Emeralds have entranced us through the ages. It remains one of the most popular gems today and is one of the rarest and most valuable precious stones.
Emerald is a Persian word meaning "green gem". It changed from Greek to Latin as smaragdus, then to esmaurde, esmralde, and in the 16th century to esmeralde.
Emerald is an ancient gem. According to the oldest book in the world, the Papyrus Prisse, "But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks." This book is 4500 years old, but the passage was copied from a writing 1000 years earlier. The book was probably referring to the Egyptian Mines. The Cleopatra Mines were lost for a thousand years, only to be rediscovered in 1818. Today, Egypt is full of excavations and tunnels. The poor quality and small stone production explains the practical reason why the mines were originally abandoned.
It was recorded that Nero would watch the gladiator games through flat emerald crystals. Pliny, the Roman scholar, was the first to suggest emerald was a family member of beryl. It was not until the early 19th century that science proved him right. Further, Pliny stated regarding the emerald, "Indeed, no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for, 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 than this."
Ancients believed the emerald possessed strong powers. Romans believed the emerald evoked tranquility during troubled times. It was thought to strengthen one's memory and quicken one's intelligence. Many believed an emerald would make its owner more economical, and therefore more wealthy. A 16th century physician claimed emerald was a cure for dysentery. The sufferer had to carry an emerald in his mouth and a second stone had to touch the abdomen. Of course, the cure was strictly for the wealthy. Emeralds were also thought to be cures for eye diseases. Pliny records, "If the sight has been wearied or dimmed by intensively looking at any other object, it is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone. And lapidaries who cut and engrave fine gems know this well, for they have no better method of resting their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness."
Emerald is the birthstone of May and has come to symbolize the beauty of nature in the spring. Emerald was dedicated by the Greeks to the planet Venus. Early Jewish cabalists believed emerald held mystical power over the Angel Muriel. Today many believe emerald is vital for physical and emotional healing.
Pliny also recorded the emerald legend of Crypus. In ancient times, there was a marble lion statue with emerald eyes. The statue faced the sea. The stones were so bright, they pierced the water and scared the fish away. When the fishermen removed the emerald eyes, the fish returned.
Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador, after his conquest of Peru, sent back to Spain numerous emeralds of large size and fantastic quality. Peruvian Indians worshipped a fine emerald the size of an ostrich egg. The Spanish Conquistadors thought Peru was the source of emerald because the Inca treasure rooms were full of gems. The Inca swore there were no mines in Peru. The Spanish tortured and massacred the Inca. In 1588, the Spanish discovered the true source of emerald was Colombia. During this period of time, uneducated traders used outdated and improper methods to tell if emerald was real or not. The emeralds were put to the hammer test. If they survived, the traders believed they were real. If they shattered, they were thrown away as useless. Since even a diamond can shatter under a hammer, who knows how many emeralds were destroyed this way?
WEARING EMERALD IN ANCIENT TIMES
Emeralds grow in strict crystals. In ancient times, they were simply polished, drilled lengthwise, and strung as oblong beads. In the east, they were occasionally mounted with gold claws or in a lion's jaw. Sometimes they were simply hung on a chain.
Probably the most famous emerald is the Duke of Devonshires. It is two inches square and weighs 1383.95 carats. It has superb color and is thoroughly included. It has never been cut and probably could not be because of the inclusions. It was given to the Duke of Devonshire by the Emperor of Brazil in 1836.
Another famous piece is the Crown of Andes. Sebastian de Benalcazar, son of a peasant, ran away from home to join Pizzaro in the New World. Pizzaro appointed him Governor of Quitos. He started a settlement in an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes in 1536. Then came the Plague of 1590. The city escaped because it was so isolated. Local families decided to create a crown for the Blessed Mother for saving the colony from disaster. They began the crown in 1593. The gold frame weighed over 100 pounds. It was set with 453 emeralds taken from the Inca treasures. The main stone is a beautiful 45 carat. Hanging from the Crown are 17 pear shaped emeralds. All the emeralds total 1500 carats. The Crown was finished in 1599. The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception was formed to guard the Crown of the Andes. When intelligence reached the Guard that pirates or thieves were in the area, they hid the Crown, buried the Crown, or carried it out into the jungle.
