JUNEAU, ALASKA —
A gemstone, billed as one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence, was sold for US$143,750 at auction in Alaska on Sunday.
The opal, dubbed the “Americus Australis,” weighs more than 11,800 carats, according to the auction house Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals. It also has a long history.
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 told The Associated Press.
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 over a year ago as he weighed the best approach to a possible sale. He said he went with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals because he thought it would get more attention from the newer company than a larger auction house. The sale is set for Sunday.
Nick Cline, a partner and appraisal specialist with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals, said the family has documentation surrounding the provenance of the opal. As part of his research, he contacted Fiona Altmann, granddaughter of John Altmann and general manager of Altmann + Cherny in Sydney, Australia.
Altmann said her grandfather, in his business dealings, made regular trips to Europe and the U.S.
Altmann said when Cline emailed her, she was skeptical; the name of the stone, in particular, threw her. But she said she started digging and discovered “something with my grandfather’s handwriting with the picture of the opal with the word `Americus Australis.”‘
“I with 100% certainty know that their provenance information is 100% accurate” because it lines up with information she has, she said.
The auction house said the stone was discovered in the same field in Australia as the opal known as the “Olympic Australis,” which weighs 17,000 carats and is on permanent display in Altmann’s shop. The Olympic had been among the stones that John Altmann and partner Rudi Cherny acquired in 1956, according to Altmann’s company.
The auction company sought a minimum bid of $125,000 during Sunday’s auction. Cline said it was a “calculated risk,” with the company going with what it sees as a conservative approach in hopes of garnering the most attention.
“We were honored to conduct the auction of this unique, one-of-a-kind specimen,” Cline said after the auction.
The sale includes a smaller piece of the opal that von Brandt said his father cut off to be worn or displayed.
Associated Press journalist Michelle A. Monroe contributed to this report from Phoenix.
This story has been updated to correct that the opal sold for $143,750 based on an updated figure from the auction house to include the buyer’s premium.