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Huge emerald has eBay sellers seeing green

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Oct. 12--It took 10 million years to make and now has a week to sell . . . on eBay.

It's a 19,000-carat, 6.6-pound raw Brazilian emerald that to the uninitiated looks like a lump of green rock but to a serious collector or a museum could be worth as much as $2 million.

That, at least, is the hope of Santa Barbara attorney Eric Kitchen and Michael Marans, owner of the iSold It franchise store in Goleta that specializes in selling goods through the online auction site eBay.

The emerald is being sold on behalf of the Gemworks Mining Co. in Bahia, eastern Brazil, a family business that has been mining for more than 150 years.

Four years ago, through a nonprofit education project aimed at bringing computers into poor schools, Mr. Kitchen was in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. There he met members of the mining family who were supporting the same charitable program.

Mr. Kitchen said that shared interest developed into a business relationship, and he began importing stones from Gemworks that he sold to wholesalers in the U.S.

The huge emerald marks their first venture with eBay.

It was crated and shipped by FedEx from São Paulo to San Jose in March. It was offered on eBay back then but attracted only one bid of $200,000 from a would-be buyer in Spain.

That was when Mr. Kitchen called upon the marketing savvy and eBay experience of Mr. Marans. Just before this latest auction, he produced a color brochure that was sent to 100 potential buyers -- collectors, museums and universities. Other possible buyers received e-mails about the emerald while news releases alerted the media.

Mr. Marans said the idea is to generate interest, draw attention to this unique offering and make it stand out among so many other items for sale.

"eBay has become so big now, the key is to distinguish yourself," he said.

The $2 million estimate stems from an appraisal by a leading geologist in the U.S. Mr. Kitchen said this opinion was based on scientific data, plus the color and size of the stone, with the conclusion that it was authentic and perhaps worth $100 per carat.

While that equates to $1.9 million, the stone is being offered with a much lower reserve (minimum price) and could possibly be sold for considerably less.

"Two million is definitely the top end," said Mr. Marans. "There's no way of knowing what it will fetch."

The emerald, which has been partly cut and polished to show off the color, was listed Monday night, and the auction runs for one week. The sellers have set an opening price of $5,000 and are asking for incremental bids of $2,500.

The price range of emeralds is very wide depending primarily on color, but also on brilliance and clarity. Five years ago in London, auctioneer Christie's sold a 10-carat emerald for more than $1 million.

Mr. Marans said whoever buys the stone will likely want to see it first and probably have it authenticated, and arrangements are in place to make that possible.

If it doesn't meet the reserve price, he said the sellers will have to decide on the next step.

If the auction goes well, Mr. Kitchen and Mr. Marans hope the emerald will be just the first of a number of similar precious and semiprecious stones they will offer through eBay.

The next one is already sitting in a crate in Mr. Kitchen's downtown office.

This monster, a 265-pound, half-million-carat chunk of smoky quartz, arrived from the same mining company in June and could fetch between $200,000 and $400,000, according to Mr. Kitchen.

"It's a great piece for any museum or a great collector's item," Mr. Kitchen said, admiring the crystal formations forged deep underground by heat and pressure over millions of years. "But best of all, I think it should be the centerpiece in a magnificent garden with the sun shining through it."

ABOUT EMERALDS: Emerald hardness ranges from 7.5 to 8 on a scale where diamond is a 10.

Emerald is the birthstone for May and the traditional 55th wedding anniversary gift.

Colombian emeralds are among the world's most beautiful. Other sources include Russia, Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Egyptian emeralds were introduced to the world about 4,000 years ago.

Mummies were often buried with emeralds.



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