Emerald is a "silicate" and contains silicon and oxygen as major constituents. Its crystal growth is hexagonal, the reason most emeralds are cut emerald cut. It has a hardness of 71/2. Chromium is the reason most emeralds are green.
After the Cleopatra mines were exhausted, emeralds continued to find their way to the Western world. However, no one knew the source of these stones. In the 10th century an Arab writer believed emeralds came from Mount Zabarah, depending on the wind direction and atmospheric conditions. He also stated that the intensity of color in the emerald changed depending on the phases of the moon. Tavernier, the great gem merchant, went to the Far East in search of these stones. He later wrote that the Orient was not the source of emerald and speculated they came from Peru via the Philippine Islands to Europe. It was Cortez that discovered the true source of emerald in Colombia.
Russian emeralds were found in 1830 when a tree was uprooted by a storm. The crystals were large, the stones were typically small and of low quality. In the early 20th century, small emerald deposits were found in Wales and Australia. In 1913, emeralds were discovered in Brazil. Probably the most significant emerald find of this century was in Africa. They were first discovered in Transvaal in 1927. Some of the finest stones ever discovered were in Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia) in 1956. Although this mine no longer produces, the stones were small, bright, greenish yellow colors. The major producer of African emeralds today is Zambia. Small mines continue to be discovered in Africa. Some emeralds are occasionally mined in India and Afghanistan. The new Madagascar find has some emerald. It is supposed to rival the Colombian gems in color, but so far all the sizes are small. However, by and large, the champion of emerald production remains Colombia. Emeralds from Colombia are the first choice of connoisseurs.
With the highest murder and kidnapping rates in the world, cocaine cartels and a long-running guerrilla insurgency, Colombia is often referred to as "Locombia", or the mad country. Colombia was a gateway for the first inhabitants who migrated from North and Central America. The pre-Columbian culture reveals a high degree of craftsmanship, and their goldwork with emeralds was the best in the whole continent, from a technique and artistic design standpoint.
A companion of Christopher Columbus landed in Colombia in 1499. The wealth of the local Indians promulgated the myth of El Dorado (gold and emeralds), and the shores of Colombia became the target of numerous expeditions. The Indians originally welcomed the Spaniards, but rebelled when the colonists tried to enslave them and confiscate their lands. The Spanish conquered a large part of Colombia. In 1819, Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar's army gained independence from the Spanish.
In 1849 two parties were established: the Conservatives and the Liberals. During the 19th century, the country experienced 50 insurrections and civil wars, culminating in the bloody "War of a Thousand Days" in 1899. The struggle between the Conservatives and the Liberals broke out again in 1948 with La Violencia, the most cruel and destructive of Colombia's many civil wars. Close to 300,000 died in the conflict as the Conservatives tried to consolidate a new era of power. In 1957, the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power for the next 16 years as the National Front. The National Front formally came to an end in 1974, but a modified version of the two-party system continued for another 17 years. In the meantime, the political monopoly encouraged the emergence of a number of left-wing guerrilla groups, such as the April 19 Movement (M19), which failed to dislodge the government but have undermined its ability to govern properly.
COLOMBIAN DRUG TRADE
Colombia is the world's biggest producer of cocaine, controlling some 80% of the world market. The production and trafficking of drugs is illegal and is controlled by cartels, or regional mafias. The Medellin Cartel was the strongest cartel during the 1980s. It has since been overshadowed by the Cali Cartel.
The cartels started in the early 1970s using primitive smuggling methods. The cocaine was packed into shoe heels or sewn into the linings of suitcases or coats, and smuggled overseas by mulas (paid persons carrying drugs) on regular commercial flights. The cartels bought the cocaine paste in Bolivia and Peru, refined it in clandestine laboratories hidden in the Colombian jungles and distributed the pure product to the USA, mainly through Florida.
