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“The AOC is a fantastic project that will absolutely help the Australian opal industry. It’s going to be a huge advertisement for opal, especially in overseas markets.”

Edmond and Giovanna Lahoud, Lahoud Opals
$10,000 AOC Founder
AOC Business Member

Edmond and Giovanna Lahoud are key fixtures in Australia’s opal and gemstone scene, touching every facet of the industry from opal mining and jewellery manufacture to wholesaling internationally and retailing gems and minerals at their two Sydney-based stores. In fact, it’s become a real family affair for Edmond and Giovanna, whose children have followed them into the gemstone business, influenced by many years spent in one of Edmond’s favourite places - the Lightning Ridge opal fields.

“I followed my father into the jewellery business. He was a successful jewellery manufacturer with a store in Sydney and I worked alongside him. When I went out on my own, I had a workshop in the city, where I would manufacture jewellery and do work for other jewellers. One day, someone came in with a shoebox full of rough boulder opal. He asked if I knew anything about it, which I didn’t. So I got in touch with my diamond supplier who told me what the gemstone was and that it was an Australian mineral. It was so beautiful. I was absolutely mesmerised and fell in love with the stone.

I tried a little bit of opal mining not long after that, in the Queensland outback. The guy who had brought in the box of opal had a business partner with a lease, so I started mining with him. We did it the hard way, working with a pick and shovel to dig out the opal dirt. And we got very lucky, finding some boulders with colour in them. It was one of the biggest adventures of my life.

Back in Sydney, I started a workshop with a partner who was one of the most renowned opal cutters in the city.  I would design the jewellery and he would cut and polish the stones. Miners would come in wanting to sell opal to us. One day, a big parcel came through the door and I partnered with the miners who owned it, to cut, polish and set the stones into jewellery. I went around to opal shops and companies selling it, and we did very well. But then I wanted to buy more, I couldn’t get enough of it. So that’s when I went to Lighting Ridge.

It was just a wonderful place. I started buying opals there and people would approach me with business propositions, to partner with them and explore areas that were known to have opal but needed to be drilled and explored. Before I knew it, I became a full-time miner. My partner and I had a hard run for a few years, but then we found some opal. I’m still very attached to the stone and mine here and there; I recently bought a drill and am still drilling up and looking for opal. I love doing it.

My children have visited Lightning Ridge many, many times, and it’s a place I am very attached to. To me, when I go back now I feel very, very happy. It’s a very friendly place, where you know most people. I’m very lucky to have a place in this world where I feel so at home. So I would hate to see the town turn into a ghost town. In the opal mining business, we go through very hard periods where no one finds opal, so young people leave and start looking for work in other places. I’m all for creating something that’s going to generate jobs and keep the town going - and that’s why Giovanna and I decided to become Australian Opal Centre (AOC) Founders.

I didn’t realise the scale of the project or the new AOC building until the last few years. I think it’s a fantastic project that will absolutely help the Australian opal industry. It will really get the message about opal out there, giving us more recognition with the international buyers. So it’s going to be a huge advertisement for opal, especially in overseas markets.

It’s also very important to preserve our fossils and keep them in our country. The work the AOC does has been so important in building awareness about how rare and precious these fossils are. I have a friend in Koroit who approached me to talk about the AOC, and he has promised to  preserve all the fossils he has instead of selling everything off. This is the influence of what has been happening in Lightning Ridge with the AOC; they have helped people understand how important these fossils are and to preserve them instead of just cutting them up to make money.

I see becoming an AOC Founder as an investment in an industry that I have made a good living from. I was brought up to give, and it’s the least I can do, to give back in this way. When we have a dry run in the Ridge and nobody is mining for a while, the whole industry can collapse. Or it can be negatively affected by a global economic crisis. The AOC will help to keep interest in opal going and lessen the industry impact. We’re also creating other opportunities, to generate tourism, to generate more work, developing a whole new tourist industry - it will be good for the whole region and for the future.

My children are involved in the gem industry today. My daughter Jessica is my partner in our store Mineralism, and her husband is also involved in the industry, as is his family. He’s American, and it’s a place we spend time in, attending the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and marketing opal in New York. A few years ago, we were passing the Statue of Liberty on a boat. Jessa asked me where else I would love to go. I told her just to Lightning Ridge. When she asked if I would be happier somewhere else, I said no. I am very happy to return to the opal fields and I can’t wait for the AOC to open and be part of the future of Lightning Ridge and the Australian opal industry."

If you’d like to join Edmond and Giovanna as an AOC Founder, please click here for a Founders Brochure and Application Form. For more information contact Olivia Ward by calling 0400 225 751 or emailing founders@australianopalcentre.com. We look forward to hearing from you!