Women's Jewellery

Wizards of emerald city

As the quantity and quality of emeralds continues to rise, their magnetic appeal is inspiring jewellery designers to even greater levels of creativity, says Vivienne Becker.

November 29 2009
Vivienne Becker

These are “green” times, so there’s a satisfying synchronicity to the return of the ravishing emerald to the heart of precious jewellery. This season there’s an added synergy with fashion, which has taken to shades of green in a big way; Chanel’s key colour, contrasting with black for winter, is a deep but soft and creamy celadon or jade.

Seductive and majestic, the emerald had drifted off radar for some years, in part due to a dearth of good stones, concerns about enhancing treatments and, perhaps, also to a certain fustiness, an inhibiting “heirloom syndrome” that had hung about this green goddess. Firstly, worries about treatments have been eased by a stricter system of certification for all larger stones, stipulating what is acceptable, and by a universal awareness of the need for an ethical approach to stimulate consumer confidence. But over and beyond the practicalities, there’s always been a particular element of lust that accompanies the emerald. The magnetism of the emerald’s extraordinary colour and the duality of nobility and fragility that comes from its mysterious inner life of inclusions – or “jardins”, as they are poetically known – have captivated jewel lovers since the time of Cleopatra and her eponymous mines.

The attraction of these stones has been rekindled by a wealth of new emeralds from the original legendary mines in Colombia (Muzo and La Pita), from Brazil and, most significantly, from newer deposits in Zambia, where major commercial production started in the 1970s. Sean Gilbertson of Gemfields, a leading coloured-stone producer and owner of the Kagem mine in Zambia, confirms that all Zambian emeralds are blood- and conflict-free and, generally, there are no major wars or conflicts in emerald-producing areas. Coloured stones suffer less from conflict issues.

Zambian emerald mines, including the Kamakanga and Kagem, are yielding fresh, verdant emeralds, some blue-green, some golden-toned, that are breathing new life into the coloured-stone arena. As more jewellers have the opportunity to use them, so more freedom, audacity and imagination are displayed in their designs.

Alisa Moussaieff, head of Moussaieff Jewellers, says, “A fine emerald is mysterious and sexy, and it doesn’t have to be flawless. Now there are decent goods from Colombia, and emeralds for less money from Zambia – a 20ct emerald could cost less than an equivalent diamond. Meanwhile, the sophisticated client has reappeared, the individualist who appreciates that each emerald has its own personality, even more so than a diamond.”

As well as Colombian emeralds, Moussaieff uses about one in 10 from Zambia. The jeweller introduces a softer, more organic look to a dramatic draped scarf necklace threaded with pebble-shaped emerald nuggets, and a pair of bracelets set with a line of glossy cabochon Colombian emeralds edged with frills of diamonds (prices on request).

Dublin-based gem expert and gem hunter Guy Clutterbuck has seen interest in emeralds grow, and believes the stones offer something special while delivering more for your money. “There’s no doubt the emerald is the most alluring, fabulously glamorous stone. It’s interesting that the human eye is able to perceive more shades of green than any other colour. The whole game has been lifted by exceptionally lively Zambian and Brazilian material. There has been some resistance to Zambian emeralds at the top end, but this will soon dissipate, as the most recent discoveries have been found to be chemically very similar to finer Colombian stones, with exceptional depth of colour and added brilliance. ”

Gemfields has been steadily building stock over the past few years as a way of assuring a reliable and consistent supply of emeralds to the market, and as part of a strategy to bring some structure and clarity to the largely unregulated coloured gemstone industry. Its focus is on natural, untreated gems and on a transparent ethical route from mine to market, ensuring environmental and social responsibility along the way. Clutterbuck says, “Gemfields is a very polished enterprise, pulling back the veils, bringing the stone into the public eye. The whole business was too secretive and it is good to have new blood in an archaic trade.”

Lesley Schiff of the Talisman Gallery in Harvey Nichols, notes that her clients are looking for bigger gems, especially cabochons, and they are neither afraid of natural inclusions, nor colour prejudiced. “Traditionally, customers used to shy away from shades that weren’t considered ‘gem colour’ but now they are seeking out varying tones, especially pale emeralds. People no longer want the uniform cut and colour but seek the unusual and unexpected.” There’s also a strong move towards setting emeralds in yellow gold, to pick up on the warmth of golden glints in the stone.

