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Emeralds are among the most sought after of all gemstones, and have been prized for centuries. While this quintessentially green gemstone is mined in a number of different regions around the world, the most abundant and popular mines are located in Colombia (in South America) and Zambia (in Africa). For a long time, Colombia has been considered the primary source for emeralds, but Zambian emeralds are proving to be a worthy competitor.
Most of the world’s emerald supply come from these mines, so it makes sense to ask ourselves: What is the difference between Zambian emeralds and Colombian emeralds and which should I buy?
In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the distinct characteristics of these two varieties of emerald. For detailed information about emeralds in general, check out our emerald buying guide.
What are Colombian Emeralds?
When it comes to emeralds, Colombia has been at the forefront for a very long time. Colombia produces between 70% to 90% of the total global emerald supply. Not only this, but Colombian emeralds are known for their high quality and vivid color. The three main Colombian emerald mines – Coscuez, Chivor and Muzo – produce some of the best emeralds to be found anywhere.
Beautiful Colombian emerald.
The color of Colombian emeralds come mainly from the presence of chromium. They have a pure dark leafy green color and are stunning to look at. However, Colombian emeralds also tend to have a larger number of inclusions than Zambian emeralds. This is because of their composition. Colombian emeralds are made from mainly sedimentary rocks. As a result, they have what is known as ‘jardin’ (French for garden) which refers to the threadlike inclusions that are found within the stone.
In general, Colombian emeralds tend to be more expensive than Zambian ones. After all, these emeralds are considered more prestigious and are more well-known in the gemstone world due to the long emerald mining history of Colombia. However, another factor that contributes to the price is the difficulty in cutting it.
Colombian emerald rough can be very challenging to facet due to how the coloring agents are distributed in the stone. This occurs during the formation of the stone and in Colombian emeralds, the surface of the stone has stronger color. If the jewelry cutter is not careful, there is a high chance that he will cut away the best part of the stone’s color, leaving the resulting gemstone lighter. This makes cutting Colombian emeralds more labor intensive and requiring greater expertise, which in turn contribute to a higher price.
What are Zambian Emeralds?
Emeralds were first mined in Zambia in 1976. The supply was plentiful and this created a big stir in the gemstone world. Zambia is located in a region that is rich with gemstones, surrounded by neighboring countries also known for their gemstones (Tanzania from Tanzanite and rubies from Mozambique are two examples). At present, Zambian emeralds only make up about 20% of the world’s emerald demands.
Over the last decade, Zambian emeralds have begun to increase in popularity as consumers begin to appreciate the quality of these emeralds. Two distinct features of Zambian emeralds were that they had a greater level of clarity than Colombian emeralds and they had a desirable vivid green bluish color, which they receive from the presence of iron.
Zambian emerald in gold setting
Interestingly, Zambian emeralds are still much more affordable than Colombian stones. While Zambian emeralds have slowly been increasing in price, they are currently still a great option if you want a stunning emerald at a lower price than you would pay for a Colombian one. This does not mean that Zambian emeralds are at all inferior. In fact, they have better clarity and stunning color and are comparable to any Colombian stone. But as I mentioned before, Colombian emeralds have the greater reputation and a longer history, so for now, they still come first as the most desirable type of emeralds.
Colombian vs. Zambian – Which Should I Buy?
In terms of properties, both these gemstones are very similar. They both have the same degree of hardness, between 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale but due to inclusions and other factors, emeralds are a fragile stone and need to be properly taken care of.
Here is a quick recap of their main differences:
- Colombian emeralds are greener whereas Zambian stones generally have a touch of blue that adds to the depth of the stone.
- Zambian emeralds are also usually more transparent and have fewer inclusions.
- Zambian emeralds are priced lower than Colombian emeralds, making them a perfect option if you are on a budget.
- Colombian emeralds are more prestigious due to Colombia’s reputation for exceptional emeralds.
- Colombian emeralds can be more difficult to cut due to its composition and color distribution.
If you’re looking to purchase an emerald, check out the range of natural, mainly untreated gemstones at Leibish. For a more budget friendly option, see James Allen. For affordable emerald jewelry, check out Blue Nile’s fine collection.