vienna collection.


70,000 GULDEN/500,000 EUROS
This enormous precious opal was allegedly found by a flint collector in a river bed near Dubnik (Červenica) in Slovakia in the 17th century. It ended up in the imperial treasury in Vienna before 1672. From there it was one of the first collection exhibits to be incorporated in the natural history cabinet of Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine. In the inventory it was listed as the world’s largest and most valuable opal. Its value was estimated to be 70,000 gulden (about 500,000 euros), whereas the gemstone bouquet was thought to be worth only 15,000 gulden. Today the latter would also have been worth about 450,000 euros. The opal pits in Červenica were probably even known by the Celts. At the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, this was the site of the only known precious opal deposit in the world. At the height of mining operations it employed over 350 miners and 13 cutters. The Vienna landscape painter Carl Hasch (Hall II) recorded the opal pits in an oil painting for the mineralogical collection of the NHM. Opals are still found in Červenica even to this day, but in greatly reduced quantities so that they are barely of any economic significance.Today the international market is dominated by Australian opals, which are generally far superior to those found at Červenica in both size and weight. However, Vienna’s precious opal is still a remarkable gemstone thanks to its intensive iridescent colors.

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Details

  • Title: Precious Opal
  • Rights: (c) NHM (Lois Lammerhuber)

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