How to clean your emerald jewelry.

In one of my previous blogs, Durability of Emeralds, I said that quality natural emeralds that are set properly are not all that fragile.  Even so, one of the reasons that emeralds get the reputation of being fragile is how people are told never to clean their jewelry by ultrasonic cleaning or steam tools that are standard equipment in most jewelry stores.  You may be led to believe that these methods of cleaning will change its appearance.  In some cases it will.

Ultrasonic cleaner

Before many emeralds reach the retail market they are subjected to specific chemical treatments.  These treatments are just like makeup.  It is applied to hide blemishes, to enhance natural color, and to give a luster that does not appear naturally.  Again like makeup, the treatment is not permanent and can be washed off or can wear off over time.  Ultrasonic and steam cleaning do a really good job at washing off this treatment but do not harm the stones in any way.  If a stone has been treated, its appearance will change and the change will not be for the better.

Not to keep you in any more suspense, you can never go wrong by cleaning your emerald jewelry with warm soapy water and a soft bristle brush like a child’s toothbrush.  Make sure to rinse the piece in the same temperature water as you used to clean it so you don’t alter any of the inclusions in the stone.  Dry the piece with a soft towel.  This method of cleaning is the most gentle and the best way to clean a treated stone.

Steamer jewelry cleaner

Steamer jewelry cleaner

At Queen Emerald we always purchase our stones from the most trusted resources in the emerald market.  I subject our stones to the harshest cleaning methods before I ever put them in the jewelry case or put them for sale on our website.  Queen Emerald tries its best not to buy treated stones but even if one is bought by mistake (nobody is perfect), the cleaning I give it brings it back to its natural state.

If you did not purchase your emerald from Queen Emerald I will give you the same advice that everyone else will give you about how to clean your emerald.  Do not use ultrasound or steam cleaning techniques, use soapy water.

At Queen Emerald every emerald is hand selected and is guaranteed not to change over time no matter what cleaning method you use.   You can wear your emeralds daily, clean them often without worry, and enjoy them for a lifetime.

The Emerald District in Bogota.

In this blog I’ll take you to a very fun place for me, the emerald district in downtown Bogota, the capital of Colombia.  On Jimenez Avenue between 6th and 7th street, the heart of downtown, you will find the emerald district.  This is the place where most of the emeralds come after they have been mined and cut and the place where they make their first appearance in the emerald market.

Bogota is an amazing city of almost 8 million people.  It is nestled high in the Andes at about 8700 feet altitude and is a city of high contrast.  There are high rise buildings next to colonial churches, there are universities, theaters, and shantytowns, all with a mixture of Spanish, English, and Indian influences.  There is a great deal of wealth here but there is also poverty.  It is a city of wild traffic and an occasional calm oasis that reflects the bygone colonial days.  There is futuristic architecture, graffiti, congestion, restaurants, bookstores, and a lot of old world charm.  In the middle of all this, very near the presidential palace, is the heart of the emerald district.

Jimenez Ave. in Bogota

Jimenez Ave. in Bogota

The district consists of several blocks of buildings where larger dealers occupy booths and offices and where you will find cutters, gemologists, and international traders.  You will see small shopping centers with colonial looks and small, modest jewelry stores.  There are wholesaler workshops and people in the streets selling crafts with emerald themes.

There is one special block on Jimenez Avenue, between 6th and 7th, where the “comisionistas” (emerald dealers) get together on the wide sidewalk to do business.  These guys are the very heart and essence of the emerald market.  Most of them deal with loose emeralds that they get on commission from other dealers or that they have bought from the mines.  They move all day long between private dealers’ and cutters’ offices, jewelry stores, and the sidewalk.  They meet regular buyers and sellers and close deals for thousands of dollars right there in the middle of the street.

The dealers have the most beautiful emeralds of any size and if they don’t have it they will find it for you in an hour or two.  Most of them know each other and after many years have become close friends. They are always joking with each other and not taking their work day too seriously.  Most are middle class people with small and sometimes not so adequate incomes to support their families. Even so, stress is not part of their daily routine.  Most of the time they are a happy bunch and it shows just by watching them for a while.

