james golway/special to the Sun
Ron Lenius holding a Sonoma Peach Opal that he discovered.
It has a beguiling feminine quality, endowed with a creamy pattern of pastel colors. For decades it was known only to collectors, gemologists and visitors to the rare gem collection at the Smithsonian Institute, but now the discoverer of the Sonoma Peach Opal is preparing to offer the gem to the general public.
“It is one of the rarest opals in the world,” said Ron Lenius. “The pendants and rings I have created with the Sonoma Peach Opal have received much acclaim for their beauty and charming appeal. I think it is now time to make it available to jewelry stores here and throughout the world.”
Lenius discovered the opal in 1974 while on expedition into the backcountry of Sonoma Valley with an amateur rock-hound club called the Boulder Busters. In the field, the gem is easy to overlook. It is usually embedded in what appears to be nothing more than chalky clay or shale rock. But with a degree in mineralogy and years spent prospecting the world for gems and opals, the local jeweler had the eye and knowledge to see what others missed. After carefully chipping away with his hammer, Lenius looked closely at the rock he held in his hand and saw a thin stream of ruby-like colors. Others in the group thought it was nothing of value, but Lenius had a hunch. That night, he started work in his lapidary shop. Using the tools and techniques of a master gemologist, Lenius discovered he had found an opal that appeared unlike any in the world.
“I thought I had something unique, so I sent the specimen off to the Smithsonian Institute,” Lenius said. “They agreed it was rare and asked that I name it. I called it the Sonoma Peach Opal because I found it in Sonoma County and the first stone had predominantly peach-like coloring.”
There was one problem. Like most opals, it had a high water content, making the gem prone to discoloration and decay. Lenius set to work developing a process that, using heat and pressure, permanently preserved the rich colors and integrity of the opal.
“Most opals need to be enhanced and processed. After much testing I developed a way to make the Sonoma opal ideal for retail jewelry.”
Depending on the setting and size, Lenius estimates Sonoma Peach Opal jewelry should fetch from slightly under $100 to $6,000.
Although the gem is extremely rare, Lenius believes he has struck the mother lode as far as Sonoma Opals go. Over the years, he has mined the site where he found the first opal and discovered several rich veins of the gem running 25 feet or more underground, usually at a 45-degree angle. Each vein yields a different characteristic of Sonoma Peach Opal. Some veins offer a stone that is translucent and pink while another vein has gems that are golden yellow with white, sunburst accents. But all are different, with colors ranging from bright red, pink, gold, orange, white and, of course, peach.
Due to security concerns, Lenius can’t reveal where he found the opal, except to say that the location is somewhere between Kenwood and Santa Rosa. But, if he achieves his goal, Lenius may make Sonoma Valley as renowned for the opals it produces as for the grapes it grows.
“Nowhere else can you find this type of opal; it’s unique, just like Sonoma,” he said.
The Sonoma Peach Opal will be on display starting this weekend at the Sonoma Rock and Mineral Gallery at 414 First St. E. and at Cornerstone Jewelers at 416 First St. E. For information on jewelry designs or the Sonoma Peach Opal, contact Ron L Designs at 707.996.6088.