Hi, I'm Rose, designer, explorer and environmentalist. After 29 years travelling the world and a decade designing bespoke jewellery, I now run an ethical jewellery business using opals I've mined, cut and polished myself. Ask Me Anything!

Rose Ridgeway
Jun 7, 2018

My childhood was spent in Borneo, Indonesia on a research basecamp (see below!), so it was inevitable I became an environmentalist.

Combining this with a love of travelling, I explored the world and ended up (accidentally but fortuitously) on an Australian opal mine where I fell in love with opal.

This started a journey which had been ten years in the making...

I now run Cicely Cliff, which creates ethical luxury jewellery using sustainable materials including opals I helped to mine and then cut and polished myself!

There is a lot of mystery around opals and bespoke jewellery, not ot mention ethics and sustainability in the jewellery business. I'm here to help clear up some of the mystery around the subjects!

I'd love to answer questions about:

Opal and its myths

Opal mining

Ethics and sustainability in the jewellery business

Jewellery (tips, hints etc!)

Bespoke jewellery (process, creation, inspiration, how to start... anything)

Design questions!

Find out more about Cicely Cliff on social here:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

My family at the basecamp

Myself heading down the opal mine

Queensland opal

A Cicely Cliff Design.


Rose Ridgeway says:

This AMA will end Jun 14, 2018 10:30PM EDT

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What inspires you to create? Whether it be related to music, visual art, film — who or what lights your fire?
Jun 14, 1:41AM EDT0

This is actually a really interesting question as I don't get inspiration from music or film!

I am definitely a visual person however so I get inspiration from my surroundings, from people around me and sometimes from artworks. Living in Bali I am continuously surrounded by the most incredible talent - master wax carvers, master woodworkers, master painters and sculptors and so many artists on so many mediums - so it becomes a wave of continuous inspiration. I can see the texture of a ring in a wooden carving, or the angles of a pendant in the shadows playing on a sculpture - sometimes the outline of an idea for a  necklace from a Balinese dancers movement to gamelan.

I think inspiration comes from my reaction to my surroundings - it is continuous and influences come from the strangest places sometimes! Sometimes I will literally just see a reflection of something on the water and the mirrored image will be enough to make me begin designing a piece based on that :)

Jun 26, 11:47AM EDT0
Considering that you accept custom orders, what is one of the more unusual requests you’ve received?
Jun 14, 1:00AM EDT0

I'm not sure about unusual... Most of the requests that I've had have been fascinating but not unusual! Designs have gone from double faced cufflinks with a specific chain length to open based rings for a broken finger to super slim bracelets for tiny wrists - nothing out of the ordinary... Yet! I look forward to a challenge though!

Jun 26, 11:48AM EDT0
How difficult is it to mine opal? What techniques do you use for extraction and jewelry formation? Is there a cleaning process?
Jun 13, 5:27PM EDT0

Mining for opal is tough! FINDING it is hard enough, then once you find it, you have to dig it out (the miner with whom I worked spent almost 10 years with nothing but a pick and shovel... sometimes up to 25ft underground... And bear in mind you then have to manually pull the dug out dirt up to the surface using a bucket!).

Nowadays the majority of opal mining is done using machines. Now, I'm only talking about queensland boulder here as it differs to that which you would find in Coober Pedy or Lightning Ridge... :)

There is open cut mining done with big excavators which work from the surface down, and shaft mining (which was what I was helping on!). That involved getting a drill rig and drilling a hole about a meter across deep into the earth - down to 30ft deep - and then using a road drill to clear space.

Once you have the rock containing the opal, you would then need to slice it up using a diamond saw blade until you had cut off all the rough and worthless surrounding stone. You would then work through various grades of polishing wheels to cut, shape and polish the stone. This would be counted as the cleaning process as you get rid of unnecessary and valueless bits of outside stone in order to best display the precious opal inside.