One reason their job is not stressful to them is that they generally work from 10:00 a.m. to about 4:00 p.m.  They don’t work on weekends, holidays (there are 20 in the year), and they don’t work on the seven days of Holy Week.  That’s not counting the last week of December to January 14 to celebrate the New Year.

There is a very good reason for their short daily hours and it is the same reason why none of the offices in the district have curtains or blinds.  The only light anyone trusts to examine an emerald is sunlight.  That’s why all the deals are done in the street or next to a window.  After four, the sunlight is just not strong enough so everyone goes home.  And why get up before ten, anyway.

Emerald dealers in downtown Bogota

Emerald dealers in downtown Bogota

If you go to the market to buy an emerald, would be good to take someone with you who knows the market.  There is no return policy or store credit.  A handshake is a done deal and a contract.  While most of the dealers are honest people there may be others that just show up for a day or two to try their luck with imitations or lab created emeralds that can fool the untrained eye.  An honest dealer may offer you beautiful gems but probably not at the same price he would charge a fellow dealer.  They will consider that a sale to you will replace a sale to another dealer they know and will want to make it “worth their while” by charging you a higher price.

The nature of the emeralds themselves has created this tumultuous and exceptional market.  In the diamond market, everything is written down, classified, and graded according to strict guidelines.  You can buy a diamond over the phone or at Costco and know exactly what you get.  Boring!  Boring!  But in the emerald market it is very human, very personal, and a very face to face business that I love.  I love to talk to the people there and feel their moods and energy.  Each dealer is as unique as the gemstones they sell.

I hope you have a chance to see Bogota and the emerald market for yourself.  It is a busy, exciting, fun place to be.  If you go there to buy an emerald, have someone with you who knows the market and can help you negotiate for a quality gem and a good price.  If you go just to see the sights of Bogota, go to the emerald market, sit at a sidewalk cafe with a good cup of Colombian coffee, and just watch.  I’m sure it will be well worth your while.

A story

I would like to share a story that is very special to me, my wife, and our store.  Several years ago a gentleman in his early fifties came into the store by himself.  He had been in several times before with his wife and they loved our settings and emerald selection.

He started a conversation by saying, “Since my wife and I visited your store we became very interested in emeralds.  Every time we have the opportunity to check other jewelry stores for these gems we do it.”  He also mentioned that gems he found in different places were somehow different from ours.  “Most of the emeralds out there don’t have this kind of green.  They look kind of cloudy inside.  In most of them it is very difficult to see that green fire that I can see in yours.”  I was very proud and flattered when he told me how his wife always had our store in mind and that she had enjoyed learning about the stones when she visited here.

The man was on a mission to choose a very special gift for his wife.  I asked about the special occasion to see if it would help me choose pieces for him to consider but he was a little evasive.  I helped him the best I could and we narrowed his choices to three rings.  All three were gorgeous pieces with beautiful emeralds and tasteful settings.  After a while I could see he had a favorite but there was a huge battle within him and it was price related.  I gave him some other options but he kept coming back to his favorite and his stress was building.  The more he thought about it, the more stressed he became and soon he became silent, just staring at nothing at all.

So there we stood in silence for a couple of minutes. He was lost in his own thoughts and I didn’t dare interrupt. Then, gradually, his shoulders relaxed, his face changed, and he broke into a big smile.  More to himself than to me he said, “…she will live to enjoy it…”, and confidently pointed to his favorite ring.

He began to tell me that a few months prior his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.  He wanted to give her a reason to be happy every day, to distract her from treatments, and to give her another reason to feel beautiful.  I was speechless for a moment, overcome by the situation, and ended up mumbling something about how honored I was that he picked our store for such a noble purpose.

The next day I got to work early and still hadn’t opened for business.  I heard someone knocking out front and when I went to look, guess who I saw.  I saw the happiest, most radiant lady, one hand waving to show me her new ring and the other hand clasped tightly around husband’s arm.  They both told me how happy the ring made her but the words didn’t really matter.  I just knew.  I just knew.

