Giant Opal Kept in Linen Closet Sells at Auction for $125K

Sellers' target price for 'Americus Australis' was $250K to $350K
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 19, 2022 7:30 AM CST
Updated Feb 20, 2022 4:00 PM CST
Giant Opal That's Been Kept in Linen Closet Set for Auction
Dan Newman, left, the founder of Alaska Premier Auctions and Appraisals, and Nick Cline, a business partner, pose on Friday in Anchorage, Alaska, with the "Americus Australis," thought to be one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence.   (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

(Newser) Update: One of the largest opals in the world sold at auction Sunday for $125,000—the minimum the auction company had set for bids. That price was a "calculated risk," the Alaska auction house said, intended to be low enough to draw heavy interest from prospective buyers. The sellers were trying to bring in more like $250,000 to $350,000, the AP reports. Our original story from Friday follows:

Nick Cline gets calls about all kinds of items people want to sell through the Anchorage auction house where he works. But he was caught off guard by a call he got last fall from a man saying he had "one of the largest opals in the world." "I was extremely skeptical but extremely excited," said Cline, a partner and appraisal specialist with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals. According to the auction house, the opal, dubbed the "Americus Australis," weighs more than 11,800 carats and is one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence. It also has a long history, per the AP. Most recently, it was kept in a linen closet in a home in Big Lake, north of Anchorage, by Fred von Brandt, who mines for gold in Alaska and whose family has deep roots in the gem and rock business.

The opal is larger than a brick and is broken into two pieces, which von Brandt said was a practice used decades ago to prove gem quality. Von Brandt said the stone has been in his family since the late 1950s, when his grandfather bought it from an Australian opal dealer named John Altmann. Von Brandt said the opal for decades was in the care of his father, Guy von Brandt, who decided it had been "locked up long enough, that it's time to put it back out in the world and see what interest it can generate." "He entrusted me to figure out which direction we wanted to go to part with the stone," von Brandt said. The family, with roots in California, exhibited the stone at gem shows for years, until the early 1980s, he said. His father then branched out into furniture and displayed it at his shop.

Guy von Brandt eventually moved to Oregon and kept the stone "kind of tucked away" for many years, von Brandt said. Von Brandt said he brought it with him to Alaska more than a year ago as he weighed the best approach to a possible sale. Cline said the family has documentation surrounding the provenance of the opal. As part of his research, he contacted Fiona Altmann, John Altmann's granddaughter and general manager of Altmann + Cherny in Sydney, Australia. A spokesperson for the Gemological Institute of America said they couldn't comment on the opal as they hadn't seen it. The auction house said the gem was discovered in the same Australian field as the "Olympic Australis" opal, which weighs 17,000 carats. The auction company is seeking minimum bids of $125,000 during the auction, which is set for Sunday, with a targeted sales price of $250,000 to $350,000, per Cline.

(Read more gems stories.)

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