Many gemstones come steeped in the history of trade, conquest, and adventure, but few have a past like Colombian emeralds.
Nuestra Señora de Atocha Colombian emerald-set gold jewel. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.
Colombian emeralds are very much a gemstone of the present, though. Approximately two million carats, with a value of US$147 million, were exported last year. While most head to the US, explains Luis Gabriel Angarita, president of ACODES the Colombian association of emerald exporters, most Colombian emeralds end up in Asia where they are revered not only for their rich green color but for their rarity and value.
Rough Muzo emerald crystals. Photo Ron Ringsrud.
In the past, many difficulties have beset the Colombian emerald market. Low-paid miners often worked emerald areas illegally. Miners often lost their lives in poorly ventilated and constructed tunnels. Lastly, the value and rarity of emeralds entangled them in bloody drug wars. The end result was lost lives, poor living conditions, environmental destruction, lost revenue, unpredictable supply, and erratic pricing.
However, in the last few years, conditions have been changing. The Colombian government has begun certifying and regulating all types of mining, says Ron Ringsrud, Director of Operations and Sales for Muzo International. In addition, companies like Muzo International, have begun offering miners regular salaries at above average wages and safer working conditions. The result is reduced illegal mining, improved living conditions, better environmental safeguards, stable supply, and regular pricing. “It’s an improvement overall,” says Ringsrud.
Town of Muzo in the mountains of Colombia. Photo Ron Ringsrud.
Miners, Muzo Mine, Colombia. Photo Ron Ringsrud
Industry organizations, too, are playing an important part in the changes. ACODES helps members understand and deal with government regulations regarding emerald exports, and subsidizes members’ participation in international gem shows in order to promote emeralds, and develop the market for Colombian stones. Another step in standardization was the establishment of Colombian Emerald Technological Development Center or CDTEC, a gemological laboratory with up-to-date equipment. Supported by the Colombian government and the national emerald federation, FEDESMERALDAS, the lab verifies the identity of stones and issues certificates.
Round brilliant 3.08 ct. Colombian emerald. Photo Mia Dixon.
To further strengthen the Colombian emerald industry, ACODES, FEDESMERALDAS, and the National Mining Agency in association with the Colombian Ministry of Mines will host internationally recognized speakers from trade organizations, laboratories, and emerald-producing areas around the world at the First International Emerald Symposium in Bogotá, October 13 – 15, 2015. Their goal, says Angarita, is to “promote emeralds and help educate the consumer so they see the beauty of emeralds, and that they are a safe investment.”
Colombian emerald crystals from the Muzo Mine. Photo Ron Ringsrud.
Anyone attending gem shows recently knows that emerald prices are rising. While “nice consumer quality emeralds” average between $5000 and $15,000 a carat, says Ringsrud, prices can range from as low as $200 a carat to more than $70,000 per carat, says Zairon Rosero of Four C’s in Bogotá; untreated stones can command more than $100,000 a carat. “More and more people are aware of the incredible rarity of emeralds in general and of Colombian emerald specifically,” says Ringsrud. “They’re very limited. There is no stockpile of emerald like there is with diamonds.”
Emerald cut 1.28 ct. Colombian emerald. Photo Mia Dixon.
Square emerald cut 1.97 ct. Colombian emerald. Photo Mia Dixon.
While Asia, the US and Europe provide strong markets for Colombian stones, gold and diamonds are more popular in Latin America and even in Colombia. It’s a gap Muzo International, at least, hopes to address. “It doesn’t make sense that ladies in South America shouldn’t enjoy wearing these emeralds,” says Ringsrud. What makes Colombian emeralds different from emeralds from other sources? “They have the spark of life. If you compare emeralds from around the world, you can see the difference. Colombian emeralds are much more beautiful,” says Angarita. “They’re the Rolls Royce of emeralds,” says Jose Rozo of Luxury Colombian Emerald Ltda CI.