How to buy emeralds

Which emerald is a good emerald?

Color

This is a question that many people have asked me for years, every day.  It's the biggest concern for anyone shopping for emeralds or is simply curious about this exotic gem.  Sometimes the explanation is hard to understand because there are not many good examples in the marketplace you can refer to for comparison.  Not all jewelry stores have a nice variety of natural emeralds or have good information about them.

If you are not a gemologist, the jargon and methods used to grade quality can be hard to understand. From my side of the jewelry counter, I may look at as many as 7 different features of each stone.  From your side of the counter you need to know simple but important things to make your own decision. For someone looking for an engagement ring, for the ladies that love gems and want some idea of what to look for, or for someone looking for that special gift that shows how much you care, there are four very important qualities of natural emeralds that you can assess yourself, Color, Clarity, Brilliancy and Size. We'll discuss color first.

Color is the biggest factor in establishing the value and quality in natural emeralds.  Color is divided into: Hue, Tonal Grade, and Saturation. Hue refers to the kind of green color the emerald has. It gives a name to the color. Most of the Colombian emeralds present a “bluish green”.  

Tonal grade establishes the degree of darkness or lightness of the green color in the gem.  Natural emeralds present a wide variety of green tones:

 

Very Light     Light     Medium Light     Medium     Medium Dark     Very Dark

 

Many people consider that a good emerald is dark green.  Most of the literature about these gems will say that a good emerald will have a Tonal grade from Medium to Very Dark. Be careful because this is only one part of the color feature. Color is only one of the factors that make the value in these gems.

How vivid and how much power the green has is as important as how dark it is.  That is what we call Saturation in the color.  Saturation is the strength or intensity of the color, ranging from a dull hue (green) to a pure vivid hue. That's why you will find emeralds with a dark green color but at the same time they are dull or “flat”, having a dead look that is not exciting and doesn't speak to you.

In the same way you will find a light green colored emerald that is full of life, one that catches your eye in the display case and you can not stop looking at it.   That mysterious power grabs your attention and you cannot explain why. So...light green is not always a bad thing.

When you mix the Tonal grade and Saturation you will have the color in an emerald. In the market the most expensive emeralds are the ones with high saturation and a Tonal Grade between Medium and Medium Dark. Of course, this doesn't mean that you won't enjoy a Medium Light with nice saturation or vivid green emerald.  You can't imagine how many customers I have had who were looking for a dark green emerald “because those are the good ones” –they say- and can't help falling in love with a Medium Light Tonal Grade emerald with good saturation.

“I haven’t seen emeralds in this kind of green color.”   “I didn’t like emeralds because I though they came just in dark dull green…” “I can't tell what it is about this stone that I love.”  “I have seen emeralds but not like these.”  “My mom has an emerald but it doesn’t looks like yours.”

These are the phrases I’m very happy to hear and I hear them all the time. We have a nice selection of emeralds, a selection that you normally won’t see in traditional jewelry stores. Some of them are dark and some light, some with a high saturation some with low saturation...but all of them are beautiful.

Color is only one part of the quality in natural emeralds. I’ll talk about Clarity in my next blog. 

 

How to buy an emerald

CLARITY

In my last blog I mentioned four characteristics of emeralds that you can evaluate yourself. You can grade color, clarity, brilliance, and size.  Last time we discussed color. This blog will discuss clarity.

Clarity in emeralds speaks about what the gem looks like on the inside and this is what makes an emerald a different gem than any other.  Most emeralds present inclusions that are small bits of other minerals, gas, liquid, and crystals that the emeralds take on in the crystallization process. About 99% of all natural emeralds will present inclusions.

Inclusions in emeralds are sometimes easy to see without a loupe or microscope.  (A loupe is the one-eyed 10X magnifier that a jeweler wears on a string around his neck to make him look important.)  What in other gems may be considered “flaws” or “imperfections”, in emeralds is totally natural and is one of the things we try to find every time we seem them under a loupe. That is why gemologists, appraisers and experts don't use the same criteria to judge clarity that they use for other gems like diamonds and topazes.

The Gemological Institute of America, GIA, categorizes three clarity types for colored gems:

Type I gemstones, often virtually inclusion-free, such as aquamarine, citrine, topaz and green tourmaline.

Type II gemstones, usually included, such as ruby, sapphire, garnet, peridot, amethyst and spinel.

 Type III gemstones, almost always included, such as emerald and red tourmaline.

So...please don't be afraid when you see an inclusion in an emerald.   It is a natural part of this gem.