In regards to jewelry formation, while I know it is weird to say, it is best to allow opal to become the shape it naturally forms into on the polishing wheels. Often attempting to force it into a specific shape can cause it to shatter or crumble as it might have a flaw or fissure in the stone which could not be seen from outside. Working with the natural shape of the stone allows these fissures and flaws to be removed so as to best show off the perfect stone inside!

Jun 26, 11:56AM EDT0
How do you relax or implement self-care in your life?
Jun 13, 3:27AM EDT0

I generally ensure that I always take Sundays off - I started by working every day and just burnt myself out!

I try to do absolutely nothing associated with work so spend it with friends, reading or down at the beach. I make sure I have at least one day a month where I am completely alone and can focus on myself, and often go somewhere I can be surrounded by nature, whether it be in the hills or down by the ocean, so as to relax without the encroachment of busy roads and lives rushing around me. 

Jun 25, 2:02AM EDT0
Does one need government permits to mine opal?
Jun 11, 5:28AM EDT0

Yes - all mining in Australia requires a permit, however it comes from the mining industry, which is a separate part of the government. You also need permission from the landowner (many mines are based on farming land) and to pay compensation yearly for the damage done to the land.

Jun 12, 4:46AM EDT0
Can you honestly say the jewelry is a good investment?
Jun 10, 5:56AM EDT0

Honestly?

Yes.

Jewelry is valued by the materials used to create it, so when you buy a piece, you are not just buying a design, you are getting the metal (brass, silver, gold, platinum etc) and the gemstones (opals, rubies, emeralds, pearls quartz etc etc !) as well.

This means that should you need to sell it - as long as you're not taking it to a pawn shop! - the value of the piece will be based on the quality of the materials, the amount of wear and tear on the item and where it comes from (if it is a known name).

As long as you take care of your jewelry, it will be a great investment - especially if you buy it from someone who later becomes known in the industry.The main thing to keep in mind however is that you DO need to take care of it - your opal ring will no longer be a good investment if you wear it climbing and scratch up the stone and dent the ring !

Jun 12, 4:47AM EDT0
How does it feel when you’re underground mining opal?
Jun 10, 3:26AM EDT0

It feels incredible! I loved being underground.

Mining underground is an eerie and almost meditative experience.

You leave the surface of the earth (which is hot and dusty and extremely bright) and climb down into what feels like the depths of the world. Some of the mines go down as far as 30 meters - almost 100 feet. As you climb down you see the colours of the earth change as different types of earth settled - some ironstone, some clay, some actual earth, some rock.

The world suddenly quietens and dims (which your eyes thank you for as the Australian sun is way too bright sometimes!) while the temperature plummets down to a comfortable 18 to 20 degrees celcius.

You get off the bottom of the ladder and around you is this maze of tunnels wending their way into the earth, lit up by strip lighting. Looking closely at the walls you can see types of lychen and moss growing.

As you make your way to the digging site, bands of a clear glassy looking crystal start running through the walls - this is known as gypsum and sparkles in the light reflected from your headtorch - and once you arrive at the digging site, excitement kicks in.

It's an indescribable feeling to pull out a block of stone and see a glimmer of opal. You are the first person ever to set eyes on this stone, and when you bring it to the surface it is the first time that the sun has ever hit it. 

You can dig for a week in order to cover 10m of ground so when those long hours of digging turn out to be worthwhile and you find a seam of opal, or a little collection of nuts - words aren't enough to describe it!

Being underground is a completely different world... And digging for opal is like a constant treasure hunt for an elusive bank vault. It's thoroughly addictive and incredible fun!

Jun 10, 3:49AM EDT0
How do you know if a certain area has opal to mine?
Jun 10, 1:58AM EDT0

Angie, this is a question which hundreds of people wish they knew - including many opal miners! In order to find opal, you have to understand how opal is formed.

It involves silica particles being present in water somewhere with a non porous base (ie a clay riverbed). Over time, when the water evaporates, the silica particles are left behind and over time opal is formed.

