A vey much-misunderstood stone, renowned the world over for its fiery iridescence and flashes of magnificent colour, the beautiful precious opal is actually classified as a mineraloid gel, comprising tightly packed silica spheres and up to 20% water molecules. The famed opal fires are by causing the interference and diffraction of light as it passes through the silica spheres. The word opal is derived from the Latin word opalus which simply means stone.
Opals make beautiful jewellery and are highly esteemed as semi-precious gemstones, although the quality and value of stones can vary enormously depending on their size, depth of fire and colour. Opals range in colour from clear through white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, brown and black. Of these hues, black is the most rare and valuable, with the finest specimens valued at more per carat than diamonds. White and green opals are the most common colours and only exceptional specimens fetch high market prices. No two opals are exactly the same, making close-matched stones all the more highly prized.
Opals are mined from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Czechoslovakia and the USA. However Australia produces 97% of stones on the market and has long been recognized as the source of the rarest and most valuable specimens. Not surprisingly, the opal is Australia's national stone.
Historically, opals hold a special place in the heart of mankind. Cleopatra is said to have worn opals to attract Mark Anthony, Queen Victoria had a particular liking for them and an exceptionally beautiful stone called the "The Burning of Troy" was presented to Joséphine by Napoleon I of France. Traditionally considered by the ancient Greeks and Romans to be a lucky stone with protective powers, opals were thereafter set into the crowns and necklaces of rulers the world over. In the Middle Ages opals were believed to confer the power of invisibility if wrapped in a fresh bay leaf and held in the hand and in modern times opal jewellery was believed to provide wearers with hope and good health and keep them pure in the face of adversity. However, a novelcalled Anne of Geierstein by Walter Scott and published in 1829 featured an opal talisman with an evil history. Thereafter people began to associate opals with bad luck and death, a reputation that has only recently been overcome, restoring the opal to its place of glory amongst the gemstones of the world.
Not tonight Josephine: an exceptionally beautiful stone called the "The Burning of Troy" was presented to her by Napoleon I of France
Linda has a Honours degree in Marine Biology and a PhD in Ecology from the University of NSW, Australia. She has travelled extensively and is a passionate writer on subjects as diverse as the role played by women throughout history, tribal communities and their customs, symbology and ethnology, talismans and their history. Occasionally she also writes about her travel experiences, her new life on a 25 acres in the Northern Rivers region of northern Australia and her black miniature poodle Phoenix. She is currently writing her first book on talismans.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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