HomeMajor Colored StonesEmeraldEmeralds from Zambia

Zambia - Miku deposit, near Kitwe (S.G.=2.75; R.I.E=1.583, R.I.O=1.590)

  • Once a major producer;40% of all emeralds sold in U.S. in 1989 where from this source.
  • In schists adjacent to pegmatites; can contain tourmaline and biotite inclusions.
  • Excellent clarity, but often darker, with a more noticeably bluish cast that Colombian emerald.
  • Source of significant production in 1980's; has redefined notion that best emeralds are invariably included.

Once emeralds were judged only on color. The tendency of affordable emerald to contain wisps and veils and tiny fractures meant that most consumers had to accept that emerald contained a “garden” of inclusions.

But today, many consumers are asking that the garden be weeded: they are demanding emeralds that are almost as clean as other gems.

Blame it on Zambia, the African country where in 1976 geologists discovered a radically different kind of emerald. Rough crystals yielded stones so clean that dealers at first suspected they were synthetic. Their stark, saturate greens looked completely different than Colombian and Brazilian stones with softer, sweeter hues.

The contrast between the two triggered an immediate clash in the marketplace. At first, establishment dealers resisted the new material, but gradually viewed it, somewhat condescendingly, as a cheap alternative to high-priced Colombian goods.

It took a group of intransigent outsiders, some from Israel and Afghanistan, to make the no-apologies-needed case for the new-breed beryl. In time, their devotion to it earned Zambian emerald parity with Colombian goods. Indeed, in June 1989, Tiffany’s began advertising Zambian emeralds instead of apologizing for them.

But winning over jewelry stores like Tiffany’s took time. Even some of the staunchest supporters of the African emerald harbored secret doubts about its aesthetic parity with Colombian material for decades. Explains one African emerald specialist, “I sold Zambian but preferred Colombian goods.”

Because the clarity of Zambian emerald has fostered radically higher expectations for emerald in general, expectations that emeralds from other places find it harder to meet, this material now has captured a large share of the market for mainstream emerald.

 

While the ideal for color in emerald is still debatable (Colombian green still has the edge with connoisseurs), Zambian stones have allowed the jewelry market to savor aesthetic qualities never before associated with emerald, at least not man-on-the-street goods.

Today, with decent 1-carat emerald the most expensive it has ever been, consumers are entitled to great expectations about the emeralds they are buying. As a result, they will no longer put up with fissure-ridden stones the way they had to in the past. True, fissures that reach the surface of stones have for centuries been routinely oiled (with everything from resins to, more recently, polymers) to hide these tiny cracks. But since this oil is not necessarily permanent and stones sometimes revert to their pre-beautified condition, the idea now is to offer consumers emeralds that need minimal oiling and preferably none at all.

Zambia is the first emerald producer to give consumers who cannot spend the enormous sums charged for fine emerald a chance to buy eye-clean stones on a regular basis.

But greater cleanliness is only one virtue. Stones tend to be more brilliant- so much so that they lend themselves to a diamond cutter’s philosophy of brilliant beauty. As a result, jewelry makers and retailers can reject the highly included staple stones they once had to sell in favor of stones with the same kind of crisp, clean appearance they’re used to seeing in diamonds.

It is no accident that dealers in Israel, long a major diamond cutting power, were the first to exploit the higher luster of Zambian emeralds. Using precision cutting techniques of a standard far above those applied to emerald elsewhere, the Israelis were able to make as big a name for themselves in the colored stone world as they had in the diamond world- in a far shorter time.

Not only did the Israelis cut for maximum brilliance and beauty, they introduced emerald in a wide range of fancy shapes and offered them in calibrated sizes unavailable anywhere else. The Israeli approach to emerald cutting worked so well that it is being imitated by the Brazilian cutters who currently man Zambia’s state-owned cutting works. “The Israelis set a standard that spoiled the market,” says one New York dealer.

“Now everyone expects you to equal them.”

Emerald production increased in Zambia to 1,860 kg in 2002 from 764 kg in 2001 because of the opening of the Chantete Mine, the expansion of the Grizzly Mine, and the discovery of new deposits in the Musakashi area. By 2004, production had declined to an estimated 1,400 kg because of the shutdown of the Kamakanga Mine and the depletion of the Musakashi deposits discovered in 2002. It is likely that output declined further in 2005 with the closure of the Chantete Mine; the Grizzly and the Kagem Mines accounted for most of Zambia’s remaining emerald production.

 

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