In Memoriam: Dennis Arthur Dahl, The Opal Man & Kind Friend with Integrity, Dies at Age 77

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Many will remember longtime Opal cutter and dealer Dennis Arthur Dahl as a trustworthy soul, true friend, and a faithful Christian who saw people’s beauty through rough exteriors, just as he did with the Opal he cut.

Dahl was born on March 22, 1946, in Rockford, Ill., the oldest of three children, and died at the Greenway Manor Nursing Home on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. He is survived by nieces, nephews, and many friends in the Opal and jewelry business.

Dahl attended college in Illinois before being called to serve as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Upon returning home, he moved to Australia for a year, working at an Opal shop and learning to cut the material. In 1970, he moved home and traveled the Midwest to sell Opals to stores, returning to Australia regularly to source rough at the mines. His business’s name changed from Midwest Gem Cutters to The Opal Man when he rented a small store in Spring Green, Wis., later opening a second retail location in Lake Geneva, Wis. The stores were all-Opal-jewelry enterprises, a rarity in fine jewelry, that he filled with all varieties of Australian Opals, including Lightning Ridge material, which he loved.

Dahl and Hanna Cook-Wallace, owner of Studio Jewelers in Madison, Wis., in Cairns, Australia, in 2005
Dahl and Hanna Cook-Wallace, owner of Studio Jewelers in Madison, Wis., in Cairns, Australia, in 2005

“I still have about 100 pieces of little black triangular Opals he cut,” says friend Karen Lenore Davidson, owner of Cabochon Gems & Designs in Arcadia, Calif., who previously resided and ran her store in Wisconsin and who rented her Spring Green location to him.

“He believed there was no Opal too small to cut, and he stuck to selling them at a time when few others did. Some people think stones can be powerful or lucky, but he had a sort of calling to cut them. He was one of us who tried to dispel the myth that buying an Opal for yourself is bad luck.”

So serious was his affinity that he frequently called them “windows into the gates of Heaven,” says Robert Shapiro, fellow dealer of the eponymous firm.

“He was soft-spoken, good at what he did, and lived a simple life that had to do with his [Christian] religion,” Shapiro continues. “He prayed for people, didn’t eat meat, and traveled by bus with a backpack of stones. He was honest and a good friend and colleague.”

In his 20s and while at his first-ever trade show, Opal dealer Matt Hopkins of the same-name firm met Dahl, who would occasionally stay with Hopkins’s dad in Lightning Ridge, Australia. “He was a spiritual and kind man who never had an ill word to say about anyone,” says Hopkins. “He was guided by spiritual means rather than material ones.”

Peer Michael Traurig of Jayson Traurig Bros. of Australia met Dahl in the ’80s in Australia, finding him to be easygoing, patient, honest, and inclusive, cutting for himself and others and appreciating even the most modest of fine specimens.

Dennis A. Dahl, 1946-2024
Dennis A. Dahl, 1946-2024

“He would buy my smallest stones, just wanting to enjoy them for a while before passing them along to someone else,” says Traurig. “And he was a good cutter because of his patience.”

Friends Barbara Murphy, a retired archeologist, and Virginia Grant, a retired Opal dealer, laud him for his kindness.

“His personality was special,” continues Murphy. “He was serious about wanting to know what you were saying.”

Grant, meanwhile, like Hopkins, Traurig, and Shapiro, had met him early in life at a show in Tucson. “We became friends,” she says. “He had a good eye, bought a lot of rough, and espoused certain values. I admired him endlessly for his integrity, kindness, and ability to be a friend.”

Hanna Cook-Wallace, owner of Studio Jewelers in Madison, Wis., was also a friend to Dahl for many years. She and her husband even traveled with him in Australia.

Australian Opal
Australian Opal

“He read the Bible daily and walked the walk of a Christian,” she says. “He sold Opals all over the Midwest and did roundtables in the Twin Cities area. He hired people from his church, trying to help people kick addiction. He was a gentle and fabulous person who overcame adversity and transcended tragedy through his devout Christianity. I wear a fossilized shell opal with green color play that he cut 30 years ago, and I’ll never sell it. Dennis and his bright light of good in the world will be sorely missed.”

A memorial was held in mid-February, but condolences can be made online at the Richardson-Stafford Funeral Home by clicking here. Click here to see a video of Dahl explaining his love of Opal.

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