Inclusions in Colombian emeralds most of the time present elongated and thin shapes with peaked ends.  They are also called “jardin” or gardens because they look like branches and plant roots. They are like finger prints. Every single individual presents its own internal “garden” or layout for its inclusions. Be careful that they don't look like bubbles, they don't look arranged in a specific order, and they don't have a specific spot in the gem. When you are considering the purchase of an emerald, look at the gem through the jewelers loupe to find the inclusions.  Some of them can rule out your purchase and some can be quite beautiful.

 When does clarity affect the price in an emerald?  When it presents too many inclusions, when the gem does not look like a crystal because it is excessively included, and when it is too difficult to see facets on the pavilion, the back part of the emerald. 

Inclusions can compromise the durability of a stone and lessen the value when they are close to the surfaces of the gem. Some inclusions can create fractures in the emerald. If any of these inclusions are at the surfaces the stone can be broken easily through that part. 

In general, the fewer the inclusions, the higher the value of the gem. Of course, clarity is an important factor in evaluating an emerald but it is not the most relevant. Inclusions in emeralds are very special. Expect to find them.  Actually, any emerald without them is immediately suspected as synthetic or an imitation.

In the next blog we will discuss carat weight and size in emeralds.

 

Inclusions in Colombian Emeralds

My name is Jose Rodriguez and I am starting this blog to give you a jeweler’s point of view of the business of emeralds.  I can do this because I was born into a family of jewelers in the city of Cali, Colombia, in a South American country blessed with the best natural emeralds in the world.  Our jewelry shop, Queen Emerald, has been specializing in emeralds and emerald jewelry for more than 40 years.  We have an office in South Florida and our main shop is in downtown Bogota in the middle of the emerald market.

I became involved in the family business in 2000 when my father and I decided to open a store in the United States.  We have been open for business locally since then and are now committed to open our business to the entire country through our web site, www.GreenInGold.com.

There is a lot of technical information about emeralds on the internet and in books. I’ll be glad to give you references or links if you ask, but in this blog I want to give you the point of view of a jeweler, talking about natural emeralds and custom jewelry and telling stories about what it is like to be at the jeweler’s bench or at the other side of the counter. I will offer a different point of view about our business and our work with this beautiful gem.

In future blogs you will find tips about how to select a nice emerald, what really makes the value of this exotic gem, and you will learn the real dynamic in the emerald market.  I’ll tell some romantic stories involving some of our pieces, tell what happens when your best jeweler breaks a gorgeous emerald, finishing a setting, which you have been anxiously waiting for…

I’ll be more than happy to receive your comments and contributions. You can also contact me through our web page: Jose@QueenEmerald.com

You can also follow my blog on http://naturalemerald.wordpress.com

Carat Weight

In the last three blogs we discussed grade color, clarity, and brilliance. This blog is dedicated to the last of the four characteristics of emeralds that you can judge for yourself, size and carat weight, and how it affects the value of these beautiful gems.

Most of the time when we indicate the size of an emerald we do it in carats. A carat is a unit of weight equivalent to 0.20 grams.  In the jewelry trade we use this as “synonym” of size. Both are directly related and most of the time that we talk about size we talk about carat weight more than millimeters or inches.

For people that is not familiar with jewelry and precious gems the term carat can be confused with “karats”. These are two totally different things.  The term karat is used as a measurement of gold purity (24 Kt gold, 18 Kt gold, 14Kt gold…) and it doesn’t have anything to do with a gem’s size and weight. In the same way when we talk about carats in emeralds or any other gems it won’t be related to its quality or purity.

As the carat weight increases so does the price of the gem and more importantly, the price per carat.  This can be calculated by dividing stone price by its carat weight. Larger emeralds are rarer than smaller ones and very difficult to find in mines. On average, they have to remove 5 tons of dirt to find an emerald over 1 carat in gem quality. That is why a 3 carat emerald will cost more than three emeralds of 1 carat each of the same quality.

I know the jewelry and gem market is obsessed with size, and nearly everyone thinks “bigger is better”.  But when we talk about emeralds, size without quality is not always better. For the fans of size, the quality in emeralds is something that will speak loudly, but the bigger the emerald the louder its quality will speak. With diamonds, you have to be familiar with them and will need to examine them with a loupe to tell if a 3 carat diamond is a good one or not. But a three carat emerald will tell you everything about itself even if you are not an expert.

