Buying emerald jewelry marks a special occasion with an emotionally rewarding investment, and is a decision not to be taken lightly. When it comes to fiery beauty, purity, and brilliance, Colombian emeralds are unrivaled and the most sought-after in the world. Prized for their superior quality and an unlimited variety of green tones, Colombia provides more than 90% of the global demand for high-quality emeralds.
As a global epicenter of the emerald trade, Bogotá offers a wide range of gems to suit every taste and budget. The best place to buy your precious stone is from a reputable dealer, either in the centro, along emerald row (Cra 6 and Calle 13) or from established jewelers Schumacher, Glauser, and Bauer. Buying from supposed ‘dealers’ who prowl the street and target unwary tourists is never recommended.
Once you’ve found “the keeper” that makes your heart skip, evaluating quality to price can be daunting. To make sure you’re well informed, The City Paper spoke to Lee Wasson, an emerald expert whose workshop overlooks the busy zona esmeraldera. With more than forty years experience, the Los Angeles-born dealer has extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of purchasing a glint of Colombia’s Green Fire.
The tip one must take into consideration before reaching for your wallet is “you don’t buy emeralds every day, every month or every year. So, you need to be meticulous,’ states Wasson. As Colombian emeralds are some of the most beautiful and rarest gemstones on the face of the earth, the “silliest mistake” people make is to think they can get a genuine, exquisite stone for a couple of a hundred dollars. Although you can find opaque, turquoise-colored ones for US$50 ($150,000 pesos) per carat, fine emeralds will set you back anywhere from US$1,500 to US$10,000 for the same size. To judge the value of a stone, and to distinguish false from genuine, low from high quality, pay attention to the 4Cs: Clarity, Color, Cut and Carat.
Look at the stone with a naked eye, a genuine emerald should appear relatively transparent and “clean”, as dealers say. Meaning, you don’t want to see any distracting inclusions – a foreign material included inside the irregular patterns in the crystalline structures, and that is easily visible under a magnifying glass. Naturally occurring in Colombian emeralds is a three-phase inclusion consisting of gas, liquid, and crystal. For a gemological laboratory, these inclusions are conclusive evidence of their natural origin.
It’s tricky to distinguish a natural emerald from a synthetic one. Professionally created laboratory gems have exactly the same chemical, physical and optical properties as natural emeralds, including inclusions, so examine for perfection. “If it looks too good to be true, it is,” says Wasson. “A synthetic stone is too beautiful, too perfect, too clean, too dark and too bright. There’s no such thing as a perfect emerald.” In other words, nature is imperfect, random and “in its own chaos.”
As you are buying an item of timeless beauty, always examine emeralds in natural sunlight, against a white background in order to expose to the complete spectrum of light. So, if you are handed an emerald in a dark alley turn it down, as the seller is preying on ignorance. The essential rule to follow is “If it’s stunning in sunlight it will be amazing in any other light.” Furthermore, observing stones in what “jewelry store light – as Wasson calls it – hides imperfections, making the gems look cleaner, darker and more brilliant; and thus, to a greater degree, more beautiful and expensive.
Beryl is the mother mineral in all emeralds, and from this element, the stone gets its silky green color. With thousands of different shades of green, genuine emeralds can range from very light to almost black. As not all mountains in Colombia have the same mineral density, a yellow-green emerald is typical of the Coscuez mine in Western Boyacá, the department where stones have been mined pre-dating the Spanish conquest. The legendary Muzo emerald, from the mine that gives it its name, tends to be a brassy green with hints of a dark hue. The more light-emitting stones with few imperfections are considered the most valuable in the world. Chivor is also an emerald producing region, and these stones tend to have a bluish glow.
Scammers usually use two methods to enhance the green of low-grade stones. First, they may paint the pavilion (backside) of an emerald with a hard transparent green lacquer. Only experts can discern a good “paint job” by looking at the corners of the gem. Secondly, they can split a cheap natural emerald in half and glue it back together with a green colored epoxy. The so-called ‘doublet or ‘triplet’ looks, feels and acts like an emerald, and even if you examine it under a magnifying glass, you’ll see natural inclusions. However, a trained eye will notice the tiny bubbles that form when the green glue sets. Many templetes are peddled by con artists in the center of town to tourists, would could easily be tricked into believing they have purchased a genuine stone. In fact, many of these stones are as valuable as a broken wine bottle.
Cutting emeralds to create different geometric shapes greatly influences a stone’s color, brilliance, and visibility of inclusions. An ideal cut is when there is a green sparkle emitted uniformly from inside the stone. Emeralds are hard as a rock nevertheless, and buyers should look out for “dangerous cracks on corners and inclusions on the face of a stone that may make even a beautiful emerald fragile, and, thus, less valuable,” says Wasson.
Unlike 18-carat gold, an emerald’s carat doesn’t reflect its purity, but its actual weight, with five carats equal to one gram. A carat is furthermore subdivided into 100 points. The more carats a stone weighs, the price per carat rises geometrically.
Although these insider tips may help you make a good purchase, it’s always best to do it in the company of an expert. For this will provide you with more knowledge of the stone, certificate of authenticity, allowing you to treasure the experience of buying timeless beauty.