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Colombian Emerald

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

There he was, standing in his undershorts and shirt, in a small private office in the Miami airport that seemed, under the circumstances, as big and public as Grand Central Station. The gem dealer, an emerald specialist, had just returned from a routine buying trip to Colombia, the world’s leading producer of the most famous of green gems.

But emerald isn’t what the six customs agents were looking for in the linings of his luggage and clothes. They were looking for Colombia’s #1 cash crop, cocaine. After a fruitless 90-minute search, the agents told the dealer to get dressed and go home.

The drug war hasn’t made things easy for emerald dealers in search of the ultimate green: emerald from the legendary mines of Colombia: Muzo, Chivor, and Cosquez. The emerald’s reputation as portable wealth and the level of violence that mar the beautiful mountains of Colombia’s countryside have made the trade in emeralds a dangerous game that many are not willing to play.

And some of those who do play are not, properly speaking, interested primarily in the gem business, when there is so much money to be obtained in other businesses. The life expectancy of a Colombian emerald baron is, after all, is almost as short as that of a drug lord and the pay can’t compare.

So why do emerald dealers from Tokyo and New York brave the dangerous streets of Bogota? Because nothing is quite as green as the emerald of Colombia. That green makes Colombian emerald the best in the world. In emerald, it’s the color of money.

Rival Greens

Certainly, those looking for emerald have other options. Zambia’s emeralds are admired for their deep bluish-green tones and the best clarity, on average, of the emerald world. Brazil produces light, bright, large stones. But put fine emerald from each of these sources in a row and dealers will choose the Colombian stone as the best, every time. The reason? Its green has the same glow-in-the-dark intensity as the red in a fine Burmese ruby. And the same coloring agent gives each its traffic light tones: chromium. Next to a fine Colombian emerald, the Zambian version has black notes in its color that mute the overall impression of the green, no doubt due to the fact that its color is due to vanadium, not chromium. And the Brazilian version lacks the same intense saturation, even though its hue is more similar to Colombian than that of African emerald.

But just because fine Colombian emerald is considered the best does not mean that it reigns supreme in the middle and lower end of the market in America. Because more inexpensive qualities of Colombian stones tend to have lower clarity than emerald from other sources, manufacturers are likely to look to other emeralds for the best looking affordable emerald jewelry.

The other reason is that emeralds from other sources are more likely to be cut in the standardized sizes that make manufacturing jewelry possible. Most emerald that is mined in Colombia is also cut there and cutters are more known for maximizing the weight and color of the stone than fitting into standard shapes and sizes. The most common emerald shape, the rectangular cut-corner step cut known as the emerald cut, is seen in a wide variety of length to width ratios: skinny to fat. The uniqueness that might inspire the gem collector frustrates the manufacturer who wants to make 100 of a standard ring with cookie-cutter precision. As a result, Colombian emerald has become a connoisseur gem most often found in high-end, one of a kind jewelry.

The government would like instead to make Colombian emerald as common a luxury as Colombian coffee. In 1997, they organized a World Emerald Congress in Bogota to try to convince buyers to come to Colombia to buy and trade emerald to encourage legal exports. The armed guards at the conference and the arrest a few months later of the most important mine owner for vigilanteeism for funding his own army to battle rebels and protect his interests probably didn’t convince the attendees from around the world that regular visits were a good idea.

Perhaps it’s just as well. The government estimates that the existing mines, which have been producing for centuries, have only a decade left of production. No doubt other emerald deposits worthy of the country’s emerald reputation exist but finding them is difficult in the current climate of instability.

In the meantime, Colombian emerald may become as treasured for its rarity as for its beauty.

Citrine

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

For years, citrine was to gems what muskrat still is to furs: so cheap and plentiful that no one took it seriously. A victim of its own commonness, this earth-toned quartz only seemed to stir interest when, as often happens, it was confused with more expensive gems such as topaz, golden sapphire or even something as exotic as golden beryl.

Consumers may find it hard to understand how a gem could be rewarded for abundance with neglect, but such was the case with citrine throughout the last few decades. Now, suddenly, the gem’s bargain price is no longer a handicap but an asset, as citrine has found favor with women looking to expand their work and leisure jewelry wardrobes with affordable but real jewelry in fashionable earth tones.

And when it comes to providing warm color on a budget, citrine has no real competition. Hues run the gamut from straw and sun yellow through clay orange to deep Madeira red. In the past, it was the somberly beautiful Madeira colors that were most prized. But with fashion colors tilted away from the hot and heavy to the light and lively, the action in citrine has moved to the vivid yellows and oranges that combine nicely with the aqua blue of topaz, the Life-Saver greens and pinks of tourmaline and the vibrant violet of amethyst.

