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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.

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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.

The Emerald Jeweler

My name is Jose Rodriguez and I am starting this blog to give you a jeweler’s point of view of the business of emeralds.  I can do this because I was born into a family of jewelers in the city of Cali, Colombia, in a South American country blessed with the best emeralds in the world.  Our jewelry shop, Queen Emerald, has been specializing in emeralds and emerald jewelry for more than 40 years.  We have an office in South Florida and our main shop is in downtown Bogota in the middle of the emerald market.

18K gold emerald necklace

18K gold emerald necklace

I became involved in the family business in 2000 when my father and I decided to open a store in the United States.  We have been open for business locally since then and are now committed to open our business to the entire country through our web site, www.GreenInGold.com.

There is a lot of technical information about emeralds on the internet and in books.  I’ll be glad to give you references or links if you ask, but in this blog I want to give you the point of view of a jeweler, talking about natural emeralds and custom jewelry and telling stories about what it is like to be at the jeweler’s bench or at the other side of the counter.  I will offer a different point of view about our business and our work with this beautiful gem.

In future blogs you will find tips about how to select a nice emerald, what really makes the value of this exotic gem, and you will learn the real dynamic in the emerald market.  I’ll tell some romantic stories involving some of our pieces, tell what happens when your best jeweler breaks a gorgeous emerald, finishing a setting, which you have been anxiously waiting for…

I’ll be more than happy to receive your comments and contributions.  I’ll do my best to have a new blog every two weeks with new information and stories about natural emeralds. You can also contact me through our web page: www.GreenInGold.com.