Now that's just a VERY quick explanation about how opal is formed - actually you need the correct water, the correct environment, the correct amount of time (just 1 cm of opal takes 5 to 6 MILLION years to form), THEN you need for the right sized silica particles to all fall into perfect lines one on top of the other on top of the other in order to get coloured opal - otherwise you get what is commonly known as 'potch'.

When you're looking for opal therefore, you're looking at the topographical information of an area and whether or not they might have had the right sort of waterways 5 to 6 million years before... And then once you get there you're looking for where there might have been a creekbed where the silica rich water might have sat for long enough to turn into opal....

As you can see, it is not easy to find opal, and in fact many people bankrupt themselves financially in the hunt for this elusive gemstone. There is no official way of checking an for opal - other than getting a drill and making holes across an area and hoping for the best!

Some people have a gift for finding opals and can almost sniff them out, but there is no set way of checking if the ground feasibly contains that magic stone.

If you'd like to know any more facts about opal, I actually wrote a book which you can download for free here:

www.cicelycliff.com/little-known-secrets-about-opals

Hope you enjoy!

Jun 10, 2:17AM EDT0
Are the pieces of jewelry you design mainly for women or do you also have some for men and kids?
Jun 10, 1:16AM EDT0

Hi!

For jewellery which I design and sell as is, it is predominantly for women however I am currently bringing out some mens items as well. I do not currently design kids jewelry however I would LOVE to! I would love to see my pieces being worn by tiny people!

Custom orders I do for everyone and everyone - I recently designed a pair of double sisded opal cufflinks for a gentleman in the UK which are just being finished off now - I can't wait to hear the response! If you are interested please do get in touch!

Jun 10, 1:39AM EDT0
Is there a way to tell genuine opal from fake ones?
Jun 9, 6:15PM EDT0

Short answer: Yes, but not always!

A lot of opal you will find on the market is genuine; however it is not solid opal. A lot of opals you will find are known as doublets or triplets. Whilst this is still beautiful and has the advantage of costing less, it can eventually 'lift' off and separate, leaving you with nothing!

In order to check if you have a genuine solid opal, here are a few handy tips:

- Check the sides of the opal. If it has separate layers it may be a doublet or triplet. A doublet is where a thin slice of opal is stuck onto a dark background, whereas a triplet will have a third layer which is a clear domed layer on top.

- Look at the back of the opal. Does it look or feel like plastic? Is it a completely different colour from the rest of the stone? Triplets are often stuck onto a black plastic or vitriolite backing.

- Check the top of the opal. Does it look glassy? Can you see through the top from the side? Triplets are often capped with clear plastic, glass or quartz.

- If you have bought an opal and you have noticed it has started to go cloudy or milky, it is likely you bought a doublet or triplet. This happens with exposure to water over time and is caused by the glue between the layers to age and allow water in.

- Is the opal transparent, or does it have a white body tone? If yes, it is almost certainly a genuine opal. Doublets and triplets all have dark backgrounds as they are easier to hide.

- Do your research before you go. Go on YouTube and watch videos of real opals – especially study the play of light and the way the light refracts in the stone. This is near impossible to copy!

- Look closely at the play of light and the patterns within the opal. When you move it around, does the light and pattern change? Can you see different colours from different angles? You should be able to. Synthetic opal has a hard job of replicating the shifting colours from natural opal, and often you will see the same colour in the same area no matter how you turn the stone! Synthetic opal also often looks too good to be true, the pattern being too perfect and the colours being incredibly bright. I won’t lie, synthetic opal can be very difficult to identify without a LOT of experience.

If you are in doubt, always take it to an opal specialist or a gemmologist.

If you're interested in finding out more about opals I wrote a book you can download for free here:

www.cicelycliff.com/little-known-secrets-about-opals

Enjoy!

Last edited @ Jun 10, 2:18AM EDT.
Jun 10, 2:04AM EDT0
What processes or techniques do you employ to reduce waste and ensure a fair supply chain?
Jun 8, 1:19PM EDT0

Reducing waste in our business is fairly easy. I personally source our materials, one of which is 100% recycled silver. This means we do not contribute to the mining industry but rather reuse what is already available. Stones (when possible) are sourced from older pieces, otherwise they come from places where ethical mining rules are being practised.