Besides excelling at earth colors, citrine’s low cost also makes it an ideal candidate for unusual cuts and large sizes for one-of-a-kind and customized jewelry pieces. As these highly individual stones captivate more consumers, citrine is sure to benefit.

The bottom line: a full-scale renaissance for this gem.

Less Is Best

Periodically, there have been design revolutions or movements in the jewelry field during which lavish use was made of all-but-forgotten colored stones, citrine in particular. Its low price allowed for use of very large stones with zestful colors that were extravagant but not vulgar.

Large citrines were set in many prized pieces from the Art Deco period between World Wars I and II, including the massive and elaborate Deco-inspired jewelry made for Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford in the 1930s. Two decades later, citrines often appeared in David Webb’s brilliantly eclectic trend setting work.

Nowadays, however, the use of citrine has little to do with opulence and luxury. Working women, not what David Webb once called “million dollar ladies,” are the prime collectors of gemstone jewelry, at least the affordable kind. As a result, low cost is high chic. As part of the trend, jewelry makers are using big, bold budget gems- many cut in a strikingly Cubist manner- to give lots of splash for little cash. At first, irradiated blue topaz and amethyst were the principal gems used. But once the market was saturated with these stones, jewelry manufacturers looked for alternates.

From then on, the rediscovery of citrine was inevitable. In fact, ever since the market was flooded with heated golden sapphire in early 1981, the jewelry world has thirsted for a very inexpensive earth-color gem. But designers always overlooked the most obvious candidate, citrine, instead experimenting with unattractive, low-end yellow topaz or hoping the public would pay the hefty extra for yellow sapphire. Neither was necessary.

Citrine, which dealers claimed was far inferior to yellow sapphire in terms of color and brilliance, owed its reputation more to extrinsic than intrinsic factors. “Who’s going to go to the expense of cutting a citrine with the same tender loving care they would a sapphire?” asks a Beverly Hills dealer. Yet good cutting is as essential for citrine as sapphire.

Unfortunately, because of its price, citrine usually gets second-class treatment from cutters. “Even the Germans, who are known for fine cutting, cut citrine with abbreviated faceting, using sandstone instead of the customary wheel,” an expert in Brazilian stones concedes. “It’s far cheaper.”

In spite of cursory cutting, a lot of shapely citrines manage to find their way into the marketplace. And many of the best of them can still bring a hapless guess from jewelers that they are topaz, the other, far more coveted earth-color gem for which they have long been mistaken. Indeed, during the forties and fifties, citrine was routinely sold as topaz.

Made In Brazil

Citrine is the product of Brazil, both its mines and kilns. Essentially, citrines start life as either slightly smoky quartz or amethyst geodes. After heating, the smoky quartz turns clear and possesses a permanent color that is anywhere from light-yellow to medium-golden. Pop an amethyst geode in the same oven and the end result will be a brighter stone ranging in color from deep yellow to brownish red. Alas, these more prized amethyst citrines rarely come in sizes above 3 carats. “If you see an 8-carat citrine,” says one Brazilian gem expert, “it’s invariably heated smoky quartz.”

In the past, amethyst-derived citrine has been more favored. But with light yellow and golden colors more in fashion, smoky quartz citrine is easier to sell than formerly (as long as it isn’t anemic and washed out). Presently, citrine sales are most active in calibrated sizes from 18x13mm down to 8x6mm (3-15 carats) in both emerald and oval shapes. “Jewelry manufacturers want the golden colors, not the pale yellows,” a leading New York wholesaler notes. “They’re matching them with stones like amethyst and pink tourmaline.”

In any case, the once-prized wine-red Madeira color is “out,” so much so that fine citrine connoisseurs wonder why it was ever “in.” “The madeira is too dull, too brown, too overpriced,” one complains. “The orange-yellow stones have a lot more vitality.”

Cinnamon Zircon

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

When times were good, Kristine Purcell bought lots of zircons, figuring that their subtle spice colors, eye-popping scintillation, and very reasonable prices would appeal to her mostly working class clientele. But people in auto industry outpost Fort Wayne, Indiana, home to her store Gold Works, are more tradition than fashion-oriented. Bread-and-butter reasons were needed to sell this gem. Such reasons are needed more than ever now that times have turned harder than the diamonds Purcell’s customers seem to feel is the only gem they have a right to buy. “People get engaged whether times are good or bad,” she says. “There’s a need for diamonds.”

