Words – Jessica Jane Sammut
Photography – Ben Stone
Shaping, smoothing, cutting, grinding, polishing, finishing… with patience, with passion, with love, and definitely with a fine eye for beautiful detail.
This is the daily drill for Scott Coggan, master opal cutter at Opals Down Under, a man lucky enough to have forged a career out of looking at these absolutely divine gemstones all day.
I arrive at Opals Down Under at Palmview and enter the oasis that is their domain. Consisting of a show room and workroom where Scott cuts all the opals personally on the premises, I feel like I have stepped into a little girl’s haven.
Everywhere I look are stunning opals set in gorgeous pieces of contemporary jewellery and I imagine that if I was made to choose just one piece to take home, I would be thrown into a sense of panic, the same sense of panic that I would fancy celebrities feel on the eve of Oscar night when they have to choose between the breathtaking Versace dress or the spectacular Dior number as their red carpet uniform. A real hardship.
Scott approaches me and shows ma an opal he has just cut. It glitters back in the light, exhibiting a myriad of colours and welcoming me into the world of opal, and I can see at once how Scott fell in love with these precious gems.
Born and raised on a cattle property in central Queensland and the eldest of three sons, Scott always thought he would take over the farm from his father one day. However, when he was 15 years old, his parents moved to the Sunshine Coast and the future was clear for Scott to choose a pathway of his own. After working on oil rigs and then in the building industry for a few years, he found himself in the opal fields. Cutting through a huge boulder with his father and discovering a rare and precious green vein of opal inside it was a turning point for Scott.
“It was like nature had reached out and shown herself to me in the most beautiful way” he smiles. “it was a moment in time I will never forget.” That was it. He was hooked.
Scott continued in the building trade to raise money to cut opals, and once he had saved enough, he set up his own business wholesaling this alluring stone. Progressing quickly in the industry, he soon had many high-end clients in Melbourne and Sydney and eventually met Immo and Louise Stein who owned Opals Down Under. The rest is history.
With more than 20 years of opal cutting experience, Scott really is his own diamond in the rough, regarded as one of the finest opal cutters in Australia, with many jewellers, miners, and enthusiasts seeking his skill and advice. Opals Down Under does a fierce trade internationally and this is mainly because of Scott’s renowned reputation.
The third most valuable gemstone in the world (more valuable than white diamond), opal is part of Australia’s heritage; we produce almost 97 percent of the world’s opal. Often worn by high profile Australian stars along with that other iconic Australian symbol, the Paspaley Pearl, Scott explains the pride he feels every time he sees it. “I feel very blessed to have been given my creative instinct at cutting opal,” he says. “To craft something so exquisite out of the ground is a sensational feeling. I am a mere tool in exposing nature’s work.”
As Opals Down Under gets set to celebrate its 25th Birthday in November, Scott tells me how his other joy comes from being a family man. As the father of two children aged seven and 10, Scott delights in providing for his family and getting his children involved in his work. He also spends much time showing other children opals, and often gives children a turn on the cutting wheel, which they absolutely relish. “They see a practical application of science and they go home inspired,” he explains. “I have so many letters from parents and grandparents telling me that their children have started collecting gem stones from this experience and it gives me so much pleasure.”
Not only does Scott help kids understand their world around them in this way, but he also plays cricket for the Cindy Mackenzie Breast Cancer Foundation (CMBCF) and has made a special ‘Heart of Hope’ pendant for those suffering from breast cancer, with all profits going to CMBCF. It is clear this man very much likes to give back something to the world.
And as I leave Opals Down Under, I realise how much I enjoyed the sweet and gentle company of Scott and his candy shop of delicious treats, and I am already mentally earmarking another trip back. Perhaps with my husband (and his wallet!) next time…
– article courtesy of Profile Magazine, November 2010 Issue.