by Dave Gibson
Opal was known to the Aztecs by the name Vitzitziltecpa which means hummingbird stone, due to its similarity to the bright iridescent colours of the birds plumage. The original mining locations were lost during the Spanish conquest. They were rediscovered sometime in the early 1800's in the state of Queretaro, some 130 miles North West of the Mexico City.
The first mine was Santa Maria del iris. Soon other mines were opened La Carbonera, La Hacienda, La Trinidad, and El Perido being but a few of the first mines. The colonial City of Queretaro became centre of the Mexican opal trade. In the late 1950's Alfonso Ramirez of Queretaro discovered opal near the small town of Magdalena about 50 miles North West of Guatalajara in the state of Jalisco. He opened the first mine La Unica. Soon after prospectors and miners moved from Queretaro to Magdalena.
Other deposits were discovered in the municipality of Magdalena (Las Latillas, La Mora, San Simon, Las Cruces, San Martin, El Huaxical and El Cabon being but a few of the early mines. By 1960 there were hundreds of mines around the small town of Magdalena. From the early 1960's to the late 1970's much opal was produced by the mines in the state of Queretaro and the Magdalena area but knowhere as much mining takes place now. It seems the best deposits were discovered back then and mined out.
I remember back in the 1970's many vendors of opal in the plazas in Queretaro and the plaza of Magdalena especially at the weekend when the miners would come into town. Back then the orange to red opal with no play of colour was generally known as Cherry opal. It was cut en
cabochon and given to the women and children to get what they could for it. It was possible to sit in the plaza and buy quite a few of these stones for just one dollar.
Of course they are now almost always faceted and known as fire opal - good marketing!
Mexican opal has always been much appreciated by the Germans and Japanese. In 1969 Shdao Machizuki of Japan bought the San Simon mine, which is a few miles north of Magdalena. He did much to help to people in the tiny pueblo of San Simon and improved mining methods. Shdao is now retired, but the mine is now run by his son Satoshi.