If greatly reduced traffic at the Gold Works is comprised only or mostly of necessity shoppers, chances are good that diamonds will see Purcell through until people start buying gems for purposes of self-adornment again. But have all the self-purchase customers disappeared? “I admit there are fewer impulse shoppers these days,” says Sandy Gleason, a metalsmith near Reading, Pennsylvania. “But, no, they have not disappeared.”

She, too, is a zircon fan, but, unlike Purcell, she is still selling some of them-only her sales pitch has very little to do with fashion. It’s all economics. “In the last few years, we’ve been seeing lots of what I call fancy color zircons with cognac, champagne, and canary colors. I noticed that many customers mistook them for brown and yellow diamonds because of their high dispersion,” she says. “At first, I pooh-poohed the notion that zircon could serve as a natural diamond simulant. Now I’m grateful people see a likeness between the two because I make the point that zircon gives them diamond looks at a fraction of the cost. Building on the resemblance has helped me sell quite a few zircons and keep me in the colored stone business.”

Positioning zircon as a natural diamond substitute has also elevated zircon to the top-selling gem at Color First, a cutting and importing firm in Tampa, Florida. Owner Raja Shah is selling Tanzanian-mined champagnes, mochas and goldens retailing mostly for $120 to $360 per carat with the same handsome earth hues that have been such a boost to fancy color diamonds. What’s more, the fact that zircon is only mildly heated to lighten tones sways clients who want to sell gems that are either all-natural or only minimally enhanced.

Minimal is the operative word. Lapidaries like John Dyer, Edina, Minnesota, heats his own zircons using a matter-of-minutes method one is tempted to call ‘stove top.” Dyer is not looking for miracles when he home heats; all he wants is to make typically oversaturated stones lighter and more sparkly. Call such heating remedial because it can actually be done over an oven burner, although cooking in an oven is probably preferable. That wasn’t the case with blue zircons from Cambodia which were heated at such high temperatures facet edges often abraded. Maybe that’s why Shah reports that blue zircon accounts for only 5 percent of his zircon sales. The action today, and for the last four years, has been overwhelmingly in spice colors.

THE SUBTLETY FACTOR

There are, it seems, a welter of market names for earthen-colored zircons. Simon Watt of Mayer & Watt, Maysville, Kentucky, the first dealer to call spice zircon to my attention, says the reason for the jumble has to do with the peculiar aesthetic qualities of zircon. “The beauty of zircon has to do with its subtle blends of orange, brown, and pink,” he says. “One minute you think the stone is orange, the next brown and the next pink. You have this constant shift of subtle secondaries-highlighted by the high dispersion of the stone.”

Watt adopted the name “hyacinth” for his spice zircons, but that may encourage expectations of pink or red. Such color strains are scarce in zircon, which is why these stones fetch higher-than-normal prices. You’re usually going to be closer to cinnamon. But the lack of pink is not a drawback. In fact, it is the cinnamon zircons that tend to remind people new to this gem of fancy colored diamonds, especially those with autumnal orange and reddish browns.

There was a time when jewelers discouraged this resemblance. Some like Sharon Curtiss of The Gem Vault, Flemington, New Jersey, still do. “Zircon doesn’t need to resemble diamond to be sold,” she says. “Besides, with a durability more similar to tanzanite than diamond, it is unfair to give the impression that zircon can be worn like diamond as an everyday ring stone. It can’t and shouldn’t be.”

Gleason agrees that the comparison with diamonds shouldn’t be taken too far. That’s why she sells mostly zircon pendants. “The difference in durability is something that should be pointed out to customers,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean the other likenesses with diamond aren’t valid. For centuries, zircon was a valid, much-admired natural diamond substitute. What’s wrong with it regaining that status again?”

Chrysoprase

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

Royal patronage has long been the cornerstone of fame for gems. Where would a sales pitch for emerald be without mention of Cleopatra? And look what talk of Nero does for amber and opal.

Well, now that chrysoprase, the lovely green quartz with hues reminiscent of Prell shampoo and Granny Smith apples, is making its biggest noise in nearly two centuries, name droppers will be delighted to know this gem’s greatest patron was as royal as royal gets.

Does the name “Frederick the Great” ring a bell? Born in 1712 and king of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786, this flute-playing sovereign commissioned works by Bach and was a friend of Voltaire. Addicted to the arts, he adorned his opulent palace at Potsdam, named Sans Souci, with objects and furniture made in whole or part of chrysoprase. All of the material for these works (among them, two all-chrysoprase tables) came from a find in what is now Poland but was then Silesia.

Frederick preferred this quartz to any other gem. His favorite ring, which he never removed, was set with a large chrysoprase surrounded by diamonds. His elegant walking stick was topped with a chrysoprase handle.

