There are only a handful of emerald polishing companies in Israel, all of which are industry veterans that have been operating for over 30 years. These companies combine traditional methods and innovative, modern equipment in their work. Their use of advanced marketing methods and presence in niche markets indicate an in-depth understanding of the market, to very rewarding results.
The Israeli emerald industry flourished mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. There are several reasons for the near-disappearance of the Israeli emerald industry, including the cost of labor as well as the security situation, which drove buyers away long before the latest financial crisis.
The high quality of emerald polishing in Israel stems from two factors: Sarin Technologies equipment and a team of experienced, senior cutters, who adore the gem.Sarin Technologies, which evolved from an initiative promoted by the Israel Emerald Cutters Association back in 1988, develops and manufactures advanced planning, evaluation, and measurement systems for diamond grading and gemstone production. Most of the companies in Israel’s emerald polishing sector today have some level of involvement in Sarin Technologies.
Gemstar, for example, operates "Robogem" – one of only two robots in Israel that can process rough emeralds. The innovative robot processes the emeralds according to its operator's specific instructions and can create any shape in a matter of seconds. "Using the computerized robot allows us to reach high levels of accuracy – higher than those achieved by manual polishing," Gemstar's Avraham Eshed explained.
Once Robogem's initial processing is complete, the emeralds are subjected to manual polishing. The polishing teams are comprised of industry veterans, with thousands of emerald cutting and polishing hours between them.
Emerald, or "Bareket" in Hebrew, is a green gem, whose color derives from the presence of chrome. "Green is a complicated color," explains Hargem owner Udi Harel. "It is comprised from two colors, blue and yellow. The stone itself also has color undertones, so there is significance to how it is polished. The cut can emphasize an emerald's yellow or blue undertones. The market usually favors yellowish emeralds."
Buying Rough Emeralds
Israeli companies purchase rough emeralds from countries such as Zambia in Africa, South America as well as on the open market in Hong Kong. However, it is stressed that buying rough emeralds requires skill: "A rough emerald can look beautiful but still yield poor results when it is cut and polished," explains Shlomo Eshed of Gemerald.
Price also plays a key role, added Avraham Eshed, Gemstar owner and President of the Israel Emerald Manufacturers Association. "There is significance to the price as well, because rough prices fluctuate and in order to stay profitable, you have to pay a price which is appropriate to the rough gem's quality. We try to be everywhere and be aware of what is going on. Our knowledge translates into profit and our combination of acquisitions and marketing maintains profitability."
Israeli companies soon realized that they would be unable to compete with current emerald cutting centers in Jaipur, India, and Colombia, which produces and manufactures its own rough gems. These centers process large volumes of rough gems using cheap labor.
Israeli companies, however, found the advantage they needed in order to compete in the world arena in quality. Their forte is meticulous quality control, found at every stage of the process, from choosing the rough gem to cutting and polishing – even at the occasional expense of the gem's weight.
Each company found its own area of expertise: Gemstar specializes in large, unique emeralds – "Our motto is 'Think Big'. We've come to learn that quality stones sell faster," explains Avraham Eshed. Gemstar's clients include some of the most famous jewelers in the world, such as Cartier, Tiffany's and Harry Winston.
Hargem introduced the innovative Quality Cut for smaller emeralds. Uniformity in this market is a revolutionary innovation applied only in recent years. Hargem specializes in putting together packets of uniform emeralds, by cut, color and stone proportion. "We produce packets of standardized emeralds for our clients. The emeralds' uniformity allows the client, who buys emeralds for setting, to increase the amount of stones he sets a day and produce more jewels," explains Harel.
"Another advantage of emerald uniformity is a more consistent look to the final jewel. The clients know our products, and know that when they order, they will receive a product of uniform quality. We have essentially created a new glossary that the clients were happy to embrace," he added.
"We polish all emerald sizes," says Hanoh Stark of H. Stark & Co. "Our commercial advantage is that we can supply our clients with uniform emeralds. The wide range of gems we polish allows us to create groups of stones according to constant variables, like color, shine, clarity and quality. Clients that buy directly from us trust that they will get exactly what they ordered."
Gemerald owners Shlomo and Ofer Eshed have also embraced uniform standards production: "We manufacture oval and octagon emeralds according to set measurements of 6x4mm, 8x6mm and 5x7mm," says Shlomo Eshed. The emeralds we cut are of medium-to-low quality. Setting emeralds requires certain expertise and fixed-size gems are suited for convenient setting. We also manufacture high-end centerpiece gems."
Participating in various worldwide exhibitions is an important marketing tool, a fact all of the companies we spoke with agreed on. Gemerald’s Shlomo Eshed, who also serves as the President of the Israel Precious Stones Exchange (IPSE), says that, "It is very important to take part in such exhibitions, if not as a presenter then as a visitor. I wholeheartedly recommend, both as a manufacturer and IPSE President, that every diamantaire and gem merchant participate in the major shows. It is important to be open to this world and network, despite the high cost of the shows."
The world of gemstones is one of beauty and people fall in love with the emerald's fresh green color. The Israeli industry can be proud of its natural, quality emeralds, which are distributed worldwide. The majority of emerald cutting and polishing centers, like diamond cutting centers, have moved to countries that employ cheap labor; but it is still too early to eulogize the Israeli emerald industry, which is very much alive and kicking.
The Israeli emerald industry combines years of experience with high-end cutting and polishing technology, all of which stem from a passion for the craft and the love of emeralds.