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Why I Source Only Colombian Emeralds?

Posted by Yvonne Raley on

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about emeralds, but with Emerald month coming up I should return to this favorite gem of mine.  There are three well known locations for emeralds: Zambia, Brazil and Colombia.  I pretty much source only Colombian emeralds although I can get all three if needed.  Zambian emeralds are often lighter in color, whereas Brazilian emeralds tend to be very dark and have black inclusions.  I love the bright grassy green color of the Muzo mines in Colombia, and the seller from whom I source these has a larger selection of Colombian material than anything else.

Vinod Kotahwala, from Vinod Kotahwala Gems, started his business over 40 years ago with just emeralds. Since then he’s branched out to sapphires, diamonds, and a multitude of other gems.  Aside from English and  various Indian languages, he is fluent in Spanish as well.  Vinod regularly travels to South America where he has good connections  to the locals.  I was told once that to get into the emerald business now takes several hundred thousand dollars in starting capital so very few dealers do it.  Most of them have just a few single stones, if any (my two other main suppliers, Prima Gems and Dudley Blauwet – don’t source them).  Vinod has big cardboard (diamond paper) boxes with parcels and parcels, which he puts out in little glass bowls at the shows.  I’ve not seen anyone who has this many emeralds at any show, not the AGTA, GJX, JA, JCK or any local smaller show I’ve been to (i.e. Edison and Springfield).  Like most of the larger gem dealers, Vinod doesn’t use a safe.  Instead, his office is equipped with an old style vault in a high security building in the diamond district.  To get in, you need to show ID, then go through a set of double doors, the second of which only opens when the first closes.  And of course you need to be announced at the front and nobody comes in without references.  There’s no retail business  and if you call and they don’t know who you are, there’s no buying.

Like so many old school dealers, Vinod has no gems for sale on his website (many don’t even have a website), and goods are bought and sold in quantity except at shows like the JA show or AGTA.  Prices are lower if you’ve known them for a while, and you are shown new goods first if they like you and trust you.  I feel guilty going to the office and spending only a few hundred dollars at a time, but Vinod knows how much I love his emeralds.  I even have borrowing privileges now, which only took me five years to get, lol. 

Since I prefer to buy untreated gems, I only source emeralds that are lightly oiled, with no other treatment.  Oil is usually unavoidable since it is applied at the mines.  Oil also helps prevent the gems from scratching each other when they are transported in larger parcels.  Nowadays, the oil used is baby oil, not the traditionally used cedar wood oil.  This is unfortunate because baby oil is a petroleum product, and therefore synthetic (beats me why it is used on babies!).  So any lab report will now state that a synthetic treatment is detected, but this does not mean that a resin was used.  Chris Smith, who does my AGL reports for the Paraibas and who has also done some emeralds for me, will therefore have to check that a “modern” treatment was used.  If only light baby oil was used, the extent of filler used usually comes back as “insignificant”.  Josh Lents from GAL, my usual lab guy, trained with Chris, so his smaller and less expensive gem cards can also state treatment upon request (it’s not necessarily standard with the smaller cards). 

You can read Chris’s explanation of emerald treatment here:

https://www.americangemsociety.org/en/emerald-clarity-enhancement

I select my gems from only a few parcels which get backfilled with new gems on a regular basis.  The gems I select are all under a carat, otherwise it gets way too expensive.  My prices for the quality I like range from $800-$1000 per carat.  I can easily source lower quality stuff of course but so can anyone else.  It’s the finer goods that are hard to come by. 

Cutting is always an issue with emeralds as they are pretty much all native cut.  So even in a nice parcel I have to dig for the good material.  Matching three pairs can take me up to an hour.  I de-select all windowed gems, I have to loupe for scratches, and the shapes are very mixed.  Some gems are cloudy as well, even in the good parcels, so I pull those out.  Finding a suite of several stones is tough – usually I can only find 2-3mm rounds that work and it takes me a while to pull them all out.  Sometimes I have to wait a few weeks for a parcel to get backfilled before I can go “dig” again.

Look for some more emerald listings for April and May, and contact me anytime if you’d like me to try and source something nicer for you.


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