Spanish-made emerald and gold pendant exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum.

Spanish-made emerald and gold pendant exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum.

Green Makes a Dazzling Return

New York Times, May 20, 2010

LONDON — Unlike mere minerals, gemstones possess an alchemic mix of beauty, durability and rarity. Emerald, however, goes one better. Prized by the Romans, the Incas, the Moguls and the czars, it lays claim to one of the gem trade’s longest and most illustrious histories.

And therein lies the rub.

During the designer renaissance of the past 20 years, emerald became a victim of its own highfalutin image. Considered too classic, too expensive and too fussy by the talented young jewelers who revolutionized the trade’s understanding of fashion, May’s birthstone was forsaken by all but the most conventional stylists.

Adding insult to injury, in 1997, the U.S. television news program “Dateline” revealed the prevalence of undisclosed treatments in the emerald trade. A related court case sent the market into a slump that dragged on for nearly a decade.

“It was a terrible time for the industry,” said Gary Roskin, founder of the Roskin Gem News Report. “But emerald never lost its reputation. There isn’t another stone that can equal that color.”

Now, emerald is, by all accounts, in the midst of a dazzling comeback. It began at the Oscars in 2009, when Angelina Jolie paired a simple black gown with 115-carat pear-shaped emerald earrings by Lorraine Schwartz, favored jeweler of the red carpet crowd. Unadorned by diamonds, the $2.5 million dangles glowed a pure, Platonic green. The market treated them as a revelation.

“It’s unbelievable what those earrings did for emeralds,” Ms. Schwartz recalled. “I have seven calls for them now. It was about the color and simplicity.”

In February, Bulgari upped the ante with its new global jewelry advertising campaign featuring the actress Julianne Moore lounging around a boudoir clad in nothing but tear-drop emerald earrings valued at $3 million.

“It took more than 500 hours to make these earrings,” said Nicola Bulgari, the company’s vice chairman. “The two emeralds are perfectly matched in both shape and hue, which is a magnificent and totally uniform shade of green.”

The color is, invariably, associated with Colombia, and, specifically, Muzo, the largest and most prestigious of the country’s mines, located about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, north of Bogotá.

Blessed with pitch-perfect concentrations of chromium and vanadium, the elements that transform plain beryl into a crystal cocktail of extreme desire, Muzo emeralds were adored by the Moguls, who engraved them with verses of Islamic text or fashioned giant emerald crystals into wine goblets.

Centuries later, an effort is afoot to harness the marketing potential of that history. Muzo International, the new sales and marketing subsidiary of Texma Group, based in the United States, which acquired operating rights to the government-owned Muzo concession in late 2009, is preparing to deploy a sophisticated mine-to-market branding strategy for its loose emeralds, said its managing director, Gilles Haumont.

Phase one rolled out in February, when Muzo International opened a showroom in Geneva and struck a partnership with Chopard. The companies celebrated the jeweler’s 150th anniversary at the Cannes Film Festival this week with a spectacular jungle-themed party — where an elaborate necklace featuring a yellow diamond tiger clutching a 60-carat Muzo stone was the star of the show.

Fawaz Gruosi, president and executive director of the Geneva haute horlogerie and jewelry brand de Grisogono, is no stranger to dramatic displays of emeralds. According to his signature style, however, they are best incorporated into unexpected combinations, as in a necklace of 26 turquoise boulders peppered with emerald pavé.

“Emerald was considered such a high stone, but it wasn’t accessible, and we’re now seeing it in this more bohemian, less traditional way,” said Jill Newman, senior style editor at Robb Report, an affluent-lifestyle magazine.