The boom years began in the early 1980s. Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa, Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha and Carlos Lehder were the main leaders. They lived in freedom and luxury. Lehder founded a newspaper and a political party. Escobar started a newspaper and in 1982 was elected to the Colombian Congress. By 1983, Escobar's personal wealth was estimated to be US $2 billion, making him the richest criminal in the world. He financed the construction of a barrio for 200 poor families in Medellin and was called Robin Hood.
In mid-1983, Tranquilandia, the largest cocaine laboratory in history, went into production. It had water, electricity, roads, dormitories and its own airstrip. It produced 3500kg of pure cocaine every month. In August, 1983, Minister of Justice Bonilla launched a campaign against the drug trade. In March, 1984, police raided Tranquilandia and arrested everyone working there. The police confiscated seven airplanes, weapons, vehicles, and chemicals. Fourteen tons of cocaine were reportedly seized and thrown into the river.
The cartel bosses disappeared from public life. Most left for Panama, where they proposed an unusual peace treaty to President Betancur. For immunity from prosecution and extradition, they offered to invest their capital in national development programs. More tantalizing still, they proposed to pay Colombia's entire foreign debt of $13 billion. After much consideration, their proposals were turned down by the government. The Medellin Cartel continued to operate throughout the 1980s and began to invest its profits in land and industry. They began to create private armies to protect their investments. In 1984, the Medellin Cartel assassinated its major adversary, Justice Minister Bonilla. The government responded by implementing an extradition treaty that had been signed years earlier with the USA but never enforced. Four minor drug traffickers were swiftly sent to the USA to stand trial. The Medellin Cartel immediately began a campaign against the extradition. Calling themselves the "extraditables", they declared, "better a grave in Colombia than a jail in the USA". The campaign won a degree of nationalist support against the treaty.
The government refused to soften its stand, so the cartel bosses began to target the treaty's prominent supporters, such as Guillermo Cano, the publisher of Bogota's leading newspaper, El Espectador. He was assassinated in late 1986. Eventually, even the Attorney General was gunned down in the escalating conflict over the treaty. Colombia's security forces retaliated with the cooperation of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). They captured and extradited to the USA one of the top cartel leaders, Carlos Lehder.
In August, 1989, the cartel assassinated the leading presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan. Galan's murder led to a declaration of all out war by the government, and the USA immediately offered $65 million in emergency aid and logistical support. President Barco confiscated 989 buildings and ranches, 367 airplanes, 73 boats, 710 vehicles, 4.7 tons of cocaine, 1279 guns and 25,000 rounds of ammunition. The traffickers responded with a campaign of terror. They burned the farms of politicians and detonated bombs in banks, newspaper offices, political party headquarters and private homes. In September, 1989, an explosion destroyed the headquarters of El Espectador. In November, a mid-air bombing killed all 101 passengers and six crew members aboard an Avianca flight from Bogota to Cali. In December, a huge truck bomb ripped into the bottom floors of the national police agency in Bogota. The blast was so powerful it damaged buildings 20 blocks away.
The war culminated in a massive manhunt that led to the killing of another cartel leader, Gonzalo Gacha, known as "El Mexicano", who was suspected of masterminding the terror. After his death, the remaining cartel leaders urged the government to negotiate. Lengthy negotiations led to the surrender of the three Ochoa brothers, Pablo Escobar and their aides.
The deal they struck required the drug traffickers to surrender and plead guilty to just one crime in exchange for guarantees that they would not be extradited and would serve a reduced sentence in a specially built prison on the outskirts of Medellin. At the same time, the Constitutional Assembly formally rejected the extradition treaty for Colombian nationals. With the surrender or death of all the top leaders of the Medellin Cartel, the narco-terrorism subsided, though the drug trade continued unaffected. An estimated two to three tons of top-quality cocaine continued to enter the US every week.
