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DEMYSTIFYING EMERALDS

5 May 2019

By Richa Goyal Sikri –
Image caption: White gold earrings by VAK Fine Jewels featuring vivid green Colombian emeralds certified insignificant oil, with rose-cut diamonds.

Since time immemorial, emeralds have captured our imagination like no other gemstone. Whether their historical association to the exotic Cleopatra, the belief of native Colombians in their divinity or the Mughals who carved emeralds with prayers hoping for heavenly protection, each generation has discovered a facet of this verdant gem that transcends the tangible.

It is this heady combination of history, mysticism and beauty that has and continues to draw us towards emeralds, making them, one of the most popular of all coloured gems. Whether Colombian, Zambian, Panjshir or Brazilian, we can’t get enough of this hypnotic mineral. However, in our quest for acquisition, lets pause and reflect on four essential factors that determine the trajectory of value appreciation for this elixir of life!

BEAUTY: The first to drive demand will always be beauty. For emeralds, it is their colour, crystal quality, clarity and cut. The closer your emerald is to the primary green hue, the higher the value. While a pale green gem may beautifully compliment a light peach attire, from an investment point of view, perfectly saturated emeralds displaying a well-balanced, rich green hue will better appreciate. Alongside colour, the crystal quality or lustre of the gem is equally important. In India, the trade refers to emeralds with excellent crystal quality/lustre as “Paanidar” or reflecting light in a manner where the gem appears laden with water. Additionally, the style of cutting is also an indication of perceived value. Top quality is typically facetted or cut into a square, rectangle (emerald cut), or round shape. Cabochons, either as classic domes or unique shapes like a lozenge, sugarloaf, usually come from the second tier of material, while the lowest quality is crafted as beads or carved. However, the intimate nature of gem acquisition can change our perception of value. I love cabochon and sugarloaf emeralds as I feel they have more character, which also allows me to acquire top-grade within this segment, without burning too big a hole in my pocket. Finally, while the market places a higher value on cleaner emeralds, for me one of the most beautiful features of these minerals is their eye-visible inclusions. Representing a frozen moment of creativity, the compositions inside these precious gems impeccably denote their distinctive personality.

RARITY: While beauty may spur demand, it’s the rarity factor that determines the price and drives value appreciation. The scarcity in emeralds comes from natural beauty devoid of artificial enhancement. Emeralds typically undergo two manners of treatments, “oiling” and “resin filling”, with the former further sub-categorised as insignificant, minor, moderate etc. The most valuable emeralds are devoid of any treatment, as the degree of enhancement increases, value proportionately adjusts. In Colombian emeralds, only 0.0195% are “no oil”, with the figure approximately 5% in Zambian material. While its perfectly acceptable to buy emeralds with insignificant, minor or moderate oil, its essential to understand how treatments impact the trajectory of value appreciation. The rarity factor also stems from the unique set of circumstances surrounding emerald creation. For example, Zambian emeralds form only when the 1.7 billion-year-old TMS rock (Talc magnetite schist), interacts with a 500 million-year-old pegmatite rock. Where these two rocks intersect, if a miner is lucky, he/she may find a ‘reaction zone’, inside which they may find emeralds of varying quality. To put things in perspective, at the world’s largest emerald mine in Zambia (KAGEM by Gemfields), they move 1 million tonnes of rock every month to reach emerald bearing ‘reaction zones’. Important to note, 70% of their revenue comes from only 7% of their top-quality production.

CERTIFICATION: The third element in value appreciation is provenance. Ten years from now, you are ready to sell your beautiful top-grade emerald, where do you go? You could return to your jeweller, he may buy-back at the same price or may offer to sell it further, which depending on the market forces at play, may result in profit. The second option is to trade internationally with a jeweller or a vintage jewellery merchant. In both scenarios, beyond the gem’s physical qualities, having a certificate from an internationally recognised gem lab like the European SSEF, Gubelin or the American AGL, will further enhance value. Some other reputable labs used by the trade for emeralds and other coloured gems are the GJEPC in Jaipur, GGTL in Switzerland, CDTEC in Bogota, AIGS, ICA, GIA and Bellerophon in Bangkok.

RESPONSIBLY SOURCED: One of the most important topics discussed at industry forums, is responsible sourcing of gemstones and precious metals. Discerning customers prefer buying gems and jewellery that can be certified as acquired from a trustworthy source. For some, it may stem from superstition or a cultural preference to avoid negative energies; others understand the financial value in obtaining ‘clean goods.’ Given this, industry stakeholders are collaborating to create transparent mine-to-market traceability of gemstones. One example is Swiss laboratory Gubelin’s ‘emerald paternity test’, which employs DNA-based nanoparticles to track the journey of emeralds from their source to the customer. Emeralds containing this technology are certified with “Provenance Proof” branding, providing a tangible testament of their origin. Should a customer, want to verify the claim, the nanoparticles can be retrieved and decoded at any stage along the supply chain. Similarly, SSEF has recently concluded a pilot to provide customers with detailed certificates documenting the production process for Rubies from mine to market.

To quote Plato, “Human behaviour comes from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Just like everything in your wardrobe is not couture, every single emerald you own doesn’t need to be top-grade. However, as you navigate this confusing marketplace and build your collection, a clear understanding of what truly drives long-term value appreciation, will hold you in good stead for the foreseeable future and generations to come.