Regarded as one of the world’s most desired gems, this stone first made its debut in ancient Egypt. Its enticing aura even won over Queen Cleopatra, who was a huge fan. In addition to its artistic value, emerald gemstones were also sought after because they were thought to enhance intelligence, ease childbirth complications, protect marriages, and grant its owner the power of prophecy.
Emerald in Myth
The Legend of Fura and Tena, the two immortal human beings, is associated with the birth of emeralds. The God Ares created them to inhabit the earth. The only condition set on them to remain young forever was to stay faithful to each other. However, Fura, the woman, did not remain true to her partner. It resulted in their early aging and both of them eventually died. The God Ares then turned them into crags. The tears of Fura were transformed into emerald gemstones. These two crags are the official guardians of Columbian Emerald Zone in Columbia, 30km north of the Muzo mines, the site of the largest emerald producing mine in the country.
Colonial and Independence Era
It is believed that native Muzo Indians of Colombia became proficient in the art of mining as early as 500 AD. However, Spanish were the ones who introduced Colombian Emeralds to the world. It took Spain almost five decades to conquer the entire mining area. After seizing control, they enslaved the locals to work in the mines. Once these gems reached Europe, sovereigns, and gem-loving nobility pursued this treasure of the New World.
Colombian Emeralds enriched the private collections of these new owners between 1600 and 1820 when Spain controlled the mines of Colombia. After Colombia gained freedom in 1819, the government and private companies took over mining operations. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century, these mines were occasionally closed due to the political unrest within the country.
Today, numerous items encrusted with emerald gemstones, and created by the native population of Colombia, are showcased in the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, the capital. Alongside the museum, several artifacts are in the possession of private collectors. To educate people about the history and evolution of this stone the Colombian Emerald Museum Corporation (MEC) was founded.
What Makes Colombian Emerald Unique?
- Reputed to be one of the purest in the world, Colombian emeralds are the only variety of emeralds that form in sedimentary host rock rather than igneous rock.
- It is, in fact, a beryllium stone that owes its unusual color to chromium and vanadium, two chemical elements that are very rare, and the reason for the color of the only crystalline greenstone in the world.
- A gem’s value is determined by its color, purity, size and luster. Each emerald has a unique appearance that makes it distinct from others, even when they are mined from the same location.
- Dark green is regarded as the most prized color for this gem. A gemstone of this hue is considered scarce and is only discovered in the deepest mines of Colombia.
The Green War
The beauty of Colombian emerald also saw the civil war that started in the mid-1950. The sixty-year fight between right-wing paramilitary groups, Colombian drug cartels, left-wing guerrilla groups and the government, killed thousands of people and forced million of people to exile. The smuggling of this precious gem in the world’s black market served as a funding fuel to the extremists.
However, not all the emerald comes from the conflict region. Columbia is the world’s biggest producer of the gemstone, producing a majority of the world production. Ever since the end of war, Colombia made a substantial economic growth with political stability and received a positive outlook from UN. Similarly, the emerald production in Colombia also increased in the last ten years, almost by 78%.
Renowned Colombian Emeralds
Ibis Crown Emerald: The Colombian Emerald in this crown weighs 234 carats and is considered to be the largest, most ancient, and most expensive natural specimen in the world. The stone came to light in 2007, when it was examined in a tech lab of gem in Geneva and was later introduced in the Bangkok fair in 2012.
Chalk Emerald: This Colombian Emerald was once ensconced in the emerald and diamond necklace worn by the Queen of Baroda. In the twentieth century, the gem was re-cut from its original 38.40-carat weight and fashioned into a ring designed by Harry Winston. After including sixty pear-shaped diamonds to border the emerald, it now weighs approximately 15-carats. In 1972, the ring was donated to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum by Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk, and has remained in the possession of Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection ever since.
Gachala Emerald: The Gachala Emerald, one of the most valued and renowned in the world, was discovered in 1967, in the Vega de San Juan mine, in the Colombian town Gachala. The gem was donated by the New York jeweler Harry Winston to the Smithsonian Institution, in the Unites States that still holds the ownership of this gorgeous gem.
Value in Today’s Global Market
Emerald has remained popular for more than 5000 years. Civilizations in South America, Africa, and Asia independently discovered this beauty and gave it a position of high value. The gem has retained its charm and charisma in modern times. Alongside ruby and sapphire it is regarded as the most popular colored stone.