In July, 1992, Pablo Escobar escaped from his jail following the government's bumbling attempts to move him to a more secure prison. Over the next year and a half, the elite 1500-man Search Block sought Escobar, tracking down and killing most of his close aides and collaborators. Finally, in December, 1993, the special unit located Escobar and shot him dead. The government claimed victory.
Drug trafficking hasn't diminished as the government hoped it would - in fact it's steadily growing. While Colombia's elite force concentrated its resources, hunting one man and persecuting one cartel, the other cartels were quick to take advantage of the circumstances. The Cali Cartel, which developed during the 1980s, swiftly moved into the shattered Medellin Cartel's markets, and became Colombia's largest drug trafficker. The Cali organization, led by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, rules the industry in a quieter, more business-like manner. It's probably no less ruthless than its Medellin rival, but certainly more discreet and sophisticated, avoiding open violence and terrorism. By 1994, the Cali Cartel was thought to control over 80% of New York's cocaine market and had dominant shares in other US and European markets. There are rumors that the surviving Medellin bosses may join the Cali network to create a Super-Cartel. There remains little hope that the cartels will simply walk away from a $5-billion-a-year business.
President Samper is now embroiled in a drug election scandal. Colombia's public prosecutor has presented charges to Congress that President Samper accepted $6 million in drug money from the Medellin cartel for his election. President Clinton has recently "decertified" Colombia because the Colombian government is not fighting the drug cartels. This puts Colombia in with "pariah" nations like Libya, Burma, Iran, and Syria. This will cost Colombia about $1 billion in international aid. Expect President Samper to resign.
Muzo, the most famous mining district, is located 100 kilometers north of Bogota. The district is hot and humid, and it constantly rains. Muzo, Cosquez, and Pena Blanca are the major mines. Emeralds are found in black calcium-rich shale. Most of the stones in both districts are horribly included. However, for identification purposes, Muzo stones tend to contain tiny bits of organic material and Chivor stones tend to contain pyrite.
Unlike the diamond industry controlled by DeBeers, the Colombian emerald market is wide open. Although the Colombian government leases mining rights to private business, illegal mining is the rule, not the exception. No one even pretends to control the situation.
In the 1940s, the Colombian government nationalized the mines. This led to rampant corruption. The government bureaucrats who oversaw the mines looted the private company profits. After 900 deaths in the 1970s, the Colombian government shut down the mines. In 1977, the government decided to grant short-term leases to private concerns. The companies were fearful of losing their leases, so they brought in dynamite and bulldozers. The government-sanctioned companies only accounted for 20% of Colombia's emerald exports; illegal smuggling 80%.
The inability to control emerald production is directly linked to the nature of emerald mining. Typically, bulldozers cut huge swaths across a mountainside. Miners then use hydraulic jacks and dynamite. Mining companies run large amounts of water over the overburden to expose the emerald veins. This process allows the miners to discover the larger crystals, minus the crystals destroyed in the process. The rest of the production is carried down the mountain. Small , muddy riverbeds are created where the illegals search for emerald crystal. If a mine gets 30% of the emerald production, they are lucky. Every time mining companies threaten to purchase mining equipment to increase production, the principals receive death threats.
MUZO OR CHIVOR: DOES IT MATTER?
The terms Muzo and Chivor are often used in the trade, not so much to determine the exact source of a gem, but rather to to describe the quality of emerald. "Muzo" is used to describe a warm, grass-green emerald, with yellow being the secondary color. "Chivor" stones are like the pine trees of Washington, with blue being the secondary color. Certain collectors and dealers argue about which color is the best. In top colors, both types of colors are highly desirable. Although Colombia produces a large quantity of emerald, most of it has very little color or is horribly included. Fine color (3.5 to 4.0/MI2 clarity AGL), emeralds are desirable and expensive.
AFRICAN VS. COLOMBIAN EMERALD
Today, African emeralds dominate the lower/middle end of emerald market. This is because African emerald is cut using superior methods to the Colombian goods, even though Colombia is trying to fight back. Also, as general rule, African emeralds are cleaner than Colombian goods.
