As summer winds down and we return to the busy fall routine outside my studio, the ground is quietly littered with rust-toned leaves, the lush greenery of summer slowly falling away. Everyday I carve and sculpt pieces from the Earth, and as you may know by now, my specialty is mastering jade. This year, the Pantone colour industry has declared ‘greenery’ as the colour of the year 2017, as it recalls nature’s cycle of renewal. With so many of us living modern lives in cities and being digitally connected, do you find yourself longing for natural beauty? If so, I would like to bring your attention to another shade of green- emeralds.
Considered one of the ‘precious four’ gemstones most consistently prized over time (along with diamonds, rubies, sapphires), emeralds are the most treasured within the beryl family. The word stems from French ‘esmeralde’, which came from the Greek ‘smaragdos’, meaning simply ‘green stone’. A beryl is defined as an emerald when it is coloured by chromium, vanadium or iron, resulting in varying hues of green.
Emeralds naturally form in their host rocks with many inclusions which impacts the gems strength. The inclusions can be air bubbles, the presence of other minerals or fine hairline cracks, often visible to the naked eye. Beryl has a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Moh’s scale (in comparison, diamonds have a hardness of 10), though because natural emeralds are often highly included, this results in their fragility and brittleness. Regardless of this, emerald’s lush green beauty has remained a highly coveted gem for millennia.
Emeralds in history
Dating from 1695, during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, The Moghul Emerald is a 217.80 carat square gem. It is the largest inscribed emerald in the world; it features a Shi’a prayer inscription on the front and a floral motif on the reverse side. Image: https://bellatory.com
One of the oldest surviving documents, the Papyrus Prisse, circa 2000 BCE during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, says that “But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks.” It has been said that Cleopatra adored emeralds and gifted carved emeralds in her likeness. Historians believe this passage referenced the Egyptian Mines, also known as the Cleopatra Mines, which were forgotten and lost for a thousand years until it was re-discovered in 1818. Yielding few valuable stones, and of low quality at that, it’s no surprise this mine was neglected.
The Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), was a natural philosopher who first proposed that emeralds were made of beryl. He wrote “Indeed, no stone has a colour that is more delightful to the eye, whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and the foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no gem in existence more intense that this.”
The Incas and Aztecs treasured emeralds when they were discovered in what is known today as Colombia. When Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) in the 16th century discovered there were emeralds in this region, it brought violence and thievery for the highly prized gem, putting South America on the gemstone radar. Emeralds from here were, and continue to be, highly coveted by royalty and gemstone connoisseurs from around the world.
Unlike diamonds, which are valued for their brilliance, emeralds are all about colour. Colour can be divided into hue, tone and saturation.
Hue refers to the gradation of colour, like how pale it is. This affects a gemstone’s value as some hues are more desirable and some are rarer.
Tone indicates the tint or shade like green with a bluish tone, to describe the colour intensity. Using adjectives like ‘light’ or ‘dark’ to describe colours means the tone of the colour is being described.
Saturation is the purity of a colour, which gives it intensity and strength. A gemstone with excellent saturation means it has a pure colour without hues. Top quality gems are defined as having a vibrant and bright colour.
Where are emeralds mined?
Emeralds are mined around the world, from secondary sites in Pakistan, Russia, Australia and the United States. The primary sites for high quality emerald mining are in Colombia, Brazil and Zambia.
Colombian emeralds have been mined long before the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in 16th century. Colombia has consistently produced top quality emeralds for the global market, this shade of green referred to as ‘jardin’, a range of leafy, somewhat bluish green that has less obvious inclusions. Colombian emeralds get their colour due to chromium. The Colombian mines are based in Chivor, Cunas and Muzo.
Since the 1960s, Brazil has been a favourite for affordable mid-range emeralds, though high quality stones have been mined here as well. Brazilian emeralds generally have a darker tone and have more, and darker, inclusions than Colombian emeralds. Colombian emeralds generally have light coloured inclusions which has less impact on the value of the gem.
Zambian emeralds, discovered in the 1920s, are younger and have recently found their own niche in the market, becoming a major competitor to Colombia The largest emerald mine (Kagem) is based in Zambia, Africa, which is sustainably managed by Gemfields since 2008, who also owns Fabergé, the legendary luxury jewellery brand. Zambian emeralds are characterized by cleaner and more saturated colour, owing their colour due to trace amounts of iron. Gemfields, along with Tiffany & Co. have been key to promoting Zambian emeralds to the market.
In 2013, Gemfields announced its new Global Ambassador: Hollywood starlet Mila Kunis. Here she wears an impressive emerald and diamond collar necklace by Fabergé set with ethical Gemfields emeralds. Photographed by Mario Sorrenti. Source: http://www.thejewelleryeditor.com
Emeralds in the luxury market today
With Pantone declaring ‘greenery’ as the colour of the year, it’s no surprise that luxury jewellery and watch brands placed emeralds in the spotlight at this year’s Baselworld. Baselworld is an annual event that takes place in Basel, Switzerland, showcasing marvelous creations and craftsmanship in watch, jewellery and gems. It is like entering a world of wonderlands created by brands like Hermes, Gucci and more. This is the place to find the pulse on trends emerging from Europe and Asia making their way to North America.
This year, Chopard took green brilliance to a new height. Showcasing Gemfields’ ethically mined Zambian emeralds in a show-stopping women’s watch design, the ‘Green Carpet’ watch is a dazzling piece of emeralds and diamonds. The gems used here have been certified for ethical, social and environmental practices of mining as defined by the Responsible Jewellery Council.
This past summer, the renowned Rockefeller Emerald, an incredible, rare and untreated 18.04 carat gemstone was auctioned by Christie’s in New York. Set in platinum with diamonds, Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s International Head of Jewellery, said “this is the finest emerald that’s ever come up for sale at auction or anywhere else in the world”.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the emerald in 1930 when it was set in a brooch that he presented to his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. When she passed in 1948, the brooch was taken apart and the gems were allocated among their children. The largest emerald went to David Rockefeller, their youngest son. He enlisted famed jewellery designer Raymond Yard to create a new setting and modern design for it, resulting in the Rockefeller Emerald ring.
Harry Winston bought the brilliant Rockefeller emerald for $5.5 million at Christie’s auction this summer, fetching a record-breaking price per carat: $305,000 per carat.
The Rockefeller Emerald. Image: http://www.christies.com.
Prior to this emerald sale, the previous record emerald sale at auction was the 23.46 carat emerald and diamond Bulgari pendant owned by Elizabeth Taylor. Christie’s in New York sold it for $6.5 million in 2011, which meant it sold for $280,000 per carat.
Emerald and diamond necklace by Bulgari. Image: http://www.christies.com
Did you know that emeralds are actually rarer than diamonds? Because of their scarcity and lush colour, we are now witnessing heritage jewellery houses like Chopard, Harry Winston among others, meeting the growing appetite for green with exciting collections that feature emeralds…