emerald on calcite matrixemerald on calcite matrix

Is the 500-Pound Beleza Emerald Really Worth $280 million?

A couple claims the Beleza Emerald was lost in the Camp Fire of 2018 and was worth $280 million. The valuation doesn't add up to us, and we explain why.

2 Minute Read

HomeLearning CenterGemologyThe Lighter Side of GemologyIs the 500-Pound Beleza Emerald Really Worth $280 million?

IGS may receive customer referral fees from the companies listed in this page.

We've recently received a few media inquiries asking our opinion about the value of the "Beleza Emerald." Apparently, this emerald specimen was owned by Larry and Alysia Biegler of Paradise, California and was destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire. In our tracking of the world's largest emeralds, we had not encountered any discussion of this specimen. Naturally, we were intrigued. We were unable to locate a photo of this emerald, but media reports describe it as a 500-pound "solid block of black schist and quartz with green crystals."
emerald on calcite matrix
Emeralds can grow to very large sizes, which makes reports of their discovery sometimes newsworthy. However, not all emeralds are large or gem-quality stones. They also usually occur in matrix with other stones, like this 9 x 7 x 6 mm emerald crystal in a matrix of calcite. Gem cutters must decide how to cut this material to extract the small percentage of valuable material they can facet. Muzo Mine, Muzo, Vasquez-Yacopi Mining District, Boyaca Department, Colombia. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

An Impending Legal Battle

Apparently, there's an impending legal battle with Pacific Gas and Electric — who was found liable for the faulty wires that started the fire — over whether or not the specimen was actually in the Bieglers' possession, if it was actually destroyed, and how much it was worth. The Bieglers claim the stone was mined in Brazil and that it's worth an attention-grabbing $280 million USD.

The Beleza Emerald Raises Some Red Flags

IGS will be very interested to hear more about how this valuation was determined. It raises red flags and alarm bells for a few reasons.

  • Nearly all of the extremely large emerald specimens we've seen over the years are nothing more than enormous slabs of mica and quartz sprinkled with low-grade emerald crystals. For a specimen of this size to have real value, it must consist primarily of large, gem-quality, facet-grade emerald rough of exceptional color and clarity.
  • For the past five decades, Brazil has been an important source of gem-quality emeralds for the world's jewelry industry. If the crystals in the specimen had real value as facet rough, the Brazilians would simply cut them into gems. It's pretty simple economics. The market for a bunch of high-quality faceted emeralds is far larger than the market for one very large emerald "specimen."
  • Brazilian gem traders are market savvy and participate in all international gem and jewelry trade shows. They know what they're doing. When these large Brazilian emerald specimens make the news, seasoned experts have most likely already passed on them. These crystal clusters probably contain only a small percentage of commercial-grade material and even less facet-grade emerald.
emerald engagement ring
Emeralds are rare, and natural emerald crystals that can yield gem-quality faceted stones for jewelry are even rarer. 1.18-ct, natural, oval-cut emerald, oiled. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

How Does the Beleza Emerald Valuation Compare to the Bahia Emerald?

Taking a comparable sales approach to valuation, the numbers just don't add up. Take, for example, the 341-kg (approximately 752 pounds) "Bahia Emerald," discovered in Bahia, Brazil in 2001. Forbes says this specimen "could be worth $309 million." Based on photos published online, the Bahia Emerald seems to be only about 10% emerald. The rest consists of mica and quartz matrix.

If you extracted 34 kg of actual rough emerald from the Bahia, it would yield approximately 34,000 carats of cut stones. Closeup photos indicate it's predominantly low to medium-quality material, maybe suitable for bead making and cabbing — but not faceting. Therefore, assigning a generous $100 per-carat average value brings the total to a little over $3 million. That's about 1% of the highly speculative $309 million figure in Forbes.

Apply the same formula to this 500-pound "solid block of black schist and quartz with green crystals" and you'd be lucky to reach $2.3 million. Like I said, Brazilian gem traders are market savvy. If they thought they could have extracted $2.3 million worth of cut emeralds from this massive specimen, it never would have left Brazil intact.

Of course, anything is possible in life. We haven't seen the specimen or even a picture of it. However, based on the little information we do have, something seems off here. If anyone has more information on the Beleza Emerald, we'd love to include it and expand this article's scope.

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC, founder and director of 8th Dimension Gems in Thailand, is an American gem dealer with more than 40 years of experience in gemstone and fine jewelry mining, cutting, wholesaling and retailing. His career has taken him to more than 50 countries and every continent except Antarctica. He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, NBC, ABC and GEO; and has been featured in Time, USA Today, National Geographic, Gems & Gemology and Discovery Channel magazine. He is a regular guest speaker at gem lab seminars and gemological association conferences and universities.

Never Stop Learning

When you join the IGS community, you get trusted diamond & gemstone information when you need it.

Become a Member

Get Gemology Insights

Get started with the International Gem Society’s free guide to gemstone identification. Join our weekly newsletter & get a free copy of the Gem ID Checklist!