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Emerald - The Official New Zealand Guide

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

One of the most desirable and coveted precious gemstones is Emerald. Emerald is a vivid green coloured Beryl which is a mineral found in sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks. The vast majority of Emeralds have numerous inclusions and internal flaws, and these imperfections are unique to each gemstone, much like a fingerprint. This brittle gem is usually faceted into its signature "Emerald Cut" for jewellery. This is a faceted step cut which combines a rectangular shape with shortened corner facets, maximising Emerald's distinctive green colour and protecting it from external damage and internal stress.


1.15ct Afghani Panjshir Emerald
1.15ct Afghani Panjshir Emerald

Emerald comprises one of the most common substances found on planet earth, a compound called Silica. Silica, an oxide of the element Silicon, is closely related to carbon. In an Emerald, Silica is combined with the oxides of two metals, one being aluminium, which is the basis of ruby and sapphire, and the other, an exceedingly rare metal known as glucinium or beryllium. Traces of chromium or vanadium in the Beryl cause it to develop a green colour and become an Emerald. Just as ruby and sapphire are the same, except for in colour, Emerald, Aquamarine, Morganite and Heliodor are practically the same minerals. The distinctions in the four varieties are due to colour differences.


Gold Incan Mask with Emerald Beads
Gold Incan Mask with Emerald Beads

Emerald has a long and rich history, spanning back to the earliest writings known to humankind. Emeralds were excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and similar ornaments featuring Emerald were dug up from the ruins of old Old Rome. Archaeologists found Emerald talismans on the bodies and in the sarcophagus of Egyptian mummies, and it was discovered that the ancient Egyptians had mines near the Arabian Sea. These early mines were so large that 400 men could work together in them. Pliny, the Roman author, stated in one of his early writings that the Emerald stood in high estimation of the ancients. Some confirmation of this is derived from an old Hebrew tradition that if a serpent fixes its eyes on an Emerald, it becomes blind. In The Bible, it is written that the rainbow is "like unto an emerald". Nero and Domitian used Emeralds as ornaments for their dress. Isidorus the Bishop of Seville (640 A.D.), said of the Emerald "that it surpasses in its greenness all green stones, and even the leaves of plants, and that it imparts to the air around it a green shimmer; that its colour is the most soothing to the eyes of those engaged in cutting and polishing the stone". In the Manka Valley in Peru, there is folklore that the indigenous people (The Inca) paid homage to a magnificent Emerald the size of an ostrich egg, which they named the goddess of emeralds. The priests displayed it on high festivals only. When Peru fell to the Spaniards, many Emeralds that the Inca people possessed were stolen. From this point onwards, Emeralds become less rare in Europe, with jewellers and lapidaries preferring Peruvian stones.


Crown of the Andes
Crown of the Andes

The Crown of the Andes is an extraordinary religious object, featuring the oldest collection of Emeralds on a single artefact. Spanish craftsmen fashioned it in the 16th century in Popayan, which is present-day Colombia. When the conquistadors plundered the Inca's gold, they brought European diseases, and in 1590 a virulent strain of smallpox swept through the region. The faithful of Popayan prayed to the Virgin for deliverance and miraculously, She spared them. In gratefulness, the congregation commissioned an extravagant crown for the statue of the Virgin Mary in their cathedral. The most antiquated parts of the crown are the orb and the cross at the top. Further gold and Emerald adornment were added year after year, with donations from the church. The centrepiece of the extraordinary crown is the Atahualpa Emerald which was named after the last of the Inca emperor and reputedly seized after his defeat by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. The crown was displayed yearly during the processions of Holy Week, but the word of its splendour soon spread. So, to protect it from thieves, the church set up a clandestine group of local nobles called the Confraternity of Immaculate Conception. At the first signs of trouble, its members were entrusted with dismantling the crown and hiding parts of it in the jungle. The Confraternity kept the crown safe until 1936 when local clergy sold it to pay for a new hospital and orphanage. The buyers were a syndicate of gem dealers who wanted to break up the crown and sell its jewels. However, it proved such a popular attraction this decision was fortunately reversed. This important piece of gemstone history is now displayed intact at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA.


The Topkapi Dagger
The Topkapi Dagger

Another historically significant item featuring priceless Emeralds is The Topkapi dagger. This celebrated Emerald dagger is the star attraction of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Topkapi is one of the finest objects of its kind, but its origins are linked with murder, bloodshed and treachery. Fashioned in Istanbul in the mid-18th century by the royal craftsmen of the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Mahmud I, Topkapi was most likely commissioned as a diplomatic gift for the Persian leader Nadir Shah. Shah was known as "the Napolean of Persia", and was the most powerful military figure in the region. He had waged a bitter war against the Ottomans but the two countries eventually made peace in 1746 and exchanged gifts. Mahmud's contribution included the spectacular dagger, a smart choice as Nadir's fondness for jewels were well known, he seized many during his campaigns in India, including the Koh-i-noor diamond. The dagger is dominated by four enormous Emeralds and in the Islamic world, Emeralds were highly prized and exotic. These particular Emeralds originate from the Muzo mine in Colombia. The large upper and lower Emeralds are pear-shaped, and the middle Emerald is a rectangular cushion cut. A fourth Octagonal Emerald is set on top of the handle and lifts to reveal a watch. Diamonds, enamel and mother-of-pearl decoration are set into the gold of the handle and sheath. Unfortunately for Nadir Shah, he never lived to see the dagger, as while the gifts were in transit, he was assassinated in this bed. Upon news travelling, the escort party halted their journey and returned home, and the dagger was kept at the Topkapi Palace, where it is still on display today.


