Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Right now, in a vault controlled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, there sits a 752-pound emerald with no rightful owner."

"This gem is the size of a minifridge. It weighs as much as two sumo wrestlers. Estimates of its worth range from a hundred bucks to $925 million."
From Wired:

The Curse of the Bahia Emerald 
Meet the Schemers, Investors,
and Dreamers Who Were
Bewitched By a Giant Green Rock
Right now, in a vault controlled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, there sits a 752-pound emerald with no rightful owner. This gem is the size of a mini­fridge. It weighs as much as two sumo wrestlers. Estimates of its worth range from a hundred bucks to $925 million.

Eight years ago the emerald was logged into evidence by detectives Scott Miller and Mark Gayman of the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau. The two men are longtime veterans: 30 years for Miller, 28 for Gayman. They dress as the Hollywood versions of themselves, in wraparound sunglasses, badges dangling off long chains. Among Gayman’s career highlights is the time he busted Joe ­Pesci’s ex-wife for the hit she put out on her new lover. One thing they both hate is the emerald case. It’s a whack-a-mole of schemers. Detangling all the rackets and lies is, Miller says, “a puzzle from hell.”
The emerald trade is controlled by hundreds of tiny players. 
The worth of the gems is, to put it generously, flexible.
Emeralds invite stories—many of them dubious. At various points in history people have believed that emeralds were capable of protecting humans against cholera, infidelity, and evil spirits, and that an emerald placed under the tongue could transform a person into a truth-teller. This 752-pound emerald doesn’t quite fit under the tongue, and it appears to have had zero positive effects. Miller and Gayman got sucked into its orbit on October 8, 2008, when their sergeant forwarded a call. A man with a squeaky voice named Larry Biegler had phoned the cops in a little suburban California town called Temple City, just southeast of Pasadena. He told the officer on duty that his “840-pound” emerald (a lot of people say the emerald weighs 840 pounds, but it doesn’t) had been stolen and that he’d been abducted and released by the Brazilian Mafia. So the detectives climbed into what Miller calls his “mobile office” (a Chevy Blazer), drove 15 miles out to Temple City, and spent the day in the local police station parsing the emerald dossier. The case “was fun,” Miller told me, “at the beginning.”
A thing you should know is that emeralds are complicated. The chemical formula for an emerald is Be3Al2(Si6018). For the green crystals to form, beryllium must be heated to over 750 degrees Fahrenheit, under 7.5 to 21.75 tons of pressure per square inch, in the presence of chromium or vanadium. Given that beryllium exists only in tiny quantities near Earth’s crust, this seldom happens, and even when it does, the resulting crystals, or beryls, as they’re known, are not uniform. Almost all emeralds include cracks and inclusions, aka impurities. On the Mohs scale of hardness, emeralds score 7.5 to 8 out of 10. If you cut along a crack or inclusion, they shatter.

Diamonds, by contrast, are simple: pure carbon. The chemical formula for a diamond is C. Diamonds score a 10 on the Mohs scale. The trade is controlled by a few large players. There’s also a weekly international price sheet, the Rapaport Diamond Price List, that sets value based on the four c’s: carat, clarity, cut, and color. Diamond price is further stabilized by cartels that determine the quantity of gemstones released to market. Meanwhile, the emerald trade is controlled by hundreds of tiny players. The price is, to put it generously, flexible. An emerald costs what someone will pay. Period. The idea that diamonds are more romantic than emeralds is preposterous, a marketing ploy. Diamonds are a product like gold or crude oil: rational, conservative. Emeralds are Turkish rugs. When you buy one you believe that you’ve found a secret treasure and finagled a good deal. Then—weeks, months, years later—the truth comes out: You’ve been had. Time to grip up and face your wounded ego and foist the emerald upon the next guy.

The market is especially shifty for so-called specimen emeralds—those that are big and weird, destined for curio cases and natural history museums. The emerald in the Sheriff’s Department vault is called the Bahia emerald and it is the consummate specimen: huge, strange, and composed of such low-quality crystals that, were those crystals broken down into smaller rocks, gemologists would call them “fish tank emeralds.” The Bahia emerald, it must also be said, is not pretty. It’s a conglomerate, a geologic chimera—a bunch of large emerald crystals lodged at odd angles in a matrix of black schist. Imagine a petrified Jello mold made by Wilma Flintstone for a dinosaur....MUCH MORE 
HT: MetaFilter