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Our History

Over 80 Years of History

figure walter arnstein 1939 1951
Photos of Walter Arnstein – Left: Circa 1951, Right: Circa 1939.

With over 80 years of experience in the gem market, The Natural Emerald Company is rich in history. Our roots go back four generations, and while we continue to specialize in our signature product, natural untreated sapphires, our foray into emeralds with The Natural Emerald Company has been in development for over two decades.

The Beginning

You could also say though, in some regards, that our interest in emeralds has been developing for over a century. Our four generations of company history is based on a profound love and respect for all things mining and gemstone related that moved with the family from Germany to the New World in the mid-1800s when Nathan Arnstein and his wife arrived in New York in the 1860s equipped with a family trade, and a drive to make a better life. That drive would take their son Samuel Arnstein out west to prospect, settling in Leadville, Colorado in 1880 during a mining boom.

figure history photo and altimeter
Left: The New York Gem Importers Association, President, Walter Arnstein, circa 1951.
 Right: The actual altimeter Samuel Arnstein used in the 1880’s while prospecting in New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana.

Samuel Arnstein would prospect for gold, silver, and copper throughout New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana before returning to New York with his wife and children to raise their family. Samuel’s son, Walter, developed an early interest in investing in gemstones and mining and then would enter the industry by purchasing several bonds and shares of businesses.

The gemstone trade proved to be a lucrative business prospect in the early part of the 20th century, with little competition and rapid growth. In 1939, Walter Arnstein narrowed the company’s focus on buying and selling sapphires and other precious gemstones, and The Natural Sapphire Company was born. At that time, gemstone enhancements and synthetic stones had not yet been invented, so Walter dealt only with natural untreated sapphires, and he developed a great passion for the natural beauty he saw in those sapphires, especially the colorless, or white, variety.

business family ledger
An early ledger of sales.

In the early 1900’s, diamond engagement rings had become popular in the US with the emergence of the immigrant middle class. However, most people still could not afford the high price of a diamond and sought alternative gemstones. This created a burgeoning market for diamond substitutes. White quartz and other colorless gemstones could not be used for engagement rings as they were too soft and brittle to survive everyday wear. White sapphires, however, were extremely durable and were quickly acknowledged as the best alternative to a diamond. Walter Arnstein recognized the potential in white sapphires and sought to specialize in this unique market.

During the latter half of the 20th century, white sapphires were the most popular alternative stone for an engagement ring.

Cubic zirconias eventually took over the white sapphire market in the 1970’s when Russian scientists successfully created the first one in a lab. Emeralds and blue sapphires became a stronger focus in the family business as the industry continued to evolve and grow.

Arnstein family records
A few of our early print ads plus an original draft of a star sapphire advertisement in the 1940’s. The ad went to print in some of the first jewelry magazine publications in New York.

The Company Grows

Turning back to the business of The Natural Sapphire Company, Walter continued to focus on making the company a family affair. Janette, Walter’s wife, worked side by side with him for over 50 years, assisting with marketing, sales, and maintaining meticulous books. Seymour Arnstein, Walter’s son, joined the company in the early 1970s, and continued the family tradition with an even greater focus of working in natural sapphires.

patent images
US Patent Testing application from 1953 for a brand marketing campaign for white sapphires.

Seymour expertly guided the firm through the many boom and bust years of the 1980s and 90s, but while stock markets have fluctuated, the value of fine colored gemstones has always endured. We continued to expand our business as the demand for natural emeralds grew through the end of the 20th century.

Michael, our third generation president, began working at the company in the mid-1990s and was the driving force behind creating our e-commerce website, in 2018 Samuel Arnstein, 4th generation began his journey into the wondrous world of gemstones, just as his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had done before.

Now, after 80 years in business, we continue to lead the industry. We are a team of gemologists, designers, jewelers, CAD engineers and craftsmen, all dedicated to preserving the company’s roots and offering the best selection of rare and beautiful natural gemstones.

To meet the people behind The Natural Emerald Company, visit our Staff Page and say hello!

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