Making Emeralds Great Again
Thanks to new mines, regulations and fresh attention from jewellers, the world is taking a shine to emeralds again
Diamonds, forever? Not if the emerald industry has its way. In recent years, miners and manufacturers have taken steps to elevate this Stone of Venus—that purportedly promotes creativity, romance, peace and joy—to the level of eminence it was once famed for.
Indeed, few other precious gems have enjoyed similar status in history. This, after all, is the jewel that graced the wedding and engagement rings of royalty and the political elite from the 17th through the early 20th centuries, including that of Queen Victoria (whose engagement piece from Prince Albert featured a serpent with its head set with an emerald, her birthstone), Wallis Simpson and Jacqueline Bouvier. It’s also been worn on the red carpet by style icons such as Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman, Beyoncé and perhaps most famously Elizabeth Taylor, who was presented with many a glittering green gift by Richard Burton.
It was only when diamond giant De Beers captured the market with its “A Diamond Is Forever” advertising campaign in 1938 that emeralds—and coloured gemstones in general—began to fall out of favour, plagued in tandem by an inconsistent supply due to the rarity of gemstone deposits, a lack of regulation and small production facilities that lacked capital.
Season Of Change
But the industry is determined to change that now. “Following a few decades of domination by the clear stone, the coloured gemstone revolution is most definitely back,” notes Ian Harebottle, CEO of Gemfields, the world’s largest producer of precious stones and operator of the Kagem emerald mine in Zambia. Los Angeles-based gem dealer Robert Procop, who buys directly from mines around the globe, said as much in a recent Financial Times report: “This is the decade of coloured stones, especially emeralds, through increased certification and identification of origin, colour and clarity, and full disclosure of any enhancement. Clients are more informed and more intrigued.”
Even as the government of Colombia, the emerald capital of the world, begins certifying and regulating all types of mining, new mines have been discovered in Africa that produce emeralds with high ethical and environmental standards—and at a less-prohibitive price point than Colombian mines, prompting more jewellers to consider the stone.
Then there’s the establishment of companies such as Muzo Emerald that is helping the push. The freshly minted Colombian company, which made its debut at last year’s annual Couture Show in Las Vegas, has a system that documents each step of every emerald’s journey from rough to ready, so that customers know exactly what they’re getting—something that was unheard of before.
Right here, right now
All this should be of particular interest to buyers in Asia, since most emeralds end up here, says Luis Gabriel Angarita, president of Acodes, the Colombian association of emerald exporters. And jewellers with representation in the region are doing their part to ensure that the gemstone gets noticed by Asian consumers.
In October 2015, Cartier brought its Etourdissant Cartier exhibition to Singapore, an elaborate showcase of over 600 haute joaillerie pieces that was for the first time in the brand’s history made open to the public (the display was previously only for the eyes of private clients during Paris’ annual haute couture week in July). Starring in the event’s most widely circulated press photo was the French house’s white gold Clarté bracelet, comprising rows of brilliant-cut round diamonds broken up by blocks of faceted rock crystal and edged in onyx. Its centrepiece? A mammoth 66.09-carat cushion-shaped Colombian emerald.
Dior’s acclaimed Versailles high jewellery collection, too, made a pit stop in Singapore last November at the brand’s Ion Orchard store. The pieces—inspired by the Chateau de Versailles—included the spectacular Salon de Mars and Salon de Diane designs that featured emeralds and other precious gems set in scorched silver. “I imagined Versailles by night, where the stones glistened in the candlelight,” says designer Victoire de Castellane of her inspiration for the collection.
Of course, local jewellers are in on the game as well. New emerald designs are continually added to Lee Hwa Jewellery’s collections to feed the “consistent demand” for such pieces, says its brand manager Chian Yu Xian. The label’s latest showcase includes a stunning three-tiered emerald, sapphire and diamond ring, and a tennis bracelet studded with luminous emeralds and diamonds.
Meanwhile, Poh Heng’s current offerings include the spectacular Extremely Emerald necklace, which boasts 25 emeralds totalling 12.91 carats set amidst diamonds on an 18-karat white gold chain, and the Fabulous Emerald ring that stars a stunning 3.58-carat emerald. The brand’s emerald designs are often standout pieces because “customers who come to us looking for emerald jewellery tend to be looking for special items”, says its marketing manager Pamela Seow.
Such customers, she adds, are also behind the rising appetite for coloured gemstones as they form a growing market of more sophisticated collectors, “who started out with diamonds for investment but are now searching for variety”.
Still, the clearest sign that emeralds are reclaiming the treasure throne must be Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high jewellery collection and ode to the stone, Émeraude en Majesté. In it, the French jeweller used over 1,400 carats of the green gems that it had taken 10 years to amass—a mindboggling quantity that adorned, among other things, long tasselled earrings, a Twist Émeraude bracelet whose ends are capped with two emerald cabochons that open ingeniously to accommodate the wearer’s wrist, and a reversible Drapé Majestueux necklace studded with 150 green sparklers.
It’s a collection “strictly inspired” by the stones themselves, Van Cleef & Arpels’ CEO Nicolas Bos told Forbes in a recent interview. “You feel these are stones that have already had previous lives, which is also part of the magic of emeralds,” he says. “They’ve been a stone of choice for millions of years, and a lot of them have had quite an amazing history, which I think is quite moving.” And with the way things are looking for this storied jewel, there’s no doubt it will continue to move even more hearts in the years to come.