At the higher end, there is controversy between dealers and collectors. Although some African emeralds look exactly like Colombian emeralds, as a general rule, African emerald sells for a 25% discount to Colombian emerald. African emerald tends towards the greenish/blue colors. Detractors say African goods look more like tsavorite than Colombian emerald. Further, African stones are colored with vanadium, which tends to bring out black and gray tones. However, if you are looking for eye-clean emerald, African may be your only choice.
Emeralds are very included compared to most gemstones. Inclusions that would not be acceptable in ruby and sapphire are acceptable in emerald. The only other gemological exception is Burma ruby or Burma sapphire, where the inclusions may tell if the stone is from the Mogok mine and is unheated. The definitive identifier for Colombian emerald is the three-phase inclusion; solid, liquid, and gas.
Emeralds have been oiled for centuries. Approximately 99% of all emeralds are treated. This is only possible when inclusions break the surface. Clear oil is forced into surface-breaking inclusions, thereby reducing the visibility of inclusions. Oiled stones tend to fluoresce a pale yellow. Similar to the heating of ruby and sapphire, this is perfectly acceptable. Some collectors view this process as akin to buying fine furniture. Once a year it is brought into the manufacturer for a re-oiling. A new and controversial treatment is the opticoning of emeralds. Some dealers content opticoned emeralds have a better finish, are more durable, and the treatment is permanent. Opticoning uses the same theory as oil. Inclusions are filled with a thick epoxy instead of oil. The stones are sealed with a thin coat. Some dealers contend the treatment is not stable.
Although emerald is discovered in comparative abundance, fine gems rarely obtain any size. It is very difficult to find good quality stones over 2-3 carats. Gem emeralds between 5 and 10 carts are rare treasures. Emerald is at least 20 times rarer than diamond, yet sells for approximately the same price per carat.
A good, one carat Colombian emerald can sell from $1000-$4000 per carat. A top gem can easily reach $10,000 per carat. Two to five carat top gem emeralds can easily sell for $15,000-$20,000 per carat. The best Colombian emerald can reach $20,000-$30,000 in up to ten carat sizes. Superior ten carat or larger emeralds can reach $50,000 per carat.
Many collectors have a hard time buying/selling an emerald with an AGL Colored Stone Grading Report. They have become used to buying 3.5 Burma sapphires and 3.5 Burma rubies. Therefore, they want 3.5 Colombian emeralds. In the 14 years NGC has been certifying emerald, only one emerald has been graded a straight 3.5 at the lab. This includes hundreds of emeralds, not to mention the best gleaned from the millions seen in Colombia. Therefore, you have to change your focus regarding emerald. For all intents and purposes, you should think of 3.5-4.0 as the top color grade. Colombian emeralds that grade 4.5/65-75 are also beautiful and highly desirable. You must also change your sights regarding clarity. Some dealers and collectors believe the AGL should change the way they clarity grade emeralds vs. all other stones. However, do not expect AGL to do this. Probably 98% of all emerald discovered is Heavily Included (HI) or worse. Therefore, an MI2 is considered a relatively clean emerald.
Recent reports from Colombia indicate emeralds currently available are mostly in small sizes and lack the deep green color traditionally associated with such goods. Colombia is experiencing a shortage of larger stones with good colors with most mines producing small-sized goods with lighter colors.
High quality Colombian emeralds have registered price levels 10 to 15 percent higher in 1995. Demand remains strong for these gems from Colombia. NGC has increased its price matrix and price charts for 3.5-4.0 Colombian emeralds.
Fine Colombian emeralds will always be sought after by gem connoisseurs. Colombia is a country totally out of control and has so many political and economic problems it will never get a handle on controlling the emerald market. From an investment standpoint, this is bullish. Colombian emerald is the only gem which has gone sideways or up for the last 20 years. We expect this trend to continue. Every serious portfolio should include one Colombian emerald. Call NGC at 1-800-458-6453 if you have an interest in "green fire".
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