Of course, Frederick wasn’t the first major mover to develop a fondness for chrysoprase. Since the gem figures prominently in some majestic Czech churches built in the 14th Century, it can be assumed that chrysoprase was popular whenever mined in quantity. But Frederick’s fancy stands out.

Amazingly, European chrysoprase was rarely a match for that discovered at Marlborough Creek in Queensland, Australia, in 1965. It is this deeper-toned, more saturate-color chrysoprase that is responsible for the revival of interest in this gem in the past few years. Once considered only a jadeite look-alike, Queensland chrysoprase is now one of the most significant of Australia’s many gem exports.

Because of all the attention it is receiving, chrysoprase may be close to achieving the kind of acclaim it enjoyed during its last great vogue between 1740, when it was rediscovered, and 1830, when supplies were once again exhausted

“A decade ago, you could buy jars with up to 200 grams of high-quality chrysoprase rough for $5 at most any gem and mineral show,” a dealer notes. “Today the same rough material costs $6 a gram and you sure can’t buy it in jars. Chrysoprase has gone from being a rock to a gem.”

Although chrysoprase comes from Tanzania and Brazil, Australia produces the best and by far the most of this breed: 85 percent of the world’s supply. From a standpoint of beauty, Australian chrysoprase is unexcelled. While Brazilian stones tend to a murky olive-green, and Tanzanian stones a lighter yellowish-green, Australian goods run a pleasant color gamut from sweet apple- to a medium jadeite-green. Often, in fact, you will hear the stone talked about as an affordable alternative to jadeite.

Chrome Tourmaline

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

Like East Africa’s most widely respected gem, tsavorite garnet, chrome tourmaline has a rich, bright, clean green that has no real counterpart among other tourmalines. Indeed, novices are apt to mistake fine chrome tourmaline for fine tsavorite.

They shouldn’t feel bad, however. So do the experts. “The finest quality chrome tourmalines are only distinguishable from tsavorite with the aid of a gemological instrument such as a refractometer,” says one gem expert. (The refractive index of chrome tourmaline is usually 1.62-1.64 while that of tsavorite is 1.74.)

Very recently, some superb stones have tempted comparison to very fine Colombian emerald. These gems have a lovely bluish-green cast not seen in tsavorite.

More commonly, very fine chrome tourmalines lean more toward the yellow than the blue end of the spectrum. But whether yellowish or bluish, their chromium content is what gives them their bright, sharp, vivid color. Collectors can test for chromium content with a Chelsea filter. Under the filter, chrome-laden stones will show flashes of red or orangy red.

The Chelsea test is the main way dealers confirm the East African origin of green tourmaline. Far more abundant green tourmalines from Brazil, Afghanistan, Maine and California are colored primarily by iron. So when these stones are subjected to a Chelsea filter test, their color remains green.

Even without a filter, “chromes” have a unique visual appeal. At their best, they boast an almost corrosively brilliant color. Of course, this uniqueness is reflected in their prices which generally are three times that of a normal green tourmaline, although not approaching the pinnacle of Paraiba tourmaline.

Caught In The Middle

Although chrome tourmaline is scarcer than tsavorite, it is not plagued by the size problem of that garnet. Chrome tourmaline occurs fairly frequently in sizes up to ten carats while tsavorite is extremely hard to fine in sizes over two carats. For this reason, top-grade tsavorites around two carats easily command ten times what kindred-caliber chrome tourmalines around two carats will cost.

Yet demand for chrome tourmaline is probably less than one-hundredth that for tsavorite. Why? “Jewelers don’t think of chrome tourmaline as a bargain compared to tsavorite,” says a New Jersey importer. “They think of it as very expensive tourmaline.”

This is not to say that chrome tourmaline doesn’t have its followers. Virtually unknown before 1970, this tourmaline has now become the color standard for deep green in this gem. As said before, it has something to do with East Africa and the special aura that surrounds its gems, especially the green ones.

A word of caution is necessary here, though. Many chrome tourmalines do not possess the fine green we are describing. According to dealers, only one of the two Tanzanian mines that produce this gem can be counted on for a fairly steady but thin flow of fine stones. It is called the Landanai mine and its stones are usually free of the brownish overtones that mar the tourmalines from its more productive sister mine.

Brownishness isn’t the only problem with chrome tourmaline. Often stones will be so saturate with green that they appear blackish or over dark. Unless price is your prime consideration, we advise steering clear of either brownish or blackish stones. “If you must compromise,” a dealer says, “go with lighter, livelier stones.”


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