Sparkling emerald jewels
Minsk underground is now full of adverts for man-made emeralds: ‘High quality professionals ready to make emerald necklaces, earrings and rings for you — cheaply!’ and ‘The most beautiful pendants from emeralds and rubies — anytime — for your beloved, at an affordable price!’
By Svetlana Petrova
The photos are so mesmerising in their beauty that few women would be able to resist. Tempted myself to follow the style of the TV series Magnificent Century, I phoned the number and was told that I could have any item made to measure, to my own design, or could select from the catalogue. The man who introduced himself as Alexander added, “Where do the gems come from? Dear girl, we’ve been buying them from the Academy of Sciences for over a year. The cost is very affordable: about $60 per carat. They look even better than ‘genuine’ ones, believe me; even jewellers agree!”
Having decided to learn more about gems, I go to the Scientific and Practical Materials Research Centre of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, where emeralds are synthesised, under high-temperature conditions.
“Our ‘cultured emeralds’ (rather than natural or ‘wild’) are proving popular: more than a thousand people have bought from us,” notes Vladimir Merkulov, the manager of the enterprise’s laboratory. “Many people buy the gems ‘raw’ — to give to workshops for making rings, earrings and pendants. At the end of 2010, scientists discovered how to grow red emeralds, which are extremely rare in nature, found only in the American state of Utah. Growing red emeralds in artificial conditions holds much potential, so the NAS has plans to improve its methods, in order to grow larger gems.”
Today’s Belarusian emeralds are sold through trade networks countrywide, as well as being exported. Recently, Chinese companies bought a batch and are so pleased by the quality that they now wish to purchase the technology themselves. Many jewellery companies were interested in our gems: in particular, Swarovski. The company has announced their interest to buy trial designs of crystals to facet them at its capacities.
“We can adjust the colour to suit the buyer, while adding characteristics seen in natural deposits — in Colombia, Brazil, Zambia and Russia. We have special equipment and invite the best diamond-cutters to cut any kind of facet, according to the customer’s wishes,” says Mr. Merkulov. “Since we grew the first emerald, eight years ago, we’ve sold more than 10,000 carats of gems — bought by more than a thousand people. Belarusian consumers can also buy ‘cultured emeralds’ in Russia, at a lower cost, but most jewellers say that Belarusian emeralds are more beautiful and gleam more brightly. Ours are grown in a special furnace at 1,000 degrees Celsius, over three months, while the Russians use hydrothermal technology, taking only a few weeks.”