I think of this story often.  It pops into my head when I get carried away explaining clarity, color, settings, and all those things that make emeralds precious to me.  I am reminded that the technical aspects of any emerald and its price tag are not as important as the reasons my customer may have for buying it. The motive may be far beyond purchasing the perfect stone. The sentiment behind the purchase makes every emerald unforgettable and priceless.

Durability in Emeralds

As she removed the ring from her finger it slipped from her grasp and fell to the center of the glass display case.  Her face changed color and with a timid voice said, “I’m so sorry!”  “Not a problem,” I said, picking up the ring from the display case and showing her and her husband that nothing had happened to the ring or the emerald.  Then she said, “If the emerald didn’t break, maybe it’s not a real one.  They are very fragile.”

The lady thought that natural emeralds are so fragile that they couldn’t resist something like dropping them 12” onto a display case.  While I wouldn’t want to drop them on purpose, they can withstand a lot more abuse than most people think.  As I explained to the lady, there are a lot of factors that decide how fragile a stone will be, particularly after it is set.  Here are a few things I told her, and a few things you may find interesting about emerald durability.

Most of the information about durability in emeralds says how delicate and weak this gem is.  But in reality, emeralds are not all that fragile.  The Mohs scale of mineral hardness identifies how easily a gemstone is scratched.  Diamonds are at the top of the scale at 10.  After them come rubies and sapphires at 9, topaz at 8 and emeralds are from 7.5 to 8.  They are in the same range as aquamarines, most quartz and tourmalines, and above tanzanite (6.5 – 7), turquoise (5 – 6), onyx (6.5 – 7), zircon (6.5 – 7.5), opal (5.5 – 6.5) and pearls (2.5 -4.5).

Even though emeralds are relatively hard stones, the presence of fractures and inclusions that give each stone its personality and unique beauty can also affect their toughness. The liquids, gases and crystals inside these gems create challenges to those who work with the stones.  The gem cutter must avoid touching any inclusions with his cutting disk or he may break the stone.  The setter, the person in charge of putting the stone into a piece of jewelry, can break a stone  just by pushing the stone into the setting if there are fissures near a corner of the stone.

All this talk about breaking stones may sound like a bad thing, but the good news is that if you see an emerald that has inclusions only in its center far from any surface or corner, durability of the gem will not be a problem.  A good cutter will isolate the inclusions in the center of the stone and the setter will design a setting that will protect the stone where it is most likely to be bumped by the wearer under normal circumstances.  Yes, emeralds can be fragile but the cutter and setter have already taken most of the risks, much more than the wearer of a well designed piece of jewelry will ever have.

Here are some things I always tell my customers who are still concerned about an emerald’s durability.  You do have a choice where to wear your emerald.  Stones worn as pendants, earrings, or brooches are far less likely to be bumped or otherwise abused than stones set in rings and bracelets.  But more important than anything else is the setting.

Emerald in a bezel setting

A bezel setting goes all the way around the stone, covering its whole edge.  A V-Prong setting for cuts with corners, e.g. emerald cuts and pear shapes, is also a great option.  It encloses the most fragile parts, the corners, with metal. Any of these two give very good protection to any gem and will be the perfect choice for rings that you will like to wear every day.

V-Prong Setting

Because a setting is so important to the protection of an emerald, some jewelers don’t feel comfortable working with them.  They will have to be more careful when they work with these gems than when working with diamonds.  Just to make a small repair like resizing a ring or replacing a prong, they will have to take the emerald out of the setting, make the repair, and then put the gem back in the setting. It is a risk that some jewelers prefer not to take.

We at Queen Emerald always try to build all our jewelry pieces with the assumption that you will want to wear them every day and all the time.  That is why every single piece is made by hand, every single setting is made for an individual stone, and all the prongs are bigger and wider than traditional prongs.

The best advice I can give is to enjoy your emeralds.  If you have one of our pieces already you can wear it with confidence every day.  It was made with just for that purpose.  Just remember, ANYTHING can be broken and because you are wearing a unique and exclusive jewelry piece it needs to be treated with a little care.

Which Emerald is a good Emerald? CARAT WEIGHT

Carat Weight

In the last three blogs we discussed grade color, clarity, and brilliance.  This blog is dedicated to the last of the four characteristics of emeralds that you can judge for yourself, size and carat weight, and how it affects the value of these beautiful gems.

