Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sticks And Stones


How do you find opals within mountains of rock, cactus and sage brush? How interesting that you should ask, as I recently found the answer to that very question, LOL. Last Tuesday my good friend Joan, Todd and I went on an opal expedition.

Joan makes wonderful silver jewelry with all manner of semiprecious gemstones. She recently gifted me with a beautiful silver pendant inlaid with amethyst and obsidian. One of the stones that she particularly likes to use to create her magic is the Mexican opal. Quite handily one of the best places to find these lovely stones is in the State of  Querétaro, just next door to the State of Guanajuato, where we all live.

I have mentioned before that some wonderful opal jewelry can be found in nearby San Sebastián de Bernal, but we were looking for loose, unset stones which can be purchased a little less expensively closer to the mines. Thus we set off early Tuesday morning for Tequisquiapan ( Te kees kee ah’ pan ). Located in southwestern Querétaro, Tequisquiapan is mostly a tourist town catering to folks from the City of Querétaro and weekenders from Mexico City.

Although it is another rustic colonial town, it offers several really nice balenarios, spas, such as El Oasis, Thermas del Rey, Fidel Velásquez and La Vega. It also has an eighteen hole golf course, an ideal respite for those hardworking folks from Mexico City. However, none of this was the reason for our visit to the area.

On the outskirts of the city, in the municipality of Tequisquiapan, the little town of La Trinidad hunkers below steep red hills riddled with mines. With only 1579 inhabitants, pretty much all of the townsfolk are miners and vendors of Mexican opals. Driving through the quiet cobblestone streets we saw house after house sporting little signs claiming “ Se vende ópalos “, opals for sale!


The elders of this family in the above photo had sixteen children and twenty-some-odd grandchildren so I think they may have had a bit of a monopoly on opal sales. When we stopped to have a look other family members appeared from other houses in the area wanting to show us their wares as well. Competition is fierce in the La Trinidad opal trade!


Our next stop was at the home of a pretty young lady who was stuck out in the sun all day selling the family opals. If you click to enlarge the photo above, you may be able to see the pretty green opal in the center of the display which I purchased so that Joan can make me a ring. In the photo below, Godeta still had a smile for us in spite of the heat, which was hovering somewhere in the vicinity of 34 degrees Celsius.


This family also had some opals in settings for sale.


Finally we arrived at the home, showroom and workshop of Hector Montes. It was actually Hector that we had specifically come to see as he has a widespread reputation for having the finest Mexican opals.


An ex-miner, Hector worked the mines in their heyday, when opals fairly fell out of the walls of the mines. Back then there were hundreds of mines in the area, but due to over mining most of those mines have been closed for years. Now, that’s not to say that opals cannot still be found “in them thar hills”, but simply that it is no longer quite as easy to do so. Hector however, really knows his stuff and if anyone can find opals, it will be him.


To me it is fascinating how Hector knows which rock will contain opals, or for that matter, how he even knows when he has found them! The raw opals bear little resemblance to the finished stones that we see in his showroom. 


Joan asked Hector if we could see his workshop and much to our delight he agreed. A very kind and patient man, he not only showed us his work space but explained how the opals are formed over millions of years and how he can tell by the texture, the porosity and the look of the rock in the mines where he is most likely to find opals. 


Taking a small raw stone, he proceeded to scrape and polish it, under water, until it began to take on a smoother, brighter surface. He then continued to work the stone, explaining the process and answering all our questions, until it gleamed a bright cherry red. He then moved on to another area of the workshop to his finishing equipment.

Lighting a small alcohol lamp he heated some adhesive and stuck the little opal to a stick so that he could continue to smooth it with a sander and a leather covered tool that brought out it’s iridescence. He then carved a little “V” shape in the top shaping it into a heart, which he then gave to me. I was touched and delighted by his generosity and this beautiful little gift.

Cherry Heart


Hector also works with several different types of stone as well, carving beautiful little animals, some with opals, and fabulous stone eggs of varying sizes. Todd bought a few of these to use in his magic. He is a very accomplished magician and likes to do magic illusions for kids. I purchased a lovely blue pendant with a ripple design, that I think he said was a kind of agate, that he had carved with the motion of the sea in mind.

Shannon with her new amigo Hector

Below is a short video of Hector at work.


  1. Todd is a magician? I had no idea. And now he has stone eggs. I am impressed.

    1. Yes, he's studied magic since he was a kid. You know what a ham he is, LOL. He's a natural performer.

  2. Great info - IF you ever go back, I want to go too........I've stayed in Tequisquiapan before. The agates at their mercado and other precious minerals are exquisite and extremely well priced.

    Magician? Who knew? How great is that.......can he make himself disappear? Just kidding.......

    Let me know when ya'll are going to be "out and about" - I'll meet up with you for a drink or two......

  3. I really enjoyed both trips, we've done another recently, to La Trinidad. Would be happy to go back any time, just let us know when you would like to go. I would also like to see more of Tequisquiapan. We would also love to meet up for a drink. Our schedule is fairly flexible.

    Sometimes I would like to see him make himself disappear, LOL, but he really is a very talented magician.