The Ultimate Appeal of Colombian Emeralds
For millennia, emeralds have been sought out as one of the most valuable gemstones in the world, closely associated with royalty and social status. While the first known emeralds were found in Egypt around 1500 BC, they were likely found and used by humans well before this discovery, notably the Incas in South America. Whether found in the centerpiece of a crown jewel, part of a state treasure, or used as a powerful talisman, humans have long treasured this hypnotically green ancient gemstone throughout our recorded history.
A variety of the mineral beryl, emeralds are considered to be the most valuable beryl in their group of silicates. The gemstone’s inherently green hue is owed to the chemical elements of beryllium, chromium, and vanadium, which scarcely occur in nature and is a major factor in their rarity. The basis of the market value of emeralds, however, is determined by levels of clarity, sparkle, and depth of color. For this reason, the most prized specimens of emeralds are few and far between—given that the softness of the stone lends to it often being cloudy or full of naturally-occurring cracks, almost all emeralds are treated to enhance clarity (with heat or lasers), and oil fillers are often used to obscure naturally-occurring fissures and cracks.
In grading emeralds, the highest quality emeralds must possess not only a characteristically verdant hue, but also, a high level of transparency. Naturally, emeralds occur in a color range that spans a yellow-green to a blue-green, the finest of which host approximately 75% “tone” (on a scale where 0% is colorless and clear, and 100% is fully opaque). Stones that hold a classic emerald’s vivid primary green color, with very little secondary hue—in either blue or yellow tones—and are visually flawless or near-flawless, command the highest prices.
For over 5,500 years, emeralds have been mined on our planet. Their first-ever recorded evidence appears as far back as ancient Egypt, where these gems were particularly beloved by none other than Queen Cleopatra. At this time, emeralds were collected from the storied mines of the Sikait-Zabara region in Egypt—thought to be the only source of these gemstones for ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans—which have long since dried up. Emeralds were highly prized in the Americas, too, by the Incas, Mayans, and the Aztecs; however, all of these treasures most likely came from Colombia, since there were no other deposits known in the Americas at the time. It wasn’t until the 16th Century, when Spanish conquistadors looted several thousands of emeralds from the mines in South America, that Colombian emeralds became more widely known, triggering a worldwide desire for the stones from the region.
Macklowe Gallery's Art Deco Colombian Emerald and Diamond Ring, with certificate #CS567792 from American Gemological Laboratory (AGL), stating that the stone is of Colombian origin with minor traditional treatment
More valuable than diamonds per carat, emeralds have been mined in a number of different geological settings, though notably more abundant in certain countries today—including Russian, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Australia, Madagascar, and Tanzania—while the majority of the market originates in Brazil, Zambia, and Colombia. Colombia alone produces the most emeralds for the global market, with anywhere between 50% to 90% of the world’s emerald market today originating in Colombia.
Macklowe Gallery's Cabochon Colombian Emerald and Diamond Ring, with an American Gemological Laboratory (AGL) Report #69327 stating that the emerald is Natural Colombian with insignificant-minor treatment
Colombia has long been the top provider of the world’s finest quality—and largest quantity of—emerald stones, with theirs claiming the title of the most luxurious of all the gemstones. The emeralds found in this region host a medium- to darker-green hue, often with a desirable tinge of blue-green coloration. The resulting emeralds in this region have a warmer and intense pure green color, with slight variation in color, ranging from vivid lush green to bluish green.
Macklowe Gallery's Bulgari Colombian Emerald and Diamond "Trombino" Ring, with a certificate from the American Gemological Laboratory (AGL) #1083510, dated April 25, 2017, stating that the emerald is Colombian, with insignificant to minor clarity enhancement
Geologically speaking, Colombian emeralds are said to be the “purest” emeralds in the world, due to the fact that their emerald deposits are the only ones on the planet found in sedimentary host rock instead of igneous rock. The secret recipe of elements underground, including aluminium, silicate oxide, chromium, iron and vanadium, initiated the extensive and lengthy formation of the emeralds, starting 30 to 38 million years ago during the formation of the Andean mountains. This means that Colombian emeralds were formed within an aquatic environment, and is the leading theory for why they have such a natural clarity, distinct from emeralds found in other regions.
Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the "Crown of the Andes," housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
Even if mined in the same area of the world, each emerald has its own hue that sets it apart. The deepest and darkest greens in these captivating gemstones are widely considered to be the most beautiful, valuable, and rare, and thus, Colombian emeralds stand out as even more desirable from their counterparts—not only because of their unsurpassed quality and color, but also their lack of inclusions and inherent clarity. Famously, the largest single emerald crystal, weighing 7,025 carats, was found in Cruces Mine in Colombia in 1969, while a number of other notable emeralds throughout history have also been Colombian. This includes the Duke of Devonshire emerald (now on view at the Natural History Museum in London), the Patricia Emeralds (currently residing in the American Museum of Natural History in New York), the Tena emerald (the most valuable emerald in the world), and the emeralds found in the Crown of the Andes, one of the most renowned pieces of jewelry in the world with 453 stones totaling 1,521 carats, and includes the Atahualpa emerald, a 45-carat gemstone named after the last Inca emperor.