Most of the time when we indicate the size of an emerald we do it in carats. A carat is a unit of weight equivalent to 0.20 grams.  In the jewelry trade we use this as “synonym” of size. Both are directly related and most of the time that we talk about size we talk about carat weight more than millimeters or inches.

For people that is not familiar with jewelry and precious gems the term carat can be confused with “karats”. These are two totally different things.  The term karat is used as a measurement of gold purity (24 Kt gold, 18 Kt gold, 14Kt gold…) and it doesn’t have anything to do with a gem’s size and weight. In the same way when we talk about carats in emeralds or any other gems it won’t be related to its quality or purity.

As the carat weight increases so does the price of the gem and more importantly, the price per carat.  This can be calculated by dividing stone price by its carat weight. Larger emeralds are rarer than smaller ones and very difficult to find in mines. On average, they have to remove 5 tons of dirt to find an emerald over 1 carat in gem quality. That is why a 3 carat emerald will cost more than three emeralds of 1 carat each of the same quality.

I know the jewelry and gem market is obsessed with size, and nearly everyone thinks “bigger is better”.  But when we talk about emeralds, size without quality is not always better. For the fans of size, the quality in emeralds is something that will speak loudly, but the bigger the emerald the louder its quality will speak. With diamonds, you have to be familiar with them and will need to examine them with a loupe to tell if a 3 carat diamond is a good one or not. But a three carat emerald will tell you everything about itself even if you are not an expert.

When you work with colored stones the really important part is the COLOR more than the size.  Put two emeralds together, one in 1 carat and other in 2 carats.  If the smaller one has better tone and saturation than the larger one, I can guarantee, your eyes will go directly to that one.  Your attention and your admiration will be focused on the smaller one.

Please don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing more beautiful than a 3, 4 or 5 carat emerald, no matter what the quality. If is a natural one I know I’ll enjoy it. But its beauty is also because it will show its real color, clarity and brilliancy and if you are not familiar with these features it maybe not a good choice for you.

The magic happens when you have a big emerald of a great quality. Believe me, this doesn’t happen really often, and that is why the price doesn’t change in a Linear Scale of increments.

In the end is up to you and what you like. If you have a big emerald enjoy it, they are really one of a kind.  Don’t be too concerned about its quality.  Please note your stone is very special and difficult to find. So just have fun with it.

Which emerald is a good emerald? CLARITY

CLARITY

Clarity in emeralds speaks about what the gem looks like on the inside and this is what makes an emerald a different gem than any other.  Most emeralds present inclusions that are small bits of other minerals, gas, liquid, and crystals that the emeralds take on in the crystallization process.  About 99% of all natural emeralds will present inclusions.

Emerald inclusion from Chivor mine

Emerald inclusions from Chivor mine

Inclusions in emeralds are sometimes easy to see without a loupe or microscope.  (A loupe is the one-eyed 10X magnifier that a jeweler wears on a string around his neck to make him look important.)  What in other gems may be considered “flaws” or “imperfections”, in emeralds is totally natural and is one of the things we try to find every time we seem them under a loupe. That is why gemologists, appraisers and experts don’t use the same criteria to judge clarity that they use for other gems like diamonds and topazes.

The Gemological Institute of America, GIA, categorizes three clarity types for colored gems:

Type I gemstones, often virtually inclusion-free, such as aquamarine, citrine, topaz and green tourmaline.

Type II gemstones, usually included, such as ruby, sapphire, garnet, peridot, amethyst and spinel.

Type III gemstones, almost always included, such as emerald and red tourmaline.

So…please don’t be afraid when you see an inclusion in an emerald.   It is a natural part of this gem.

Emerald inclusion from Coscuez mine

Emerald inclusion from Coscuez mine

Inclusions in Colombian emeralds most of the time present elongated and thin shapes with peaked ends.  They are also called “jardin” or gardens because they look like branches and plant roots.  They are like finger prints.  Every single individual presents its own internal “garden” or layout for its inclusions.  Be careful that they don’t look like bubbles, they don’t look arranged in a specific order, and they don’t have a specific spot in the gem.  When you are considering the purchase of an emerald, look at the gem through the jewelers loupe to find the inclusions.  Some of them can rule out your purchase and some can be quite beautiful.

