The Wizards of the Emerald City

Belarus’ National Academy of Science has learned how to grow emeralds. It might sound like magic, but our chat with Andrei Soldatov, who is head of the Department of Physics and Ultra-Strong Materials, will explain the science behind this remarkable achievement.

OCA: In Belarus there are apparently no naturally occurring jewels. Is this the reason you started growing emeralds, rubies and sapphires?

Andrei Soldatov: Whilst it is often said that there are no naturally occurring jewels in Belarus, it is somewhat incorrect. Occasionally you can find amber. The idea to grow emeralds, such as green beryl (and eventually red beryl) came to us through a leading specialist in our laboratory called Barilo Sergei. Our laboratory is generally most known for producing monocrystals and single-crystalline films, with minimum defects, for use in scientific research. We had all of the equipment already to hand for growing monocrystals and the experience with doing it… so we wondered whether it would be possible to develop other things. After three or four years of research we managed to develop the emerald growing technology. Afterward we learned to grow rubies, sapphires and alexandrite.

OCA: What is unique about your method of growing emeralds and how long does it take to grow?

AS: The method is not unique. In the melted vanadium oxide we dissolve berlox, silicon, aluminium oxide, chromium oxide etc. Then we define the saturation temperature, after which it is run through a procedure where the temperature is gradually reduced. Eventually this causes the crystal to grow. The uniqueness is all about the small technological details, not the method itself… such as the concentration of chromophoric additives, adjusting the diffusion rate of graining elements to the surface of the crystal, the modes of change in temperature, amongst other things. We are always making progress on some level, primarily because of our improvements in technology; we learned to reduce the amount of wastage during the formation process, along with creating other methods for adjusting the shade.

OCA: You managed to grow a red emerald. Normally this can only be extracted in Utah, USA. How did you manage that?

AS: I think you are exaggerating our achievements a little. We aren’t the only ones growing red beryl. Have a look at “bixbite” on the internet (it’s another word for red beryl) and you will find many offers of this “natural” jewel going for £80-160 per carat. The natural form will cost you twice as much. We adapted our technology of growing the emerald, changed the composition of chromophoric additives and received the experimental samples. We’re working on the colour now to make it superior and expanding our colour scale increases the number of potential buyers. It is all very interesting!

OCA: What are your main reasons for growing emeralds, who are your main buyers and how much do they cost?

AS: All of the crystals I’ve mentioned above are grown for use in jewelry, the highest in demand being emerald. Our buyers are mostly men looking to buy something for their woman. Cost depends on quality, size and cutting method. But generally it is between £32-57 per carat.

OCA: Do you have any competitors?

AS: One of the largest manufacturers of artificial emeralds is an American company called Chatham. Also beryl is grown in Russia. Aside from inevitable competition, there are also other barriers we must overcome to succeed such as ensuring the quality of our crystals and the colour. Along with this we also do not have enough professional advertising, purely because our existing output at the minute is too low to attract any large buyers. All of our profit goes in to creating larger installations at the minute for the cultivation process, which will eventually help us to lower the manufacturing cost by two or three times.

OCA: How easy is it to tell with the naked eye whether a jewel is genuine or artificial?

AS: Essentially, if it is pure and free of defects then most likely it is an artificial stone.

Interview prepared by Ksenia Gold

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