JURASSIC SPARKLE

Colombia 2014 | ENERGY & MINING | FOCUS: EMERALDS

The Cretaceous Period, some 65 million years ago, is known to science as the era of great extinction for dinosaurs. Yet at that same time, geological circumstances conspired to give humans—a few years later—the emerald.

Colombia's emerald deposits are thought to date back to around 65 million years ago. The greatest source in the world, Colombia's mines, located in the three main areas of Muzo, Coscuez, and Chivor, supply around 55% of the global tally. The industry has been working to erase the taint of a more violent period in Colombian history, when illegally mined emeralds were used to finance violence and crime in what was know as the “green war."

Relatively little of Colombia's approximately 100,000 hectare emerald belt is currently exploited, and mining outfits Coexminas and Santa Rosa together operate on just 200 hectares. Coexminas is one of Colombia's historic emerald mining companies, operating a mine in Muzo in Boyacá, and the Santa Rosa Mines that control the Cinas Mines near Maripí. Coexminas registers annual sales of around $3 million to $5 million for rough stones. The Muzo Mine, operational since the colonial era, accounts for emeralds once thought to have originated from Mexico, but which in actual fact were smuggled to that country. Emeralds of various calibre are mined in Russia, Afghanistan, Brazil, and Zambia. The Colombian counterpart—the Muzo emerald—boasts a lemon-green color, and has proven to be more plentiful. In conversation with TBY, CoexMinas President Edwin Molina explained that, “Emerald mining is constantly in the exploration phase whereas in other types of mining you must undertake prospecting, exploration, and then exploitation operations. [It is] based on geological knowledge and is carried out empirically."

National mining agency data suggests lower production over recent years, from around 5.2 million carats in 2010 to 3.4 million in 2011, and just 1.2 million carats in 2012, as local output faces competition from Zambia and Brazil. For 2013, a recovery was observed to roughly 2.6 million carats, confirming that Colombia's stones are sought after by those in the know with the means to buy brands such as Chopard, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier, among others.C

A CUT ABOVE

The emerald, by far one of Colombia's proudest exports, is so associated with a particular shape when processed as to have lent its name to it—the emerald cut. And while clarity is often less important for colored stones than it is for diamonds, cut is a key criterion of a stone's value.

According to the Embassy Emeralds website, the emerald, when thus cut is either square or rectangular with chopped corners. This particular cut also mitigates against the inevitable loss of material during the cutting process, which can be up to 30%. The Cabochon cut provides the stone a polished surface that is convex and rounded. Finer stones are not often cut in the cabochon style, but do turn out to be quite elegant when they are. Shunning immediate brilliance, this cut is known for its more subtle elegance that showcases the emerald's natural hue. Fancy cut, as the name implies, is a catchall term for custom cutting into custom styles. Due to the highly subjective nature of ostentatious products, however, a wise jeweler will tend not to stock too many such cuts in the interest of business.