Some emerald sources have greater prestige than others, and origin has been known to influence price regardless of quality. The mines of Colombia have long been known for producing emeralds of outstanding quality. Over time, gem lovers have come to believe that any Colombian emerald must be superior to others in quality, and they have been willing to pay higher prices for stones from this source. But, don’t believe that all emeralds from Colombia are better than quality stones from other locations.
The wisdom of paying premiums for emeralds from prestigious locales is questionable. Quality is determined by a gem’s appearance, not the mine that it came from. Each stone should be judged by its own merits.
There is a large variation in the color of emeralds from a single mine, and a majority of the emeralds mined at any location are of such poor quality that they never enter the gem trade. Only very few finds are gem-quality, which means they are suitable for jewelry.
It is important for the consumer to understand that while emeralds may exhibit special characteristics representative of their source of origin, origin does not always guarantee quality. An unattractive emerald from Colombia is worth no more than an unattractive emerald from Zambia. And, a fabulous Pakistani emerald is far more valuable than a dull emerald from Colombia.
Consumers should also avoid speculating on a gem’s source based on its appearance. Many stones are marketed as “Colombian Emerald,” or “Sandawana Emerald,” when in fact nothing is known of their origin. Even a certificate from a prestigious independent gemological laboratory is not an absolute guarantee of origin, and the wording on most certificates will make that clear.
Although emeralds from different sources often have different inclusions, appearances can be deceiving, even under a microscope, and two perfectly reputable laboratories could assign different sources to the same stone. Nevertheless, we thought we should discuss some of the more important trade names and emerald sources below, along with the traits that can sometimes distinguish them. A more extensive discussion can also be found in the section on Emerald Mining Locations.
“Colombian” Emerald – Some dealers refer to top quality emerald as “Colombian” regardless of where it was mined. Although historically, the mines of Colombia have produced great quantities of fabulous stones, emeralds of all qualities are found there. The finest Colombian emeralds are characterized by a color that is slightly bluish green with medium to medium-dark tone and strong to vivid saturation.
“Brazilian” Emerald – Dealers may use this term to describe emeralds with lighter tones and saturations approaching those of green beryl.
“Russian or Siberian” Emerald – Dealers may use this term to describe stones that are less bluish, more included , and lighter in color than “Colombian” stones.
“Zambian” Emerald – When dealers refer to “Zambian” emeralds regardless of their source or origin, they are referring to stones with a slightly darker tone, more bluish or grayish color, and greater clarity than “Colombian” emeralds.
“Sandawana” Emerald – Dealers use this appellation to describe emeralds that resemble stones from Zimbabwe, which are characterized by their intense color, small size, and highly included state. True Sandawana emeralds as small as 1 mm can still be a deep vivid green.
In the marketplace, the term “emerald” is sometimes inappropriately applied to items that are not emerald at all. These misnomers are false names that capitalize on the mystique of the true emerald to boost sales. Wary consumers should educate themselves so that they can spot deceptive advertising techniques.
Certain treatments and simulants have also been developed that can further confuse the consumer as to the true nature of the stone. We begin exploring those next with Enhancements in Emeralds for a better understanding of these important concepts.