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New Afghan Emeralds Look Like Prized Colombian Gems March 29, 2021 (0 comments)


Basel, Switzerland—A new type of high-quality emerald discovered in Afghanistan in 2017 bears remarkable similarities and quality to prized Colombian emeralds. That’s the good news, as Colombian emeralds are most highly sought among luxury jewelry connoisseurs. The not-so-good news is that they are sometimes being mislabeled or mistaken for the Colombian specimens.

A study was conducted by a team of scientists from the Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, and its results published in the most recent edition of Journal of Gemmology. One of the challenges posed by the new Afghan emeralds is that they closely match South American specimens not only visually, but also in terms of their gemological properties.

To conduct the study, the SSEF research team tested and analyzed more than 100 gem-quality emeralds from the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan, ranging in size from one carat to more than 30 carats. 

To develop reliable means of distinguishing the Afghan emeralds from others in the marketplace, the research team compared hundreds of emeralds from different origins using a machine learning statistical algorithm (t-SNE: t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding). Through a compilation of 56 elements in the t-SNE calculation, the emeralds from Afghanistan could be further characterized and differentiated from Colombian samples.

Gemologically, the research team reported that the new emerald type from Afghanistan is characterized by spiky to tubular fluid inclusions (multiphase) and very fine and parallel hollow channels, both quite similar to inclusion features observed in Colombian emeralds. Although the team occasionally observed some chevron-like growth features, the honeycomb-like pattern (“gota de aceite”) that is characteristic of emeralds from Colombia emeralds has not been observed to date in the new emeralds from Afghanistan.

The chemical composition of these Afghan emeralds also is astonishingly similar to Colombian emeralds. Only a careful trace element analysis of the stones revealed differences, with the most frequent being a higher iron concentration in the new-type Afghan samples, when compared to emeralds from Colombia. However, the iron concentration in Afghan materials is still much less than that found in emeralds mined in Zambia, Brazil, and Russia, to name a few.

“This research project perfectly shows how the science of gemstone testing is constantly evolving, and we are proud to be at the forefront of such efforts in providing gem labs and the trade with new scientific knowledge about these fascinating new emeralds,” said Dr. Michael Krzemnicki, director of SSEF and one of the authors of the study.

A specimen of the newly available emerald type from Afghanistan (left), pictured alongside an emerald from Colombia. Photo: SSEF

To download a PDF copy of the report published in the Journal of Gemmologyclick here

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