Emeralds: A Passionate Guide:

The Emeralds, the People,

Their Secrets

By Ronald Ringsrud, 382 pp., illus.,

Green View Press [www.emeraldpassion.

com], Oxnard, CA, 2009.


This is a personal account of the

world of emeralds from the perspective

of a renowned connoisseur. It

offers an in-depth look at the life of a

Colombian emerald dealer, illustrated

with many personal adventures, experiences,

observations, and opinions.

Colorfully and tastefully illustrated,

the book shows many superb examples

of beautiful and unusual emeralds.

Indeed, it is an unabashed celebration

of colored gemstones, emerald

in particular.

As the author states in the introduction,

“This book is about passion,

not polarizers.” Comprising 23 chapters,

it starts straightaway with how

romance can influence deals between

sellers and buyers, with an interesting

explanation for the differences in

behavior between a dealer and a broker.

Subsequently, it details the discovery

and ascendancy of the

Colombian emerald mines under

Spanish rule, roughly between 1500

and 1750. As a Dutchman, I learned

how my ancestors used “well-placed

bribes” to acquire emeralds during

that period.

Subsequent chapters discuss the

properties and optics of emeralds,

color and clarity grading, and clarity

enhancement. The author emphasizes

the subtle differences in color and clarity,

and the positive effect inclusions

may have. He expresses concern that

emerald enhancements and their durability

are discussed too much, often

increasing confusion and fear. He

emphasizes that size, quantity, and

position of filled fissures are most

important—not the type of filler—

when assessing durability issues and

degree of clarity enhancement.

Interestingly, gem laboratory is

synonymous with ivory tower

throughout this book, revealing the

difference between an academic

approach (which the author criticizes)

and that of the connoisseur. He agrees

it is important to know how to use

the information on a gem report, but

he maintains that in the trade there is

also a need for documentation that

gives some background information

to evoke the wonder and reverence

that fine gems deserve.

The book gives a clear explanation

of what is meant by the term gota de

aceite, which is not simply a catch-all

superlative for a fine Colombian

emerald, as often misapplied in

Europe and the United States. Also

clarified is the proper use of old mine,

and the difference between that term

and gota de aceite.

The reader is brought up to date

with current Colombian emerald production,

which still matches the quality

of the beautiful antique emeralds

the Spanish conquerors sent to

Europe and India. The author explains

that money spent on Colombian

emeralds does not support narcotics

trafficking and also discusses examples

of fair trade initiatives that benefit

the local miners.

The basics of emerald geology are

introduced in a loose, informal way.

The author rightly emphasizes the

importance of Terri Ottaway’s geologic

work, which marked a shift in

thought about the formation of emerald

in Colombia. Only her master’s thesis is mentioned,

not the landmark paper she and her

colleagues published in Nature. Nor

does the author refer to the similar

formation theory proposed in articles

by Giuliani, Cheilletz, and co-workers,

which produced additional valuable

data and insights.

This book is especially outstanding

for its many interesting personal

anecdotes. Among them is a witty,

recognizable account of working in

the field—with interaction between

the investor, the geologist, the foreman,

and the miners. It further

includes a personal account on the

business of buying and cutting rough

emeralds, with a memorable story of

missing a buy. A fairly expansive section

on cutting emeralds explains the

process, with revealing insight into

the prices involved and what is at

stake for the owner and the cutter.

The author expresses his view on colored

stone grading systems, contending

that colored stones should be sold

one by one, like works of art.

In the chapter on collecting mineral

specimens, the author demonstrates

his true love for emeralds. He

describes parting with a nicely terminated

crystal, rightly sold as a specimen

rather than a faceted gem, only

emerald-cut piece that had lost much

of its color.

Still, the strength of this book can

be a weakness at times. Because “there

is no distance between the author and

emeralds,” in the author’s words, facts

and opinions are often intermingled.

For instance, the statement that the

color of tsavorite is always steely and

too brilliant is purely subjective—a

matter of taste. The book also contains

some small errors and omissions. The

stated refractive indices of quartz

(1.559–1.568) are too high (they are

typically 1.544–1.553), and emeralds

from Colombia show a wider range of

RIs than indicated. The author

describes glass doublets as imitations

of emerald, but does not mention rock

crystal doublets or the deceptive beryl

doublets. The discussion of clarity

grading is also unclear at times.

Aside from these criticisms, this

book is a must for anyone who loves

colored gemstones and wants to

know more about the world of emeralds.

In particular, it is highly recommended

to gemology students as it

will help put into broader perspective

and context what they learn in the



Netherlands Gemmological


National Museum of

Natural History Naturalis

Leiden, The Netherlands