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27 July 2001

Opal Extravaganza

Opal and designer opal jewellery worth millions of dollars will stun visitors to this week's Lightning Ridge Federation 2001 Opal Jewellery Design Awards and Exhibition, from Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 July.

A record number of 130 entries has been received in this year's international opal jewellery design competition, from countries including Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the United States, as well as from jewellery designers across Australia.

The Exhibition at Lightning Ridge and District Bowling Club will also include historic items such opal handled ceremonial scissors manufactured for the opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. The scissors have been loaned by NSW State Parliament for Lightning Ridge's celebration of the Centenary of Federation.

Off-beat items such the opal dentures once worn by Lightning Ridge identity. Harold Hodges will also feature at the opal exhibition.

Opal from NSW, South Australia and Queensland will be on display and for sale alongside the spectacular $30 million Solid Rainbow Collection of Lightning Ridge opal, which has recently been exhibited at Australia's new National Museum in Canberra.

A variety of gemstones, jewellery and other goods will also be sold at Lightning Ridge's Annual Opal and Gem Festival, running concurrently with the Opal Jewellery Design Awards and Exhibition. A highlight of the coming weekend will be a visit to Lightning Ridge by members of Australia's Olympic silver medal-winning women's basketball team, the Opals. The Opals' visit has been sponsored by individuals, associations and businesses within the Lightning Ridge community. The Opals will conduct a basketball training clinic in Lightning Ridge on Saturday afternoon, then model prizewinning opal jewellery at the Gala Wards Night on 28 July.

The Gala Awards night will also feature entertainment by jazz and swing legends Swing City (seen at the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony), and an auction of rare and collectible opal-related books.

A special treat at the Gala Awards will be the appearance of a spectacular dress made of black velvet and literally covered in opal, from each of Australia's main opal producing states. The dress made its debut at the Opal Symposium in Coober Pedy this year, and has been brought to Lightning Ridge by Sophia and John Provatidis.

Organisers say the Gala Awards night is already sold out, but that tickets are still available for the Awards Cocktail Party on Thursday 26 July at 6.30pm. The Cocktail Party will feature presentation of awards for the 2001 Opal Jewellery Design Award and viewing of the award-winning pieces, as well as fun with opal themed cocktails such as Harvey Jackhammers and Potchna Colourda. Opal is Australia's spectacular National Gemstone. It has always been mined by people of initiative and courage, and because of its rarity and sporadic distribution, is one of the very few minerals still prospected, mined, cut and sold by individuals rather than large companies.

This year's celebration of opal coincides with centenary celebrations for the Commonwealth of Australia, and also with 100 years of opal mining in Lightning Ridge. Old time opal miners are being invited back to Lightning Ridge to join with the opal industry of today and to recall times past.

Opal is the only gemstone that changes colour and pattern in the observer's hand.

Despite its beauty and its place in Australian history and culture and despite Australia producing over 95% of world opal supply few Australians appreciate, know the value of, or wear opal.The Federation 2001 Opal Jewellery Design Awards and Exhibition will finally show Australians their National Gemstone in its true light.

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