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About Emeralds - Understanding the Four 'C's for Colored Gemstones

Garrett Fifer

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Emeralds are more than simply the birthstone for the month of May. They are ancient stones of beauty, power, and wonder. They have long been one of the most sought after and admired precious gems to be found on this great earth. Fascination and demand for this precious stone has a lot to do with its captivating and beautiful green color, but it is spurred on even further by its scarcity. For these same reasons, emeralds may sometimes be considered even more precious than diamonds. You may find that statement difficult to believe, but arguably, it is often true in some of the finer emerald specimens. There are many things about emeralds such as this that are often misunderstood or even unknown to the casual emerald admirer. In this section we hope to change that. Read on to find a great deal of interesting facts and information about emeralds. We have provided links in this section to allow you to jump to the parts you may want to read about most.


When someone speaks of diamonds, they often mention the “4 C's" of Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat when they assess the quality and value of the stone. All of these characteristics are considered when one looks at an emerald, but they looked at in a much different way. For most colored stones, the most important trait, by far, is color. This is one reason why Colombian emeralds are more highly prized over all others. Their rich and superior green to bluish green colors are unparalleled by emeralds from any other source. This is the ‘trademark’ color for which Colombian emeralds are known, but the color range for Colombian stones is actually quite varied, even within the same mine. You'll find Colombian emeralds with colors that range from a pale yellow green to a dark blue-green that's almost surreal. Or from a bright grassy color to a milky green jade-like appearance. You get the idea. . . They vary a great deal, but they are easily recognized if placed amongst emeralds from other countries. Valuation differences will also be just as obvious. But as the old rule says. . . you get what you pay for.

Color is one of the most important considerations in buying an emerald. The richer greens and blue-greens tend to be the most expensive and highly regarded emerald colors, but this should never sway you from buying a lighter colored stone that you fancy. After all, beauty is very subjective. It is not determined by some arbitrary quality standard or grading system, but by how you feel about it. If you think it's beautiful. . that's all that matters. We receive just as many questions about our lighter colored stones as we do for some of the more expensive specimens with deeper color.

An interesting fact on the subject of color that we have to mention is that the beautiful rich blue-green color that you may see in some Colombian emeralds is almost certainly indicative that it comes from the famed Muzo mine. This mine is perhaps the most well known gem-producing mine in the world. Its name is synonymous with the outstanding quality emeralds it produces.


The quality of the cut plays an important role in assessing a stone's value, but it is not an exact science. There is no single cut that is valued more than another, but well cut, matched pairs and sets will cost more because of the difficulty in finding and cutting multiple stones to match not only in color, but size and overall appearance.

Different gemstones may sometimes have certain cuts associated with that gem. For example, you will often see diamonds in a round brilliant cut or a princess cut. Emeralds are no different in that regard, with the emerald cut being by far the most common. There are reasons for this, as you will read about in the next paragraph. But overall, the most common cuts in which you will find emeralds are: emerald cut, round and oval cuts, pear or teardrop cut, and cabochon. To a lesser extent you will find princess cuts, brilliants, trilliants, and various fancy cut variants to include hearts and carvings. Some of these cuts are rather self-explanatory, so we'll only comment further on those that are not as obvious.

The emerald cut may be square or rectangular in shape and is easily recognizable by its shape, large face, and chopped corners. It is used so often for emeralds that it took its name from them. A big reason why emerald cuts are so common for emeralds is that it yields more saleable product from the rough crystal. This is an important consideration because a significant portion of the rough crystal is already lost in the cutting process. . . Approximately thirty percent. When this cut is used on any other gemstone, it is still referred to as an ‘emerald cut’.

Cabochon is an ancient cut that has a convex, rounded surface that is polished. Finer stones are not often cut in the cabochon style, but do turn out to be quite elegant when they are. Cabochons are not as brilliant as other cuts, but instead project a quiet, tasteful beauty that features the stones natural color. Other gemstones use the cabochon cut more frequently with great results. Notable examples are: cat's eyes (chrysoberyl), star rubies and sapphires, many opaque stones such as opal, turquoise, and moonstone.

Fancy cut is a term that may be used to describe custom carving-type cuts or non-typical cuts which would often be used for custom settings. Gem cutters, will inevitably cut unusually shaped stones to make the most of the gem crystal they have to work with. But for a dealer, carrying a large inventory of unusually cut stones is probably unwise. If a client plans to make a custom piece of jewelry, it may be unlikely that the design could incorporate the fancy cuts you'd have on hand. Because there will inevitably be these fancy cut stones produced and with perhaps a much less predictable demand, the prices of these stones will often be lower than if they were cut in the typical shapes. Herein lies opportunity. A savvy buyer, who may be looking create a custom-made piece, could find some real bargains. They would just have to be willing to work with what's available.


Clarity is one of the essentials in selecting diamonds, but in colored stones, this characteristic can be considerably less important. . . but not always. This is especially true when it comes to emeralds because of what is often referred to as the ‘garden’. A garden is a natural feature internal to the stone that may appear like a silky web trapped within. Gardens are as varied as snowflakes and fingerprints and should be thought of in much the same way. Dense gardens may have an affect on clarity, but clarity alone should not sway one's opinion of a particular stone. The degree to which clarity affects a stone, s appeal and value is a very subjective consideration. Many emerald buyers will often place greater emphasis on color.


One carat is a unit of weight measurement equivalent to 1/5th of one gram. Most gemstones are priced and sold based on their carat weight. For average sized stones, this price is based primarily on their color, cut, and clarity which we've already discussed. But as you begin to look at larger stones, and particularly larger stones of high quality, the 4th ‘C’ begins to play a much bigger role in pricing the stone. This is because the larger stones are rarer, and thus command a higher price per carat than smaller stones of the same quality. During a recent visit to colombia, we were shown a 180 carat stone of rather poor color and clarity with large, obvious inclusions. A one carat stone cut from this material would be priced at less than $200. But a stone of this size is rare and commands a much higher price. In the case of this stone, our source had a buyer for it at $1,000/carat.

Embassy Emeralds was founded in 2005 with the goal of building a successful business by bringing high quality Colombian emeralds at good prices to those who share the same appreciation for these captivating green treasures. My vision for Embassy Emeralds is simple. I intend for us to become your trusted source for Colombian emeralds. Quality stones, pricing, service, and attention to the customer will be the things you remember about your buying experience with us and we will do everything necessary to ensure that this is the case. We buy only high quality emeralds in Colombia and only from reputable sources and I personally handpick each stone to ensure each one measures up to my high standards of quality.

For more information or to see our catalog of fine loose emerald gemstones, visit us at


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