By Bernardette Sto. Domingo and Marie Feliciano
An emerald’s vivid green colour and regal allure have long enthralled a great number of gemstone collectors and jewellery connoisseurs for thousands of years.
This beloved gemstone – strongly associated with lush terrains and rich greenery – has consistently found its way to royal families’ crown jewels, iconic high jewellery collections and international auctions.
In June, the stunning 18.04-carat Rockefeller emerald, previously owned by the prominent Rockefeller clan, fetched $5.51 million at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in New York.
The stone, described as having a “mesmerising colour and impeccable clarity,” originated from Colombia – home to the famed Muzo emerald district, which has produced some of the world’s most captivating, deep green emeralds.
In this issue, JNA talks to major gemstone dealers including Belmont, Michael Gad Emerald, Global Links, G & D Trade Inc, Emerald House Ltd, Blue Star HK and Sunlight Gems about the latest trends, opportunities and challenges in the global emerald trade.
Brazilian mine-to-market emerald specialist Belmont said the market’s unrelenting love for emeralds has driven demand, which has been robust and growing steadily in the last two years.
Belmont Mine Director Marcelo Ribeiro commented, “Prices are stable and the market is very healthy. We are very optimistic about the demand outlook for emeralds. Emeralds are the ‘new diamonds.’ Emerald has a name that sells since it is recognised worldwide for its rarity and beauty.”
Ribeiro added that global emerald production is projected to record a drop in 2017 compared with the previous year.
“We expect a slight shortage of supply of some shapes by the end of the year. Most probably, buyers will have difficulty finding high-quality single stones and high-quality calibrated stones. Rounds, emerald cuts and cushions are very much in demand,” he said.
In Greater China, fine-quality stones in calibrated sizes, especially emeralds within the 0.50-carat to 2-carat range, are moving faster than before. Cat’s-eye emeralds are also performing strongly in this market, he continued. At the 30th edition of the June Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, the company showcased an exceptional 49.58-carat cat’s-eye emerald, which possesses a sharp “eye” and alluring colour.
Belmont is also working in partnership with Gübelin Gem Lab on the latter’s Emerald Paternity Test, a new traceability technology “creating independent proof of provenance for emeralds.” The technology uses customised DNA-based nanoparticles enabling traceability of emeralds back to the exact place of mining.
According to Daniel Nyfeler, managing director of the Gübelin Gem Lab, the technology is based on a new type of nanomaterials that are inserted in the gemstone directly at the mine. “These particles are invisible even to the best optical microscope and can store all relevant information about the specific mine, mining company and mining period,” noted Nyfeler. “These nanoparticles are built to survive the usual processes of cutting, treating, mounting and can be retrieved at any stage down the supply chain and decoded to determine the exact provenance.”
Belmont and Gübelin Gem Lab are currently finalising some logistical arrangements, Ribeiro said.
“Our plan is to have all Belmont emeralds undergo the Emerald Paternity Test starting from 2018. We want our emeralds to carry the DNA-based nanoparticles, which allow Gübelin Gem Lab to identify the emeralds’ origins,” he said.
“The project heralds a new era in the gemstone industry. Jewellers will be able to assure the market of the provenance of their emeralds. Consumers will get a glimpse of the history of the stones. We have now the opportunity to separate responsible sources for gemstones from those that are not creating value for society. We can now give younger people one more reason to buy jewellery. Consumers are assured that they are doing something good when buying gemstones from responsible sources. We expect this project to boost the demand for responsibly sourced stones.”
Despite continued uncertainties in the global gemstone and jewellery industry, high-quality goods such as clean, no-oil emeralds remain highly sought after in the market, according to Rami Sulemanoff, vice president of US-based emerald trader Michael Gad Emerald.
Sulemanoff said a decline in the supply of mid-range quality goods, coupled with weaker overall demand, was recorded in the beginning of 2017 but dealers consistently sold top-grade stones.
“Demand has shifted towards higher-quality stones such as no-oil emeralds. Customers are acquiring a more discerning eye and are interested in pieces that they know will still be valuable despite fluctuating financial markets,” he said.
The gemstone specialist said 5-carat to 10-carat goods valued at around $5,000 to $15,000 a carat are moving the fastest, adding that demand for no-oil stones remains consistent across all sizes.
Devan Haldiya of Hong Kong-based Global Links also cited a robust market for emeralds, particularly stones of the highest quality from Colombia.
“The first six months of the year proved to be positive for the emerald industry. We are seeing signs of improvement in the trade. Colombian emeralds remain popular, especially the top-range, no-oil, Muzo-green goods. The challenge now is finding a market for the lower-quality stones,” noted the company official.
Buyers mainly go for emerald cuts while a wide range of sizes – from half a carat to 20 carats and up – is likewise in demand.
The company’s major markets are China, Hong Kong and Thailand but it is eyeing to expand its reach to other Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia or Indonesia.
“The Chinese market only has eyes for exceptional emeralds so we need to find new markets to sell our other goods, particularly the mid- to lower-range stones,” noted Haldiya. “We are participating in more international fairs to find new areas of business. The global economy is still down and people’s purchasing power has become weaker so we need to diversify and be more aggressive.”
