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Zambian Emerald

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.

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Zambian Emerald