Fleece so valuable it's locked in bank vault

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Two Australian sheep farmers have produced the world's finest wool, a mere 11.9 microns thick or about one-fifth the diameter of human hair, with a bale of the super fine wool now under armed guard inside a bank vault.

The bale of wool is valued at more than $752,000 and when sold in coming weeks is probably destined for a fashion house in Paris, Milan, New York or Tokyo.

"It's a world record that highlights the amount of research and development put in by Australian farmers," said Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson on Wednesday in congratulating the sheep farming brothers Bim and Richard Goodrich.

One micron is a thousandth of a millimetre and 14-16 micron wool is normally used for cashmere clothing. The average wool produced in Australia is 20 microns.

To grow the world's finest wool, the Goodrich brothers built a luxurious shed dubbed the "Wooldorf Astoria" for the prized sheep on their Warroo Station property in northern New South Wales state.

Life for the pampered sheep inside the large shed, unlike those left in open paddocks, is stress-free with the climate controlled and special feed.

"They are in a totally stress-free environment," Bim Goodrich said Wednesday, keeping secret the exact details of what goes on inside the shed.

So comfortable is the "Wooldorf Astoria" that the shed manager's wife is called the "wool widow, because she never sees him," Goodrich joked.

Farmers and wool buyers estimate the world's finest wool, in the vault of the National Australia Bank in Brisbane, Queensland, should fetch more than $752,000 when sold in Sydney.

The bale stands as high as the waist of the armed guards that keep watch over it.

"I hope buyers are as happy and excited as we are and it's just a great privilege for us to have produced such a beautiful bale of wool. It's the softest and the highest quality of wool that's ever been produced," Goodrich said.

The previous record for the world's finest wool, of thickness 12 microns, also produced by an Australian sheep farmer.