It’s called the Virgin Rainbow – perhaps referring to the first rainbow that signalled hope in the story of Noah and Utnapishtim before him – and it’s worth more than $1 million. This astounding geological specimen effuses a strikingly rich palette of vivid colours mingled through unique refraction. The Virgin Rainbow is composed out of a mix of silica and water, having formed over millions of years from the opalised fossils of colossal dinosaurs and marine creatures. The psychedelic colouration of this gemstone is shown as part of the South Australian Museum’s opals exhibition, used to celebrate 100 lucrative years of opal mining in sun-baked South Australia.
The Virgin Rainbow was plucked from a silica-rich region of Australia. Millions of years ago the island was covered by an inland sea populated by primordial marine dinosaurs. Today that same region is an arid desert responsible for 90% of the world’s fine opal supply. The harsher and more element-carved the terrain the more beautiful the naturally occurring gemstones seem to be. They really are a gift wrapped up in the ancient and often inexplicable force of nature. Hence the fact the exhibition has been publicised as an event that’s several million years in the making. The museum boasts a resplendent collection of flawless pieces, as well as a variety of other rough gems left embedded in formations of rock, along with beautiful fossils of long-necked plesiosaurs. The Virgin Rainbow itself was discovered in 2003 by John Dunstan, a seasoned Australian opal miner. Dunstan was mining near Coober Pedy, an isolated outback town renowned for yielding a high quantity of opals, where residents sleep in dank underground caverns and rickety dugouts. According to the stories Mr Dunstan found the Virgin Rainbow in an abandoned mineshaft. But it wasn’t until he took it home and began to polish it that its value became manifest. With his touch the muddiness cleared and fresh colour emerged with undimmed brilliance. In fact the opal became so bright that it began to glow in the dark. Dunstan, who’s acquired a 50 year wealth of experience cutting and polishing rough stones, claimed that it was the best he’d ever seen.