Gem collectors from all over the world are drawn to Park City Jewelers to see first hand their collection of red emerald jewelry.
Red emeralds may seem like a misnomer as most people picture all emeralds as green, but traditional emeralds and red emeralds are both in the beryl family of gem minerals. The wide variety of beryl gems get their distinct coloring from different sources. Emeralds get their green color from chromium and vanadium, while aquamarine gems are colored by iron. The red emeralds, found exclusively in Utah, are colored by magnesium.
Ken Whipple and his son Cole own Park City Jewelers and are experts in red emeralds. Ken opened the shop in 1993 after starting a manufacturing and jewelry repair shop in Salt Lake. His love of gems started early when his grandfather, a prospector and rock hound, took him out in the desert to look for rocks. He bought his first rock cutting machine when he was 10 years old, and took jewelry making and art and design classes in college, finishing his education at the Gemological Institute.
Cole Whipple joined the family business 15 years ago, bringing with him expertise in computer-aided design. He designs one-of-a-kind pieces and loves the business every bit as much as his dad.
Red emeralds are very rare, Ken explained. “Utah is the only place in the world to find red emeralds. There was a small amount in a mine in Topaz and more in another mine by Beaver.”
The more productive mine, near Beaver, closed 15 years ago after Rio Tinto leased it for one million dollars a year. After mining there for five years, they said everything was gone and they gave it back to the original owner.
Ken says, “It is so rare that the mine owner hasn’t found anything new for many years. The owner is a friend of mine and a collector. He hangs on to the pieces he has and sells some to keep his business going. Luckily I have access to that source.”
Cole enjoys the process of working the beryl. “It is fairly sturdy, a little soft, but holds up pretty well. There are small impurities that we work around,” he says.
Because they are so rare, red emeralds are among the most expensive gems in the world. “The price of a nice one carat stone, clearly faceted, goes for $15,000, and the price goes up every year because you can’t get anymore,” Cole explains. To compare, a nice one carat diamond piece goes for about $7,000 and the most “super incredible” natural green emeralds go for 30% less than red emeralds.
The jewelers carry pendants, rings, earrings and a few bracelets using the deeply colored red stones that Cole describes as “light to dark raspberry, almost a ruby red.” They design by seeing how to let the most light through to perfectly accent each piece they make.
Ken has heard rumours of another mine in the Wah Wah Mountains, but so far he hasn’t seen anything come of it. He also said there are a few pieces coming out of the Topaz mine, but not of the same quality. According to Cole, “To find that color is so unique. No other gemstone matches that color. It is incredible.”
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