“I love opals! Especially the king of all opals, Lightning Ridge black opal. It flashes a full spectrum of color, a painter’s palette of blues, greens, reds and yellows, embedded in a rich dark matrix.”
John Ford’s passion for opals has catapulted him from wholesale opal dealer – he regularly visits and sources the gems from the mines in Lightning Ridge, Australia – to award-winning designer, capturing a remarkable eight Spectrum Awards since 2014, all featuring Lightning Ridge opals. “Opals talk to me. When I see the gem, I see the inspiration for the design.”
John recently shared with me his passion for this fascinating gem. “Lightning Ridge opals are unique, formed under an ancient sea bed. Over eons water filtered down carrying elements into voids in clay where opalization occurred and the unique kaleidoscope of color of Lightning Ridge was born. Once people experience the black Lighting Ridge opal, they’re captivated. Lightning Ridge opal jewelry is generational – long lasting, passed on for future generations to treasure.”
A fifth generation Galvestonian, John attended Texas A & M University studying maritime law, international trade and finance. Soon after graduating in 1983 he started importing and selling Italian gold chain. Encouraged by diamantaires, he quickly expanded to selling loose diamonds and designing jewelry. An older oil exploration and gem trader friend introduced him to Lightning Ridge opals. “No one knows about Lightning Ridge opals unless someone tells you and opens this door.”
They soon formed a short-term partnership buying rough from Australia and distributing in the US. John continued working with Lightning Ridge opal but concentrated mainly on diamonds. “I became close friends with an Aussie opal exporter who reignited my passion for black opal.” In 2009 another friend of John’s, diamantaire Ami Koret, pointed out the obvious to him and encouraged him to focus on opals. He founded the Lightning Ridge Collection, establishing his niche. (lightningridgecollection.com)
“We’re the only U. S. major Lightning Ridge opal manufacturer who goes to Australia and buys directly from the mines, ensuring transparency in the ethically sourced supply chain, an important consumer consideration, especially for Millennials. We have close friendships with the Australian local mining families. We both wholesale loose gems and manufacture for high end jewelry stores. We’re the largest manufacturer of Lightning Ridge opal in the U.S. in terms of carats set and probably in the top ten world-wide. Because of our source connections we make the impossible possible. If a client wants a large 10 carat red opal, we can source it. It may take a year but we can make it happen.”
What can John’s Lightning Ridge opals offer the retailer? His striking award-winning designs are ‘classic with a modern twist,’ ranging from traditional oval shapes to more organic free forms, an important emerging trend, often accented with diamonds in platinum or 18 karat gold. Prices range from MSRP $750-$200,000, with many pieces in the under $5,000 range.
“We can offer you something your competitors don’t have,” John shares. “We want to increase awareness of this incredible gem nationally. We offer strong partnerships with retailers. Because we source our gems directly there are no middlemen. Our prices are reasonable, our product exceptional. We offer trunk shows to qualified retailers and have no minimum purchase requirements for shows. We provide staff training and respect and seek local exclusivity arrangements. We don’t compete with you by selling directly from our website. If a customer contacts us where we don’t have an established retail partner, we refer them to a local area AGS or AGTA member retailer, often contacting the store directly and offering to send the piece to the store for the client…a ready-made sale!”
“It’s a family business.” John’s son Christopher has an “eye for opals.” He works with his father and is taking on more of the buying. And for fun? “I have a place in the hill country nearby. I’m a typical Texan. I like to fish and hunt and appreciate a good steak and nice bourbon.”
John takes a generational perspective. “An opal’s like a person. Treat it well and it lasts. If one’s in the family, everyone wants it. It’s a multi-generational gem – from a multi-generational family. Our family’s the 5th – and with my son, the 6th – generation on this island of Galveston.” From this seemingly isolated vantage point, the Lighting Ridge collection has emerged as a burgeoning worldwide business, sourcing Australian opals and promoting this remarkable gem nationally through award-winning design.
Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 100 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877-539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC, subscribe to her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/channel/UC2B-53XBuB_HD5-bofc5jAA