For the record, neither of us are shoppers, especially on the road where anything we buy would have to be hauled for thousands of miles before reaching home.
All the same, non-shopping Doris has a wee tiny weakness for colorful sparkly things for her fingers. And, really, how much room does a ring take up in a carry-on bag?
Thus it was that long-suffering Louis – who innocently believed Doris’s pitch that we should return to Colombia en route to Ecuador because we missed the country’s coffee area last winter – found himself a week ago in Bogotá, capital of the world emerald trade.
As many as 90% of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia, including the rarest and highest quality of them.
In Bogotá, emerald jewelry stores line the streets for block after block, some of them decades old, many selling goods from their own mines. Adding to the color (and potential for emerald fraud), freelance dealers are on the streets, too, sidling up to anyone with emerald lust in their eyes, furtively pulling folded squares of white paper from their pockets in which they have tucked their wares.
A real shopper could probably spend days in the city’s commercial emerald center, comparing stones, settings and prices. Doris figured she could get the job done in a couple hours.
Doris searched “buy emeralds” on TripAdvisor, picked a store with perfect reviews, and set out by GPS with uncomplaining Louis in tow. Fortuitously, the store she picked was situated in a cozy shopping patio where Louis could sip strong Colombian coffee and do Duolingo Spanish lessons while Doris took a crash course in emerald buying behind locked doors.
In self-defense, emeralds are supposed to increase intelligence and empower their wearers to predict events, making them more than just a pretty carat. Cleopatra went for them (lesser grades come from Africa), and they bejewel many of the pre-Colombian treasures in the Gold Museum down the street from the emerald center. Unsurprisingly, the conquistadors fell on them like ravenous locusts.
Inside Emerald By Love, Doris’s guide was Kim Wang, a 20-something adventurer who left her native China to work for a cruise company in Boston, met her true love in Colombian Gerson Morales and moved to Bogotá two years ago to open an emerald store with her new husband, whose family has mined for decades.
Kim patiently explained how the source mine determines the final green of an emerald and that darker green is better than lighter but only up to a point. She said the best stones go into gold settings instead of silver because gold is stronger and less likely to result in a lost stone and that most modern settings are designed by computer (resulting in a 10% loss of gold) and the rest still cast by hand. She showed Doris how minerals like fool’s gold get embedded into emeralds as the earth is shaping the esmeralda, adding to their character.
Then came the fun part: Doris tried on virtually every ring in the store of the color she preferred (dark, of course). Big, little, bling, modest. On and off. When she finally narrowed things down to two candidates, she sent a text message to patient Louis, asking him to join her in the store.
Once at her side, Louis immediately bonded with Kim by flourishing the few Mandarin words he remembers from his Bejing days and then turned to Doris’s choices. Being a visual person and a smart man to boot, he immediately pronounced Doris’s selections the most beautiful in the store. One, 1.5 karats and with tiny diamond chips around the band and on the setting, was deliciously elegant. The second, pear-shaped, was handmade in a Colombian style that probably could not be found outside the country.
He urged her to buy both.
Yikes! Both? Doris quailed. She had mentally budgeted for one good ring, but two? More time was required.
Gerson (Anglo names are common in Colombia) had joined his wife Kim in the store by then, and he is a smart man, too. He invited us to lunch with Kim and his brother Christian to give Doris time for the possibilities to percolate.
Over a hearty local almuerzo in a local joint, he explained how he grew up around emeralds, his family having owned mines for more than 30 years. Kim told us how her parents encouraged her to seek her future in America even though she was their only child. The couple described how their romance began with no shared language and how it continues to benefit from neither being fluent in the other’s tongue (they can’t argue).
Doris smiled and listened but was all the while weighing the case for two emerald rings. Though she likes finger sparklies, she owns only two of them. Buying two would double her lifetime collection overnight, which seemed excessive. On the other hand, on Partout’s first day in Tanzania two years, our guide had taken us to a rustic trading post that sold jewelry set with tanzanite stones from the nearby mine. Dazzled but fretful we were in one of those “I have a friend and he’ll make you a deal” situations, Doris passed on making a purchase and has regretted it ever since. She did not want to take a similar regret home from Bogotá.
A whole afternoon had passed, but when we eventually walked out the door of Emerald By Love, not one but two emerald rings were safe in a hidden pocket of helpful Louis’s shirt. Better yet, we were both satisfied we would enjoy not only the rings but the memory of buying them from Gerson and Kim in Bogotá for years to come.
From the Partout Toolbox: Before leaving home, print and carry the receipts for airline tickets you are holding, not just the reservations themselves. Partout has found that most online check-in programs do not indicate what special services you have already purchased (e.g., extra legroom, checked bag, toilet privileges). Having the receipt at hand helps avoid inadvertent double purchases and comes in handy if there are challenges from the airline at check-in over what you have bought.
COMING SOON: A Verry Cuenca Christmas