When you work with colored stones the really important part is the COLOR more than the size. Put two emeralds together, one in 1 carat and other in 2 carats. If the smaller one has better tone and saturation than the larger one, I can guarantee, your eyes will go directly to that one. Your attention and your admiration will be focused on the smaller one.

Please don’t get me wrong. There is nothing more beautiful than a 3, 4 or 5 carat emerald, no matter what the quality. If is a natural one I know I’ll enjoy it. But its beauty is also because it will show its real color, clarity and brilliancy and if you are not familiar with these features it maybe not a good choice for you.

The magic happens when you have a big emerald of a great quality. Believe me, this doesn’t happen really often, and that is why the price doesn’t change in a Linear Scale of increments.

In the end is up to you and what you like. If you have a big emerald enjoy it, they are really one of a kind.  Don’t be too concerned about its quality.  Please note your stone is very special and difficult to find. So just have fun with it.

Durability in Emeralds

As she removed the ring from her finger it slipped from her grasp and fell to the center of the glass display case.  Her face changed color and with a timid voice said, “I'm so sorry!” “Not a problem,” I said, picking up the ring from the display case and showing her and her husband that nothing had happened to the ring or the emerald. Then she said, “If the emerald didn't break, maybe it's not a real one.  They are very fragile.”

The lady thought that natural emeralds are so fragile that they couldn't resist something like dropping them 12” onto a display case. While I wouldn't want to drop them on purpose, they can withstand a lot more abuse than most people think. As I explained to the lady, there are a lot of factors that determine how fragile a stone will be, particularly after it is set.  Here are a few things I told her, and a few things you may find interesting about emerald durability. 

Most of the information about durability in emeralds says how delicate and weak this gem is. But in reality, emeralds are not all that fragile. The Mohs scale of mineral hardness identifies how easily a gemstone is scratched. Diamonds are at the top of the scale at 10.  After them come rubies and sapphires at 9, topaz at 8, and emeralds are from 7.5 to 8.  They are in the same range as aquamarines, most quartz and tourmalines, and above tanzanite (6.5 - 7), turquoise (5 - 6), onyx (6.5 – 7), zircon (6.5 – 7.5), opal (5.5 – 6.5) and pearls (2.5 -4.5).

Even though emeralds are relatively hard stones, the presence of fractures and inclusions that give each stone its personality and unique beauty can also affect their toughness. The liquids, gases and crystals inside these gems create challenges to those who work with the stones.  The gem cutter must avoid touching any inclusions with his cutting disk or he may break the stone. The setter, the person in charge of putting the stone into a piece of jewelry, can break a stone  just by pushing the stone into the setting if there are fissures near a corner of the stone.

All this talk about breaking stones may sound like bad news, but the good news is that if you see an emerald that has inclusions only in its center far from any surface or corner, durability of the gem will not be a problem.  A good cutter will isolate the inclusions in the center of the stone and the setter will design a setting that will protect the stone where it is most likely to be bumped by the wearer under normal circumstances. Yes, emeralds can be fragile but the cutter and setter have already taken most of the risks, much more than the wearer of a well designed piece of jewelry will ever have.

Here are some things I always tell my customers who are still concerned about an emerald's durability. You do have a choice where to wear your emerald.  Stones worn as pendants, earrings, or brooches are far less likely to be bumped or otherwise abused than stones set in rings and bracelets.  But more important than anything else is the setting.

Here are pictures of two settings that I feel give very good protection. A bezel setting goes all the way around the stone, covering its whole edge.  A V-Prong setting for cuts with corners, e.g. emerald cuts and pear shapes, is also a great option.  It encloses the most fragile parts, the corners, with metal.

Bezel Setting

V-Prong Setting

Because a setting is so important to the protection of an emerald, some jewelers don't feel comfortable working with them. They will have to be more careful when they work with these gems than when working with diamonds.  Just to make a small repair like resizing a ring or replacing a prong, they will have to take the emerald out of the setting, make the repair, and then put the gem back in the setting. It is a risk that some jewelers prefer not to take.

We at Queen Emerald always try to build all our jewelry pieces with the assumption that you will want to wear them every day and all the time. That is why every single piece is made by hand, every single setting is made for an individual stone, and all the prongs are bigger and wider than traditional prongs.

The best advice I can give is to enjoy your emeralds.  If you have one of our pieces already you can wear it with confidence every day.  It was made with just for that purpose. Just remember, ANYTHING can be broken and because you are wearing a unique and exclusive jewelry piece it needs to treated with a little care.

Queen Emerald
Natural Colombian Emeralds

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