The ‘Flame Queen’ gem highlights June at Bonhams & Butterfields

On June 22, Bonhams & Butterfields will offer perhaps the most famous and recognizable opal in the world. Dubbed the Flame Queen, the legendary stone highlights the core of an opal collection on offer this summer in the auctioneer’s first simulcast Natural History sale in seven years.

Extraordinary not only for its large size (263.18 carats), but also for its unusual shape and color pattern, the Flame Queen is one of only a handful of large museum-quality opals known to man; even fewer have ever been offered at public auction. The Flame Queen is oval in shape with a flat central dome surrounded by a blue-green band – lending it the appearance of a fried egg.

The gem could bring as much as $250,000, sought after by collectors and connoisseurs alike. It is one of the most prominent examples of the eye-of-opal effect, which is created when an opal in-fills a cavity. A truly magnificent stone, the Flame Queen possesses the ability to change color when viewed from different angles.

According to Bonhams & Butterfields’ consulting gemologist Claudia Florian, the Flame Queen opal was discovered in 1914 at the Bald Hill Workings in Lightning Ridge, Australia by three partners: Jack Phillips, Walter Bradley and Joe Hegarty.

Bradley was the most skilled lapidary of the three partners and was therefore responsible to polish and cut the rough stone. His labors produced a brilliant red-domed raised center surrounded by a strong expanse of green-blue border. Exhausted and broke, the miners sold the stone in 1914 to a gem buyer for a reported £93. At auction in 2008, the Flame Queen is estimated to bring $150,000-$250,000 on June 22 at Bonhams & Butterfields. Its historic provenance should add some further appeal to an already aesthetic piece – it was on display in London at the coronation of King George VI in 1934.

Auction previews open to the public June 13-15 in Los Angeles and continue in San Francisco June 20-22, daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until the start of the auction.

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