Picture Stones

on . Posted in About Opal

Scene Stones, Fun Stones & Cameos

 Active Image
Pattern is undoubtedly what makes Opal such an interesting and most dazzling gemstone.

Stones within which images can be seen are very rare, they are well sought after by collectors worldwide.

Below are a collection of natural solid Opals all have been simply cut and polished without any engraving performed by the lapidary.


Active Image Active Image Active Image
Active Image Active Image Active Image

Active Image

Active Image

Active Image

1.'Picasso's Man'

4. 'Hercules'

7. 'R'

2. 'Seaside Panorama'

5. 'Prawn'

8. 'Fern' pattern

3. 'El Gato'

6. 'Rose'

9. Madonna & Baby Jesus

Sometimes the scene or picture is somewhat subjective perhaps resembling modern art, but other times its clearly a cat!

While every Opal has a unique pattern, there are seven categories of patterns that all Opals fit within: Pinfire, Flash, Broad Flash, Rolling Flash, Harlequin, Rare Patterns and Picture Stones. Over 90% of stones have Flash and Broad Flash patterns.

Rare Patterns: Highly collectible in Opal, they only seldom appear and even experts will see very few examples throughout a career in the industry. These include the phenomena of Chatoyancy and Asterism, that is Catseyes and Star Opal, an organically derived 'Fern' pattern (8) is another. Often given interesting names which may also vary widely, like 'Chinese Writing' or the famed 'Harlequin' - a rare pattern indeed! Carefully defined, Harlequin Opal has square or angular patches that can be seen at arms length. Floral and Flagstone patterns are often mistaken for Harlequin yet they are not nearly as rare. An expert can expect to see one or two in their lifetime at best.

Picture Stones: Opals which create a picture with their pattern, sometimes in conjunction with inclusions, that reminds us of a specific object. Whereas rare patterns may be repeated periodically, picture stones are more varied and they are given names which reflect this.


‘Hercules’ a matrix picture stone found at Opalton in discarded mullock heaps on the fossicking reserve by Colin Duff c.1991. Pictured next to several possible likenesses, Hercules wearing the lions head, Freud’s thinking man, and a Spanish Conquistador.

Fun Stones: Low to medium grade Opals of considerable size, usually varieties of Boulder Opal; Yowah nuts, matrix, splits, slabbed or sectioned sets and specimens. Potch, ironstone and scene-like inclusions, which the lapidary would otherwise remove when cutting a gemstone, are retained in the face of the polished article. From such stones often more subjective or imaginative pictures can be interpreted and each person may see different things within them.


Active Image Active Image  
 Active Image Active Image  

Structure Lines: Lines in an Opal where the internal structure of the Opal, the size and/or alignment of the silica spheres, has changed. Not cracks. These often provide the basis for unique designs or patterns as seen in picture stones. They also provide the outlines for carvers to follow on from with their craft. 

Cameos: Carved out of gem materials with integral layers or banding, such as banded agate, shell or Opal of every variety, preferably where different layers have contrasting colours.

Stone cameos of great artistry were made in ancient Greece as far back as the 6th century BC. This carving technique features a raised (positive) relief image and as opposed to the 'intaglio' method which has a negative relief image. Both technologies were also used to adorn the world’s first coinage issued around that time. Cameos were populary worn as jewelry by the Romans and a few rare Opal cameos are attributable to the period. Cameos have since enjoyed periodic revivals, notably in the early Renaissance and during Napoleon’s reign. Queen Victoria was a major proponent of the cameo trend to the extent that they would become mass produced by the second half of the 19th century.

Active Image Active Image Active Image

Hand-worked portrait cameos are extremely challenging for a gemstone carver to execute. Very few crasftspeople possess the combination of skill, highly developed artistic ability, and years of experience needed to create life-like portraits. The world centers for fine cameo carving are Torre del Greco in Italy and Idar Oberstein in Germany where the majority of fine opaline examples were made.

Opal is a relative newcomer to the carver’s stock of materials. German carver Wilhelm Schmidt (1845-1938), who set up in England to meet demand for cameos from top London jewellers (including revivalists Brogden, Castellani and Giuliano), documented that he was the first to carve Opal into cameos in 1874. In a letter to A. Booth he wrote that he invented a process of cutting Opal cameos in such a way as to utilize the matrix of the rough Opal for the ground colour and emphatically insisted that no antique or fifteenth century Opal cameos existed. Schmidt carved his cameos from the newly discovered Boulder Opal variety found in Queensland Australia in the early 1870’s. Schmidt’s Opal cameos were exhibited in the 1878 Paris Exhibition by John Brogden and received a gold medal. They were acclaimed by the Paris DailyTelegraph in a June 12, 1878, news story about the exhibition:

Mr Brogden shows a neck ornament which in its nature is unique. The gems in this beautifully designed piece of decoration are camei, each being cut from an opal or the matrix of an Opal. Now, to appreciate the delicacy of such a carving, it must be remembered that the iridescence of this curious stone is due to the minute fractures by which its entire substance is traversed, just as though it had been shivered by some natural shock. As may well be imagined, the splintered formation of the Opal renders it an exceedingly impracticable stone to cut; and though here and there a carved or engraved Opal may be met with, this kind of workmanship is so rare that a cameo necklace must be accounted a wonder of wonders in the jeweller’s art.

