I have always disliked using the word 'hate'. Its too a strong word,
and I don't hate anything, anyway. Dislike yes, but hate, no. I think
this pacifist attitude is now about to change however.. I HATE
EMERALDS. There, I said it. This is not something that has snuck
upon me during the night. Rather, it is something that has been
building up for twenty something years. I was a gemcutter before I
learnt metalsmithing and in gem cutting, I eventually started
specializing in emeralds. Political turmoil in our northern
neighbours, (Rhodesia and Zambia) caused a lot of good emerald to
come into South Africa in the 1980's. The good material was great.
Even from Zaire, one would get really good material to cut. A stone
from the Kitwe area in Zambia was brought to me, that finished into
9.36ct stone, step cut, flawless under a twelve loupe. Of the very,
very best color, with a fire and life so good it looked like green
YAG. I would have given parts of my anatomy to own that stone.
And then there were the many, many others. Those stink bug things
that are held together by volcanic glue alone. Cutting those kind of
emeralds requires a certain type of manic patience. It does this
little 'snik' on your polishing lap and then there is this freakin'
chip that has released from the last culet facet before you finish
the stone. So you start again. As I said, manic patience. When I was
cutting, my job was to finish the stone, not worry about the poor
sucker who had to actually set the stone. So if the stone was
structurally weak, that was not my concern. My goal was to finish the
stone cut and polished.
Ha, what goes round comes round, I found. Now I am the setter.
Below, some stories of emeralds.
A batch of tiny Sandawana emeralds comes into my work shop for pave
setting into 14ct gold rings, a few years ago. Top grade stones,
nicely cut, ranging from 1mm to 3mm. What a nightmare. When you seat
them, they shatter. When you bead them they get dustified. When you
looked at the friggin'things they snapped, crackled and popped. And
every pop meant that at least ten bucks evaporated for me. Dollars on
I once cut an emerald for a lady from Zimbabwe and it was as fine an
emerald as you could wish for. It was mounted as a center stone with
diamonds all around. Three months later she dropped the ring on the
floor and that was the end of that. Shattered, the emerald and the
lady. When emeralds are involved in rings your reputation is at stake
I made a 'fruitcake' ring for a customer of mine. The ring was pave
set with 10 different types of 2mm stones. Sixty in all. Garnet,
sapphire, amethyst, emerald etc. Very pretty, this riot of color. A
couple of months later she comes in and says that the stones are
fallingout. All the emeralds, in fact. Really? She admits that she
does gardening with the ring and indeed, after close inspection, all
the stones were damaged. The fact was that only the emeralds had
broken into little pieces and so fallen out. I know, because the
bottom of one stone was still stuck in the setting. The other non-
emerald stones were damaged, but not gone. Needless to say, the
replacements came out of my pocket.. Thanks, emeralds..
Now, in front of me sits a 'Caribbean Emerald'. This type of stone,
in my gem cutting days, we used to call a 'Stink Bug'. (This name
came about because there is an innocent faceted looking bug in South
Africa that looks like a dark sapphire or a lousy emerald and smells
like hells armpit when you stand on it.) In this case, it is an oval,
5.5ct well cut piece of emerald trash. It has Armageddon inside it
and the only time you could make have fire and life would be to hold
it in front of a military searchlight. A specialist cut this. I know
this stuff. He managed to overcome the volcanic glue with a large
dollop of luck. And I have to put this crystal junk into an 18ct
setting, paved with 4carats of high grade diamond malee. Man, setting
stones like this makes me wish I was ignorant of what it is like
cutting them. I'm going to stop using emeralds in rings and bangles
from now on. They just too much of a mission. They don't wear good,
they expensive and too brittle. Still love the color, though... Sigh.