Atelier Zobel, a progressive German design house with a modernist approach under the design direction of goldsmith-artist-jeweller Michael Zobel, sets emeralds – some cut, some organic cabochons – against heavily textured gold or blackened silver for heightened drama in a style that is organic yet geometric, and brutally beautiful. One huge saucer-shaped ring combines marquise-cut emeralds caught in a lattice pattern with a smooth inlay of jade (€8,550). Cristina Rotondaro, Rome-based creator of one-of-a-kind jewels, has created a huge Medusa Deco cabochon ring, over which creep fronds of gold tipped with cabochon rubies (£8,850) and Sevan Bicakci, who draws on ancient Ottoman influences and craft skills for his statuesque rings (from £16,000) has carved an image of two embracing cherubs into a monumental 50ct Zambian emerald, held aloft by a mount of randomly clustered diamond petals (£785,000).

Emeralds wind a continuous path through Cartier’s story, expressing the exotic opulence of Eastern influences, often through a daring mix of green and blue. The Indian influence is particularly strong, reflecting Cartier’s association with the 1920s and 1930s Maharajahs. From that time and up till today, there is a continuing tradition of using great engraved emeralds, often historic Mogul stones. Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s heritage, style and image director, feels that although emeralds exert a powerful fascination, their colour can be challenging and their strong character and unconventional concept of purity demand a real commitment from the wearer: “It is a balance between the search for purity and the search for charm.” Now the Snake Queen jewels, part of Cartier’s new Secrets et Merveilles collection (from £95,000), perfect the art of seduction through tumbling emerald beads on a necklace entwined with a diamond snake, and a ring in which a diamond serpent coils around a sugar-loaf-shaped cabochon emerald (both price on request).

At David Morris, luscious emerald beads in the Amira collection, hung with diamond beads and briolettes, also tell the story of the Maharajahs (from £20,000). Designer Jeremy Morris says he buys exceptional cabochon emeralds whenever he can, creating a ring, for example, from a spectacular 42ct Colombian stone. But his latest innovation is to inset round diamonds into emerald cabochons for a bangle and earrings with a distinct art deco flavour (all prices on request).

Adler’s extravagant use of emeralds, including Zambian specimens, connects to the style of art deco, a time, says Franklin Adler, of “technical and emotional per­fection” in jewellery, as seen in a bangle and earrings of huge, sweeping, linked circles of emeralds and diamonds (prices on request). Adler also plunders the company’s Byzantine heritage through drapes of emerald beads, or channels the Vienna Secession through the Klimt necklace with its overlapping geometric openwork diamond elements layered with a scattering of important emeralds.

For Bulgari, rich, Renaissance gem colour has been a signature design element. In the 1960s, emeralds were mixed with pink sapphires or pink and red spinels or turquoises in arresting juxtapositions of primary colours. Today, a simple, strong ring set with a cabochon emerald, flanked by diamond baguettes and set into rounded black coated gold becomes a classic reinterpretation of Bulgari style; emerald earrings take on massive proportions, 1980s style; and High Jewellery necklaces explode with bursts of emeralds and diamonds, or dangle a huge pear-shaped drop from a heart-shaped rose cut diamond (price on request).

Meanwhile, Chopard finds the theatricality of emeralds ideal for its Red Carpet collection, choosing a pair of sumptuous pear drops for earrings (price on request), or cabochons in pebble shapes for a variation on the Creole hoop earring (£183,910). It likes to cool the emeralds down with fine pavé white diamonds. Asprey is taking an approach of updated classic grandeur, reporting a noticeable increase in demand for emeralds from serious connoisseurs. It has composed a trio of perfectly matched vivid green Colombian emeralds in classic emerald cuts into a necklace, ring and earring set called the Vivid Majestic Emerald collection (prices on request), the velvet green gems framed in their signature Asprey Majestic diamond mount.

At Graff, master of the world’s grandest classics, the emerald is the most important coloured stone. As expected, only the finest natural specimens are used, often in luscious drop shapes or cushion cuts. Laurence Graff explains that the emerald has long been a passion for him: “I’ve always found emeralds special – so much so that I bought my wife the Duchess of Windsor’s 19ct emerald engagement ring. It is one of the finest emeralds I have ever seen.”

See also

Emeralds