During production, all silver (filings) leftovers are collected, melted, refined and reused so as to ensure no wastage.

Our packaging also minimises wastage due to the fact that we use 100% reclaimed wood from old building sites, so do not contribute to deforestation.

Our workers are ensured a fair wage, holidays and safe working environments and these are regularly checked by myself.

All in all, I believe that we are progressing positively with a fair supply chain, and hope that we are making a sufficient positive impact on those involved.

Jun 8, 2:33PM EDT0
Why do you feel it is important to support a community of in-house artists in your studio?
Jun 8, 9:46AM EDT0

I think it is important to support the local community - as a foreigner in a different country, I am highly aware of the fact that the economy in Indonesia is nowhere near as strong as back in the UK where I come from. To try and short change incredibly talented artisans in order to maximise profit is therefore not something on my mind at all.

I believe we are all in this together - to make a difference in the world we must stand together and form a strong front, and by supporting one another and helping each other where we can, this becomes easier.

Jun 8, 11:13AM EDT0

I have seen work places where masks for fine dust are lying in the corner or safety mesures are not being followed by employees, because of inconvenience or not konwing long term implications. How do you deal with that?

Jun 8, 5:25AM EDT0

I have an advantage in regards to this as I am able to speak Indonesian (having grown up here). Thanks to this, as well as having had a long standing relationship with my main silversmith (15 years+) I can discuss honestly and directly about the dangers of certain aspects of the creation process and be trusted by these artisans to be telling the truth. 

I do regular checks on the workplace and ensure that masks are used, that the work areas are properly ventilated and that there is enough light to work by so that they do not strain their eyes.

I also think due to the fact that the pieces I design are one offs it actually helps with safety standards as the artisans are not sat at a desk doing the same thing over and over and over and over!

Jun 8, 9:51AM EDT0

Where is your jewellery made? 

Jun 8, 5:25AM EDT0

My jewellery is made by three individual artisans on the island of Bali, Indonesia. One of them is even a part of a Balinese royal family, so we are proud of being able to supply royally crafted pieces!

Jun 8, 9:48AM EDT0

How can you mine ethically?

Jun 8, 5:25AM EDT0

Ethical mining practices involve ensuring that work hours are regulated, that pay is fair (ie per hour/day rather than per weight), that safety standards are reached and that proper compensation is supplied in the event of accidents.

One of the many (!) reasons I love opal so much is because it is considered 'artisanal mining', ie small scale mining.

When I was living and working on an opal mine the maximum amount of people to one mine would be two. This means that those involved are not competing amongst themselves for the highest yield and the resulting cashout is fair.

In addition, areas where opal is found is always parched and dry, with the earth being baked solid. By searching for opal and breaking the ground, miners are actually aiding reforestation by creating a space where trees can actually root themselves. (it wasn't unusual to see a hundred year + old tree on its side out there due to the fact the ground was so hard the roots could only go a couple of meters down and the wind would just knock them over!).

This means that through the mining of this particular stone we were actually helping to promote regrowth - which is fantastic because it is pretty much the opposite of a lot of other mining practises!

Jun 8, 9:47AM EDT0

Love your first picture above with the baby! My question is, are there issues with Opals like with diamonds (like blood diamonds)? If not, what social issues do exist, if any?

Jun 8, 4:15AM EDT0

Hi Heather!

Thank you so much! I stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of the jungle I must admit... But at least it made it easy for -people to find me!

Unfortunately as with many stones there are issues surrounding opals in countries such as Ethiopia, where miners are taken advantage of. Many work long hours without any form of safety gear in dangerous conditions (although I hasten to add that mining is a dangerous passtime anyway due to being far underground and working with heavy machinery!) and receive improper pay. In many cases, the miners then sell the rough opal on to a middle man who pays an shamefully low price, cuts and polishes it and then sells it on for an exorbitant profit.

