Journey to the Emerald Market
I recently returned from a trip to Bogotá, Colombia, one of the worlds primary sources of emeralds. While I saw lots of emeralds, buying them is never an easy proposition. With the increased appreciation for fine colored gems and diamonds continuing to rise, so do the prices. Additionally, the availability of desired qualities is never guaranteed, you get to see what the mines are producing. These challenges were no exception on this trip.
Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá is 8,660 feet above sea level and is in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes mountains. There is an incredible sense of national pride in Colombia that is evident everywhere. This beautiful and rare green gem plays a very special part of the Colombian tradition. Emeralds were exposed to the European and world markets after sixteenth century Spanish explorers invaded the New World. However, they were in use by indigenous people in jewelry and religious ceremonies for up to 500 years prior. Today the Esmeralderos, as the people in the emerald business are called, carry on the tradition of mining, cutting, selling and treasuring the country’s most prized natural resource.
During my visit I was working out of the Emerald Trade Center, which is the main building in Bogotá dedicated entirely to the emerald business. The building has offices for buying and selling, exporting, as well as gemological laboratories, treatment facilities, and even retail jewelry shops on the ground floor. The emerald business in Colombia includes many participants each performing a necessary function for the industry to operate. Commissionistas, who represent the owners of the stones, visit the buying offices with goods to show and take offers for the owners to consider. It was wonderful to see that many of these Commissionistas are women and that men and women play an equally important role in the Colombian emerald market. For the duration of my stay, goods came across our desk to view in a non-stop way. The only thing that broke the flow of goods coming to us was the rain! When it rains everyone stays indoors. Additionally, the natural light from the sun is obscured, critical for viewing emeralds properly.
I was fortunate to visit the Museo del Oro on this trip and explore the history of gold. 'The Gold Museum' boasts the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world. The items originate from pre-Columbian societies which lived in present-day Colombia before the Spanish invasion. The exhibition is divided into separate halls for different the different cultures and shows the gold items each one produced, most of which were made for religious or ceremonial purposes. It was really interesting to see some of the tools used to create gold sheets and special designs.
The Importance of Origin
Some gemstones are very strongly associated with their country of origin especially if the origin produces stones of desirable qualities. Emeralds are found in many countries including Zambia, Brazil, Afghanistan and more, but those from Colombia hold a special place in the eyes of the market. In the same way, so do rubies from Burma, sapphires from Kashmir and Sri Lanka, as well as Copper bearing tourmalines from Paraíba, Brazil.
I believe that a gemstone should be evaluated, and subsequently priced, by its intrinsic gemological properties, regardless of where it was mined. It stands to reason that a beautiful gem quality stone is a beautiful gem quality stone regardless of where it is from. Color, clarity, size, the crystal and quality of cutting are the main factors. It is important to know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate the origin of emeralds and other gemstones by sight alone. It’s true that emeralds (as well as other gemstones) from certain origins may have characteristic hues and inclusions, but their incidence cannot be used as a rule in determining origin. (As an example, three phase inclusions were once thought to be indicative of Colombian emeralds, now it’s been determined that they are present in emeralds from other origins such as Afghanistan). Within mine runs there can be an incredible range of material produced; clean and opaque, light and dark, yellowish-green to bluish-green. An origin report from a reputable gemological laboratory can generally determine the origin of a gemstone. However, sometimes the origin is deemed undeterminable, and the labs are not infallible. Ultimately, an emerald from Colombia, all things being equal regarding quality, will be worth more in the market than an emerald from any other origin. Having had the opportunity to see emeralds of the ultimate quality from other origins such as Afghanistan, Brazil and Zambia, I know better than to just judge a stone based on its birthplace. That said, I’m a big fan of them! Colombian emeralds are very special for their beauty as well as the time-honored traditions and efforts that are involved in their production.