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Alaska auction to feature huge opal stashed away for years

JUNEAU, ALASKA (AP) – Nick Cline gets calls about all kinds of items people want to sell through the Anchorage auction house where he works. But he was caught off-guard by a call he got last fall from a man saying he had “one of the largest opals in the world”.

“I was extremely sceptical but extremely excited,” said Cline, a partner and appraisal specialist with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals.

According to the auction house, the opal, dubbed the ‘Americus Australis’, weighs more than 11,800 carats and is one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence. 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.

An opal specimen Alaska Premier Auctions and Appraisals say is one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence in Anchorage, Alaska. PHOTO: AP

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 (AP).

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 auction company is seeking minimum bids of USD125,000 during the auction. Cline said it’s a “calculated risk”, with the company going with what it sees as a conservative approach in hopes of garnering the most attention. It has targetted a sales price of USD250,000 to USD350,000, Cline said.

The sale includes a smaller piece of the opal that von Brandt said his father cut off to be worn or displayed.