Down To Earth Opals - History
Down To Earth Opals have over 75 years of combined experience in the world of opals.
Vicki Bokros is the “Rock Boss” and has herself over 30 years’ experience in all aspects of the opal industry including mining, processing, wholesaling, buying, designing, displaying the beautifully crafted opals in Lightning Ridge, Australia – and now taking this knowledge and experience to the world. This is how a Lightning Ridge powerhouse and dynasty started ….
Founder of Down To Earth Opals Vicki Bokros has been living, working and breathing opal for over 30 years. This former Gold Coast resident had a chance encounter with an opal dealer in Queensland and her life then changed forever. Seduced by the dealer’s glorious collection of opals, she left for Lightning Ridge shortly thereafter to seek her fortune. Her family thought she was mad – a young woman heading to a rough, tough, male-dominated mining town in hot, dusty, remote outback Australia.
“I was barely twenty years old, lining up to sell to hungry Japanese buyers at the Black Opal Motel well before dawn during the 1990’s in order to be in the first ten. Surrounded by experienced miners predominantly tough men much older than myself, jostling for my position in the queue and having to learn from the school of hard knocks. It was a tough apprenticeship” says Vicki, but as they say “If fire transforms iron into steel, I have been steeled”.
One Opal Changed Everything
“The moment I saw the camp I was hooked. The owners were sitting outside under a shady tree playing cards, glasses of wine on the table, the faithful dog at their side. It looked magical and we bought it immediately. The first night we surrendered to hundreds of giant centipedes crawling across the ceiling and up the walls.
There was a ‘long drop’ outhouse where I had to dash at night in the pitch black; and an ancient Lister generator used for power that required me to hand-crank an enormous flywheel in order to get it going at the end of each day. Then there were the neighbours, but that’s another story…” says Vicki with a genuine smile on her face.
From Apprentice Opal Miners to Experienced Business Operators
They ran successful opal mining operations for 15 years. Vicki has walked the arid surface and pegged claims; she has earned her stripes on the jackhammer, miner’s rickshaw, hoist, digger and blower; followed opal trace, faults and blows, prospecting underground and received her share of blisters! Vicki has shovelled opal bearing clay from the truck onto a conveyor at the tail out, and sorted through washed opal tailings as they came down the chute at the end of hot, dusty, fly plagued afternoons. Numerous days of disappointment followed by intermittent periods of magical, unbridled exhilaration when top quality gem colour revealed itself on the sorting table – that’s opal mining!
Dig, shovel, barrow, hoist, fill, drive, wash, tail out, sort – repeat.
In addition to her years of opal mining experience, she was also taught how to read the rough and rubbed opal, and cut & polish by one of the ‘old guard’ highly experienced opal cutters in Lightning Ridge. After examining and working with thousands of stones over the past 30 years, her knowledge of the local fields and opals is borderline photographic and extraordinary.
Over that time, Vicki gained an appreciation for how rare and difficult opal is to find; a huge respect for the tenacity of opal miners; and a thorough understanding of the opal mining and cutting process. Thanks to unrelenting persistence and hard work, a lot of learning and a little luck, her passion for opal has been rewarded.
Since the year 2000, Down To Earth Opals has expanded into retail and international wholesale. Exhibiting at up to three booth locations at the largest gem show in the world – the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson Arizona, USA each February.
In 2021 Down To Earth Opals expanded and completely rebuilt the Morilla Street showroom to a world class standard. The bespoke Down To Earth Opals floor is a first-of-its-kind image and has already become a mini tourist attraction in its own right.
“Andrew handed me a blank sheet of paper and asked me to write down everything I may want in my dream shop. I had been developing ideas for some years and finally the opportunity presented itself. The first item was a shop floor that resembled the Lightning Ridge opal washing (puddling) dams which visitors simply cannot gain access to, and are only seen occasionally on TV shows. That reality came to pass thanks to the efforts of an amazing local photographer, a bespoke vinyl floor printed in the Netherlands and one of the most passionate tradesmen that I have ever met. The vast majority of our shop expansion and refit was undertaken by incredibly talented locals which we are exceptionally proud of” says Vicki.
The Down To Earth Opals inventory today includes over 10,000 loose Lightning Ridge cut and carved opals. The business is internationally renowned for the highest quality Lightning Ridge opal with likely the largest collection of carved Lightning Ridge opals anywhere; and supplies everything from opal rubs, opal specimens, cut and carved stones to bespoke handmade opal jewellery.
Vicki is a gifted jewellery designer and sits often for many hours to design one item of jewellery, then she engages one of three jewellers to create the spectacular pieces that are on display in the store and on this website. Every item of Lightning Ridge solid opal jewellery on sale in the showroom is 100% Australian mined, cut, designed and set.
The Down To Earth Opals gallery exhibits not only Australian opal with the majority focus on Lightning Ridge of course, but also unique jewellery and collectibles from around the world, complemented by stunning and distinctive Aboriginal artworks from the Utopia region of Australia, and also accompanied by hand stitched textiles featuring Aboriginal designs under a cross cultural project between Australia and Kashmir.
“What we have achieved over 30 years in Lightning Ridge has been to move the standard from a small dusty outback town to the highest benchmark in terms of cut and carved opal quality, retail display and jewellery design that makes its mark on the world stage and takes Australian Opal to another level of prestige. This has earned, Lightning Ridge, Down To Earth Opals and our team significant respect within the industry domestically and also internationally” she says.