When does clarity affect the price in an emerald?  When it presents too many inclusions, when the gem does not look like a crystal because it is excessively included, and when it is too difficult to see facets on the pavilion, the back part of the emerald.

Inclusions can compromise the durability of a stone and lessen the value when they are close to the surfaces of the gem.  Some inclusions can create fractures in the emerald.  If any of these inclusions are at the surfaces the stone can be broken easily through that part.

In general, the fewer the inclusions, the higher the value of the gem.  Of course, clarity is an important factor in evaluating an emerald but it is not the most relevant.  Inclusions in emeralds are very special.  Expect to find them.  Actually, any emerald without them is immediately suspected as synthetic or an imitation.

In the next blog we will discuss carat weight and size in emeralds.

Which emerald is a good emerald? COLOR

COLOR

This is a question that many people have asked me for years, every day.  It’s the biggest concern for anyone shopping for emeralds or is simply curious about this exotic gem.  Sometimes the explanation is hard to understand because there are not many good examples in the marketplace you can refer to for comparison.  Not all jewelry stores have a nice variety of natural emeralds or have good information about them.

Blog 2If you are not a gemologist, the jargon and methods used to grade quality can be hard to understand.  From my side of the jewelry counter, I may look at as many as 7 different features of each stone.  From your side of the counter you need to know simple but important things to make your own decision. For someone looking for an engagement ring, for the ladies that love gems and want some idea of what to look for, or for someone looking for that special gift that shows how much you care, there are four very important qualities of natural emeralds that you can assess yourself, Color, Clarity, Brilliancy and Size.  We’ll discuss color first.

Color is the biggest factor in establishing the value and quality in natural emeralds.  Color is divided into: Hue, Tonal Grade, and Saturation.  Hue refers to the kind of green color the emerald has.  It gives a name to the color.  Most of the Colombian emeralds present a “bluish green”.

Tonal grade establishes the degree of darkness or lightness of the green color in the gem.  Natural emeralds present a wide variety of green tones:

Very Light,       Light,       Medium Light,       Medium,       Medium Dark,       Very Dark.

Many people consider that a good emerald is dark green.  Most of the literature about these gems will say that a good emerald will have a Tonal grade from Medium to Very Dark.  Be careful because this is only one part of the color feature.  Color is only one of the factors that make the value in these gems.

How vivid and how much power the green has is as important as how dark it is.  That is what we call Saturation in the color.  Saturation is the strength or intensity of the color, ranging from a dull hue (green) to a pure vivid hue.  That’s why you will find emeralds with a dark green color but at the same time they are dull or “flat”, having a dead look that is not exciting and doesn’t speak to you.

P1010535In the same way you will find a light green colored emerald that is full of life, one that catches your eye in the display case and you can not stop looking at it.   That mysterious power grabs your attention and you cannot explain why.  So…light green is not always a bad thing.

When you mix the Tonal grade and Saturation you will have the color in an emerald.  In the market the most expensive emeralds are the ones with high saturation and a Tonal Grade between Medium and Medium Dark.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy a Medium Light with nice saturation or vivid green emerald.  You can’t imagine how many customers I have had who were looking for a dark green emerald “because those are the good ones” –they say- and can’t help falling in love with a Medium Light Tonal Grade emerald with good saturation.

“I haven’t seen emeralds in this kind of green color.”   “I didn’t like emeralds because I though they came just in dark dull green…”  “I can’t tell what it is about this stone that I love.”  “I have seen emeralds but not like these.”  “My mom has an emerald but it doesn’t looks like yours.”

These are the phrases I’m very happy to hear and I hear them all the time. We have a nice selection of emeralds, a selection that you normally won’t see in traditional jewelry stores. Some of them are dark and some light, some with a high saturation some with low saturation…but all of them are beautiful.

Color is only one part of the quality in natural emeralds. I’ll talk about Clarity in my next blog.

www.GreenInGold.com

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