If you study gemstone history, you realize that up until few years ago, gemstones had only two major classifications: Precious and semi-precious. With innovative technology and awareness, and increased trade practices, we now have a comprehensive classification system of gemstones. All gemstones have the same origin: Deep within the earth. In most cases, a difference in the place of origin implies a subtle difference in color, and possibly even quality. For example, an expert can tell a Zambian emerald from a Colombian one, just by the different hue.
Most gemstones can demand a premium for their origin. This may occur because there are mines excavated for centuries, and there are newer deposit locations developing. The most knowledgeable consumers usually look for established sources.
Considered the most precious of gemstones, the best emeralds can be even more valuable than diamonds. Emeralds are extracted from the mineral Beryl. Interestingly, beryl is found in a wide array of colors, which make these beryl gemstones more beautiful. Emerald has variations of green, ranging from intense green to a light green to a more yellowish green. Though beryl is considered a common mineral, mines for fine emeralds are exclusive.
In ancient times, emeralds were mined in Egypt, Austria and present-day Afghanistan. Later Colombia became one of the most popular sources of fine emeralds. These Columbian gemstones are celebrated and praised for their sparkle and vivid green color. The famous Colombian mines Muzo and Chivor have been a popular source of emeralds since the pre-Columbian era when the Spanish explorers first arrived on the American continent (approximately 5 centuries ago). The famous and rare Trapiche emeralds that have 6 rays stemming from the center are Colombian as well. Today, emeralds from Colombia are easier to obtain and in high demand. Many consumers praise the Columbian color so much that they look past its enclosed inclusions.
A relatively new mine in Zambia has made emeralds much more available on the market. Zambian emeralds have captured a large portion of the market because of their rich deep color and minimal inclusions. Zambian emeralds are a darker green than Colombia, and some even have a bluish tint. In fact, it’s rare that emerald gemstones have a clear and complete green color. Brazil also produces some of the finest emeralds, which create rivalries between these bordering nations. In fact, Brazil now produces more emeralds than any other country in the world. Other known producers of emeralds are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Russia.
Emerald is one of the most difficult gemstones to cut because of their high value, multiple inclusions and fragility. Emerald is most often cut in a rectangular step-cut, which is more commonly known as the emerald-cut. If you are looking for rounds, ovals, pear-shapes and marquise cuts, they are more likely to be available in smaller stone sizes.
The Origin of Sapphire
Sapphires come from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, and Cambodia. Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, China, Vietnam, Madagascar, and the USA are additional sources. For example, Montana produces a range of colors, mostly from deposits in the rivers, and deep blue sapphires from one of the largest deposits at Yogo Gulch. These sapphires from Yogo Gulch may be small in size, but have a beautiful blue tone.
The most famous sources for sapphire are Kashmir and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The Kashmir sapphires were first discovered in 1881 with a landslide on the Himalayas. These stones have a rich velvety color, which is praised by experts. Burmese sapphires are also considered as fine quality gemstones. However, these two sources account for a very small fraction of sapphire origins in the market.
Most of the finest sapphires come from Sri Lanka, which produces a wide range of beautiful blues with deep saturated hues. Pink and purple sapphires from Sri Lanka are extremely vibrant in color and are generally rarer than blue sapphires. Thailand (Kanchanaburi) and Cambodia are renowned for their deep blue (even colored) sapphires. Madagascar and Tanzania are the two of the most upcoming sources for sapphires.
The Origin of Aquamarine
Since they belong to the mineral group of beryl, aquamarines are actually sisters of emeralds. The coloring element to produce the beautiful blue green color is iron, which is substituted for aluminum in the crystal structure. Aquamarine are found in Brazil, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Afghanistan and other countries, but like emeralds, Brazil is the primary source. More recently Zambia, Mozambique and Nigeria have been producing some of the finest aquamarine stones. Additionally, some very dark blue aquamarine is mined in India. The largest high quality gem crystal ever discovered was a 200-kilogram crystal mined in Brazil. It was so clear that one could read a newspaper through it!
The 'Santa Maria' class of aquamarines from Brazil is perhaps the most celebrated of aquamarines in the world. The Santa Maria gemstones have rare, intense blue hue, which is the most praised color in an aquamarine gemstone. Similarly, ' Santa Maria Africana' aquamarines are produced in Mozambique, Africa. There are reports of aquamarine being mined in both North America and South America, but also Russia and Madagascar.
The Origin of Ruby
Ruby is the red cousin of sapphire as they belong to the same mineral, corundum. High quality rubies especially in larger sizes are extremely rare and demand premium prices. Sources for finer quality rubies are very rare, making these exotic gemstones more desired.
The best known source of fine rubies is Burma, now called Myanmar. Rubies from the mines in Mogok often have a pure red color, which is often described as "pigeon's-blood". Myanmar also produces intense pinkish red rubies, which are vivid and extremely beautiful. Many of the rubies from Myanmar have a strong fluorescence when exposed to sunlight, which layers on extra color. Burmese rubies have a reputation for containing vivid color under all lighting conditions. Demand for fine rubies is really limited in terms of supply. Therefore, new sources found result in breaking news.
Most rubies are cut and marketed from Thailand, the world's most important ruby trading center. About 80% of world's ruby goes through Thailand at some point in the trading cycle. The largest ruby cutting factories are located in the Kanchanaburi area of Thailand.
The Origin of Tanzanite
A Masaai tribesman stumbled upon a shimmering blue crystal at the foothills of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967. This stone was at first mistaken to be sapphire but was later identified and downgraded to the mineral family of Zoisite. Tanzanite is named after its country of origin, Tanzania, and was conceived by Tiffany and Co. from 1967 to 1972, an estimated two million carats of tanzanite were mined from the country. The mines were later nationalized by the Tanzanian government.
In April 2005, a company called TanzaniteOne Ltd. announced that they had taken control of the portion of the tanzanite deposit known as "C-Block" (the main deposit is divided into five blocks). In August 2005, the largest tanzanite crystal was found in the C-Block mine. TanzaniteOne Ltd., through its non-profit subsidiary, The Tanzanite Foundation, has introduced its own color grading system. The new system's color-grading scales divide tanzanite colors into a range of hues, ranging from blue violet to violet blue, depending on the primary and secondary hues.
The supply of tanzanites is most likely to exhaust itself within the next two decades.