Incredible opals catch collectors’ eyes at Bonhams and Butterfields Natural History sale

Mother Nature’s art was celebrated at Bonhams & Butterfields’ Natural History auction on Sunday, June 22, 2008, where collectors, curators and enthusiasts spent more than $1 million for exotic gems and minerals, spectacular prehistoric fossils, remnants of dinosaurs, meteorites, and examples of Earth’s natural wonders.

Half of the auction’s top 10 lots featured an opal in mineral form or carved and polished. Top lot was the “Flame Queen” red on black opal (sold for $120,000) discovered in Australia circa 1915. The “Flame Queen,” had been exhibited at a London museum in 1937 during the coronation of George VI and illustrates multiple books written on opals.

Other opals generated strong bids, including an opal carving by the German sculptor Manfred Wild. Wild’s carving of a rooster sold for $72,000 to a Russian private collector. A three-inch-wide black opal encased in an iron nodule with an interior filled with brilliant facet-grade gem-quality opal sold for $60,000. A collection of fine opal cabochons collected in the 1970s sold for $24,000, while a nearly 1,400 carat polished light opal brought $19,200.

A Melo pearl from the saltwaters off Vietnam sold for $60,000; the 125-carat orange-hued pearl will become part of an Indonesian private collection. A brooch featuring a purplish-pink cultured pearl surrounded by 100 carats of morganite and black diamonds sold for $18,000. Other lots featuring rare and semi-precious stones designed into rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, sold within and above their estimates.

Within the sale’s décor section, a custom azure-malachite table displaying blue and green azurite veins in a natural stone matrix sold for $18,000. The table is considered both sculpture and furniture.

A complete slice of a space invader from Mars, a meteorite discovered in Africa, weighs nearly 1.3 grams and sold for $3,900, while a free-standing trilobite fossil retrieved from Russia sold for $6,600. A bidder paid $14,400 for a Russian cave bear skeleton, standing nearly 9 feet tall. A virtually complete Psittacosaur dinosaur skeleton mounted in a predatory pose sold for $13,200.

“The mineral section of this sale was the first effort on our part to feature world-famous opals and we’re delighted with the results of the special theme for summer,” says gemologist Claudia Florian of Bonhams. “Many clients have begun collections and institutional interest in the lots was strong – from far reaches of the globe.”

For more information visit