Resuscitating Emerald Sales

Is there a sadder story in the jewelry industry than the calamity that’s struck emeralds? Until just a couple of years ago, the green stone remained glamorous and popular, with fine specimens commanding up to $2,700 a carat wholesale. Today emeralds languish as jewelry’s déclassé stones. Consumers are suspicious of them, prices are off 50% or more, and emerald dealers are going out of business.

We all know the reason: TV exposés, publicity about the infamous Fred Ward case, and personal experience undermined consumer confidence. People were appalled to learn not only that emeralds are enhanced with fillers but also that the treatments don’t last and sometimes even turn the stone a sickly hue.

Now a new Gemological Institute of America study shows consumers are justified in their wariness (see Gem Notes, p. 36 in this issue). Those treatments turn out to be more numerous, complicated, and questionable than even the trade had come to suspect. The researchers found that there are dozens of possible fillers, often applied in combinations and sometimes used more than once during a stone’s lifetime. Some of the treatments contain green dye. Moreover, identifying them can be nearly impossible, particularly for the jeweler or average lab. Even GIA, with its armament of high-tech equipment, found it no easy task differentiating and identifying the fillers.

Where does all this leave the jeweler? Should you throw up your hands and give up on emeralds, directing customers to demantoid, tsavorite, and other green stones instead? Not just yet. In my opinion, there are some effective options still open to you. Among them:

  1. Buy untreated emeralds. They exist, and they’re easily obtainable. If your emerald dealer can’t get any, contact a Polish firm called Inter Commerce (its phone numbers are listed in its ads). It sells high-quality natural Afghan gems (see JCK, August 1999, p. 62) at only a slight premium over what you’d pay for treated stones.

  2. Buy emeralds enhanced with Gematrat. Arthur Groom invented this patented, stable compound, whose exact ingredients remain a proprietary secret. The reason I feel comfortable recommending Groom emeralds is that they come with a lifetime guarantee. Moreover, Gematrat contains a tracer allowing anyone to easily determine its presence (JCK, May 1999, p. 186).

  3. Buy man-made emeralds. Chemically and physically, they’re identical to natural emeralds. Visually, they’re often superior, even though they too can have inclusions. Nor are they treated. Lab-grown emeralds are also very reasonably priced.

  4. If you buy enhanced stones, either loose or set in jewelry, insist on full disclosure of the fillers from your supplier. If he can’t or won’t give you this information in writing, go to another supplier. Alternatively, go ahead and buy the stone but ship it off to a lab that will clean it out and then treat it with the oil of your choice.

  5. Adopt a policy of full disclosure yourself. Share information about treatments with your customer, and candidly discuss the possible lack of long-term stability. If you know the emerald is treated with Opticon, warn the customer that the resin can yellow with time. Disclose that palm oil will likely turn milky white. And so on. To make the sale, you may have to promise to re-treat the emerald for free.

You might think talking about such things as dehydration and discoloration is a strange way to rebuild the emerald’s popularity, but you’d be forgetting that it was lack of disclosure that set up the stone for its big fall in the first place. People who buy fine jewelry hate nasty surprises later on. There’s nothing wrong with treating emeralds—nearly every stone you sell has been treated in some way. What is wrong is keeping it a secret. By letting your customers know in advance exactly what they’re getting, you’re taking the first—and probably the most important—step toward restoring emerald to the eminence it deserves.