Nowadays, the vast majority of subjects (other than commissioned portraits) are not carved by hand, the traditional themes of classical scenes from mythology or a standard image of a young lady, are more likely to be made with the aid of an ultrasonic mill or carving machine. Multiple copies of a master design can be produced relatively quickly, by pressing a master die onto the stone blank. The result is a cameo that has a satin surface texture described as "freshly fallen snow", by gemmologist and author Anna Miller. This texture and the lack of any undercutting are used by appraisers as evidence to prove that a cameo is machine-made.

Assembled cameos, made by setting a carved Opal relief onto a backing of ironstone are mass produced in Hong Kong, just like doublets they can be readily identified.

Sources & Image Credits:

1-3. 'Picasso's Man' & 'Seaside Panorama' set by Christopher Green & 'El Gato': set by Les Cichonski all for the bolda collection

4. Colin Duff - 'Hercules'

5. 'Prawn' boulder Opal photo by Len Cram

6. Jerry Doktor - 'The Rose'

7. 'R' Rocky Carbone Collection rocciopals.com, photo taken by opalhut.com.au

8. 'Fern' pattern, Opal Identification & Value, Paul Downing, 2001.

9. 'Madonna & Baby Jesus'(pictured:77.64cts) and sister Boulder Opal split 'The Blessing' (130cts) both in the collection of Opaline.

10. Ran Opal - Traditional Japanese art work on Boulder Fun Stones; bejewel.co.jp/en/

11. bolda Aquatica range

12. bolda Luli range

13. 'Peacock' jewel created by John Iskenderian, carving by Opaline, photo by Stephen Aracic

14. Opal Cameo carved in Idar Oberstein on the cover of Cameos Old & New, 3rd Ed., Anna M. Miller, 2003. (William Schmidt & John Brogden)

15. Carved Opal faces set in a jet collier by Charlotte de Sylas.

16. Natural Boulder Opal Cameo c.1900

17. THE ENGRAVED GEMS OF CLASSICAL TIMES, John Henry Middleton. 1891.




Sue-White opals29 June 2013
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Thank you for your email and membership.
It is great to know that you are out there promoting Australia's National gemstone & NSW emblem.
Keep up the good work, I love your concept.
Sue White - Orana Glitz & Glamour Extravaganza Inc Assn.

15 march 2013
Hi Peter,
Colourful characters are key,
your Facebook page and the photos look like there are some fantastic people!
We loved the look of Tarzan of Opalton.
Gemma Brady - Boundless productions.tv

Alexander fink.PhysicsPHD opal28 Nov 2012
I would like to welcome your information page on opal,
with detailed information about nearly everything their is to know in a general term.
Alexander Fink PhD - Dept. of Physics La Trobe University

5 August 2010
Hi from another opal lover.
Just wanted to say I love your site, a wealth of information.
I always send people to your page for opal info.
Kind Regards
Sean Tapner - Planet Opal

8 july 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Will be recommending your website as a primary reference to 15 Macquarie Uni media students who will be doing a PR project for us as part of their assessment soon.
Best wishes
Renata - Opalminded

Opalminded recommend opalsinformation6 June 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent, 
Greetings from Opal Minded In Sydney.
We are all very impressed with your website – one of the best things that has happened to this Industry for a long time. 
We would love to share it with the visitors to our website. 
Would you mind If we post with us links to your website, 
also on our facebook and twitter. 
Best wishes
Renata, John, Nelly, Fabrice and Summer

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 
Good Morning,
I have just found your wonderful website.
I produce a monthly e-newsletter which is circulated to the Tourism businesses in Coober Pedy and neighbouring stations plus the Info Centres around SA & the NT.
I wondered if I could use some of your Opal info in my October Edition (Opal Month), mainly the parts in your “About Opal” section – names, spiritual info etc.
I would obviously reference it to your website noting the address so others could read your site. 
Sandra Harris
Tourism Officer - Coober Pedy Information Centre

5 April 2010
I am wanting to use your site in an assignment as it is a superb example
of a site to use for a primary teaching unit on gemstones.
Many thanks,