Guillermo Reyes, president of New York-based G & D Trade Inc, meanwhile, underscored the enduring appeal of the emerald as a gemstone of beauty and value.
“Why do people love emeralds? It’s because green is the most captivating colour in the world. It means everything – nature, life, hope. It’s soothing to the eye and it makes the observer feel refreshed and at peace,” noted Reyes. “There will always be demand for top-notch stones from Colombia.”
The gemstone specialist mainly sells to the US, Asia and India.
“Chinese buyers want 1-carat to 2-carat no-oil stones in emerald cut while American clients look for big sizes such as 20-carat to 25-carat gem-quality, no-oil stones. These sell for $10,000 per carat and up. India, meanwhile, is on the lookout for commercial-quality goods that cost between $25 per carat to $1,000 per carat,” revealed the company official.
He added that Asians also favour cabochons in a lighter shade of green because they resemble jade, which is an auspicious stone in China.
Prices also pose a challenge for gemstone traders, according to Reyes.
“Even with less demand and a generally weaker economy, prices have increased by 15 percent to 20 percent from last year,” he stated. “We hope that improvements in the market will soon materialise but it depends on the global economy. It’s always good to be optimistic and that’s why we continue to attend trade shows and look for new customers. China has a huge potential and we want to take advantage of business opportunities there.”
Emerald House Ltd of Hong Kong also sees strong demand for fine-quality stones. The dealer presented at the June Hong Kong Fair a 30.95-carat pear-shaped emerald from Afghanistan.
The company’s Ratnesh Tambi said the special emerald originates from the Panjshir mine. “This emerald stands out in terms of cut and intensity of colour. If you look closely, the stone has inclusions, which is a natural occurrence in emeralds. The colour is vivid green and the shape is exceptional,” noted Tambi.
The company also has other top-quality emeralds in its inventory including layouts and matched pairs. “It is extremely challenging to find stones of matching colours and sizes. These are very rare,” Tambi added.
Sarvesh Sonkia of emerald dealer Blue Star HK said emeralds continue to display their lustre in the fine gemstone and jewellery world, thanks to their historical significance and popularity.
“Auction houses have showcased mesmerising emeralds over the last six to eight months and this has inspired a lot of curiosity about the stone,” remarked Sonkia.
The company offers mainly Zambian emeralds but its inventory also includes Colombian emeralds.
“Colombian emeralds continue to be the most sought-after stones but we are seeing a lot of Chinese buyers becoming more interested in high-quality Zambian emeralds,” he added. “They are curious about these equally fascinating emeralds from Zambia. They find these stones attractive, highly accessible and more competitively priced.”
Potential customers may not readily buy but they are “seriously considering” such an alternative to Colombian emeralds, noted Sonkia.
According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Colombian emeralds are said to have a warmer and more intense pure green colour while Zambian emeralds are deemed to have a cooler, more bluish-green colour.
Blue Star HK mainly sells to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Middle East. Its major market, however, is the Greater China region.
“There’s potential in India as well but Indian buyers are mostly interested in lower-quality goods, which are under $300 per carat. There are rich individuals, however, who buy single items, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars or even a million dollars,” remarked Sonkia.
He revealed that a certain percentage of Zambian emerald production has recently been found to be almost identical in colour to Colombian emeralds.
“Emerald is a very calming colour since green has always been known to soothe the eyes. The colour also goes well with a lot of things that’s why emerald is the most flexible stone. If I want a collection of 5-carat sizes, that’s easily doable. For jewellery manufacturers, it’s easier to do business since they can make more types of jewellery,” the gemstone expert said.
Manoj Jain of Hong Kong-based Zambian emerald dealer Sunlight Gems, also echoed this sentiment, adding that the emerald’s rich green hue not only connotes royalty but hope and renewal as well.
“A lot of people are drawn to emeralds because green is such a magical colour. It’s elegant and fresh at the same time,” said Jain. “We saw steady movement in the emerald business during the first half of the year.”
Sunlight Gems’ strongest markets are the US, Europe and Southeast Asia.
“We have a manufacturing facility in India so we produce all shapes and sizes, including fancy and regular sizes. We offer a diverse product portfolio, which gives us an advantage. The prices are a bit higher now compared to last year but we’re still doing business because top-quality goods will always have a following,” Jain continued.
The company official also expressed confidence that the market will continue to move upward in the second half of the year as buyers prepare for the holidays. “We are hoping for a better outcome towards the end of the year. Companies need to remain proactive and train their sights on new markets to strengthen their businesses,” noted Jain.
For his part, Michael Gad’s Sulemanoff said the emerald trade has remained strong over the years and this trend is expected to continue throughout the year.
“We anticipate a consistent increase in demand for finer-quality goods while we also expect the supply from Colombia to remain limited,” he noted. “Emeralds are valued for their deep rich green colour. Historically, many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures associate them with fertility and financial success. Emeralds are also mentioned throughout ancient Egyptian and Greek mythologies for their healing powers, and this rich historical past appeals to a great deal of people.”
Asia, US and the Middle East are seen to drive growth in the emerald industry, he added.