1.04ct Colombian Emerald Pair
1.04ct Colombian Emerald Pair

Emerald is both the traditional and modern birthstone for the month of May. Emerald also represents the 55th wedding anniversary and is a classic gift given to celebrate this milestone. Steeped in symbolism and meaning, the Emerald represents many different things. Rebirth and new beginnings, power and protection, peace and serenity, abundance and material wealth. It has been claimed that admiring an emerald relaxes the eyes and the mind. Some of these representations may give the Emerald buyer different meanings for choosing this seductively beautiful precious gem.


The most critical Emerald deposits are in Colombia, notably the Muzo Mine, 100km northwest of Bogota. Initially mined by the Incas, the Muzo deposit was abandoned and rediscovered in the 17th century. The mine yields fine quality stones of deep green colour. Mining, apart from the shafts, is mainly by step-form terraces. The Emerald bearing, soft broken rock is loosened, and the Emeralds are picked out by hand.




Zambia is now the 2nd most significant source of Emeralds in more recent history. Deposits were first discovered around the 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1970s that serious commercial mining began in the region. The Zambian government is currently working to regulate mining practices to reduce issues such as illegal mining and forced labour. Gemfeilds, the largest and most sustainable mining company working in Zambia is now using nano dust technology on emerald rough. These special markers can then be decoded to reveal the Emeralds place of origin. The above video is a 4.88ct Zambian Emerald, sourced for a customer by The Sapphire Merchant.


Pakistan and Afghanistan have become a source of high-quality Emeralds, though very few on the worldwide market come from these locations. Some Pakistani Emeralds were evaluated by Gübelin as being lively, with good transparency and colour saturation, rivalling gems from the Muzo mine in Colombia. Afghanistan Emerald locations show evidence of historic mining dating back to the middle ages. However, with ongoing political unrest accompanied by the harsh geology of Afghanistan, fewer Panjshir Emeralds, as they are known, are finding their way onto the worldwide market. Other Emerald deposits are mined in Australia, Brazil, India, Russia and Zimbabwe.



It is well known in the gemstone trade that most emeralds on the market today are oiled. The application of treatments to enhance the beauty of gemstones is almost as old as the discovery and appreciation of gems themselves. Records of actual oiling of gem crystals go back as far as ancient Greece. The principle of oiling is that while air-filled fractures in gemstones are obvious, a fracture-filled with a transparent oil or some other suitable material will be much less apparent. While the oiling changes only the clarity characteristics of the gemstone, the reduction in flaws will naturally intensify the colour of an Emerald as these cracks no longer block the passage of light. When purchasing an Emerald, the most acceptable treatment that does not affect the price is 'Minor Oil'. Emeralds that have had no treatment or oil and of gem-quality command extraordinary prices. For at 3 carats plus Emerald, you would not get change out of $100,000 USD.


Emeralds in stock at The Sapphire Merchant
Emeralds in stock at The Sapphire Merchant

Where should your price expectation be when buying an Emerald on the worldwide market at retail value? The benchmark is based on Colombian Emeralds, and prices vary widely depending on carat size, clarity and colour. There are four colour grading descriptions; fair colour, good colour, very good colour and top colour. Additionally, there are three categories to describe clarity; SI/I (Significantly Included or Included), VS/SI (Very Slightly or Slightly Included), VVS (Very Very Slightly Included). Each time an Emerald moves up a carat size, a premium is added to the pricing. For an Emerald between 1 - 1.99ct with a fair colour grade that is significantly included, the price is approximately $950 NZD per carat. For the same size Emerald that is top colour and Very Very Slightly Included, the cost can soar to $30,000 NZD per carat. If you are looking to invest in an Emerald, consider your budget closely. For a nice single Emerald approximately 1 carat in weight, you need a budget of at least $2500. The Sapphire Merchant sells at wholesale prices rather than retail, so you gain value in your investment immediately by purchasing through us. Emerald prices have been growing steadily year after year, and for this reason, make a sound, long-term investment.


Emerald rates 7.5 - 8 on the Mohs hardness scale making it an acceptable gemstone for everyday wear. The Emerald Cut which most gems are faceted into ensures that it is structurally durable. The Sapphire Merchant works closely with a supplier who specialises specifically in Emeralds. My supplier makes regular buying trips to Muzo in Colombia, stocking up on a spectacular range of these green treasures. Contact Gemma today with your Emerald specifications and I will send options through within hours.

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