I personally will not buy opals from any place liike that, and if there is any doubt about the origin of the stones I prefer to play it safe than sorry. There is no negotiation in my mind when it comes to doing the right thing!

In general, opal mines are small scale with only a couple of people working on them - which helps with the distribution of (hopeful) wealth.

I actually helped to mine my opals in Australia, which is where 90% of the worlds opal comes from anyway, and can therefore tell you a little about the social side of opal mining. It is a very uncertain and unsure path to take as opal is famously tricky to find. It can be considered a lonely career due to the fact that the majority of mines will only have a couple of people working on it, and in remote areas.

The mine I helped on had one other person working there, and we were approximately 100km from the nearest town over dirt tracks through the desert. The uncertainty of finding opal is a big problem. Many people have poured entire life savings into searching for this mysterious stone only to come up with nothing. You can't do it for the money, you have to do it for the love of digging and searching for the elusive treasure trove.

In addition, opal mining is actually beneficial to the environment over in Australia as the areas where you typically find this stone are remote, hot and dry. This results in a rather arid landscape with extremely hard sun baked earth where trees can only root a meter or so under the surface - it wasn't unusual to see huge trees lying on their sides, knocked over by the wind because their roots weren't deep enough to hold them up!

By breaking up the ground to find opal, you actually make reforestation easier because the earth becomes softer, seeds can actually get into the ground (instead of sitting on the surface and baking for years and years) and trees can root themselves deeply!

If you'd like to find out any more information on opals I actually wrote a fun booklet you can download here:

www.cicelycliff.com/little-known-things-about-opal

Hope this answered your question!

Jun 10, 3:33AM EDT0
Where do you see sustainable accessories within the sustainable fashion movement?
Jun 8, 2:43AM EDT0

In my mind, sustainable accessories are as essential as clothes! 

We accessorise in order to define our individuality and personality just as we wear certain clothes to portray ourselves in a certain way.

I feel like as the consumer market continues to become more environmentally aware our sustainable accessories are gathering popularity - which is a fantastic thing for all concerned! I hope that it continues to grow and expand until everyone searches for sustainable accessories :)

Jun 8, 11:55AM EDT0
What are the sources of inspiration for your overall aesthetic?
Jun 8, 1:59AM EDT0

I find inspiration in the people that I meet and the environments that I am lucky enough to travel through. I tend to pick random things such as a shadow of a tree I sat under, or the quirk of a mouth of a person I chatted to when hitching. Life experiences transformed into luxurious aesthetic detail!

Jun 8, 1:51PM EDT0

Hello Rose, we have some old gold rings which we would love to recycle into a new ring. What would be the process for design and postage etc? Cheers Lorrae

Jun 7, 8:00PM EDT0

Hi Michael and Lorrae!

The process would first be to schedule a call with you to discuss ideas, stones and possibilities, you can do so here:

meetme.so/roseridgeway

Once we had passed designed backwards and forwards and you were 100% happy with it, I would then get a 3D mockup of the potential ring sent to you for a final confirmation. 

A wax replica would then be hand carved, and we would go through the lost wax casting process in order to create your ring.

In regards to postage there are a few options - it is best to discuss this on the scheduled call! I hope to hear from you soon!

Jun 8, 1:55PM EDT0
Who have been your biggest mentors in this industry and what is the best advice they have ever given you?
Jun 7, 5:03AM EDT0

A friend introduced me to a man who has run an ethical jewellery manufacturing company here in Bali for around 30 years - he has been an inspiration and a mentor of sorts to me for the last six months and has taught me an inordinate amount of lessons.

The best advice he gave to me was 'take time'. Sometimes it is easy to rush into things when you are excited, however we are not here for the fast movement, for fast fashion. We are the tortoises in the fashion race - moving slowly but surely towards a happy ending! 

Jun 8, 2:20PM EDT0
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