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Muzo Emerald

Each of the Big Three colored stones--emerald, ruby and sapphire--has one source whose stones are revered above those from all others. For ruby, it is Mogok in Burma. For sapphire, it is Kashmir in India. And for emerald, it is Muzo in Colombia.

None of these sources is a mine per se but, rather, a district which, in the cases of Muzo emerald and Mogok ruby, has permitted extensive mining for centuries. Indeed, dealers marvel at Muzo's seemingly inexhaustible riches and scoff at any attempt to put the region's best years behind it.

Located 65 miles directly north of Colombia's capital city Bogota by helicopter and four times that distance via torturous, winding roads by jeep, Muzo is an extensive series of emerald deposits, many of which have yet to be found, that has sustained mining almost continuously since the mid-16th century. Hence when noted gem historian John Sinkankas writes, "There will be no shortage of [Colombian] emerald in our lifetime," one can heartily agree with him. In fact, one is tempted to add that there will be no shortages in our children's and their children's lifetimes. To the contrary, the biggest problem at Muzo in recent times has been overproduction.

Nevertheless, Muzo invites mythologizing and the inevitable often-expressed idea that its greatest treasures are buried in the past rather than the ground. Doubtless, that's one reason why bands of intrepid treasure hunters keep scouring ocean bottoms for sunken vessels of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that might have been carrying Colombian emerald bounty to Spain or various trading centers of Euorpe and Asia. Divers were even sent to a lake into which a Muzo-area Indian tribe was thought to have tossed sacrificial maidens bedecked with local-origin emeralds.

Ironically, back in the seventeenth century many of Muzo's finest stones were transhipped to India and sold to mega-rich Muslim moguls and Hindu rajahs as top specimens from a mysterious home-country mine whose whereabouts were kept secret. Even today some emeralds with provenance dating back a couple of centuries are still represented as possibly of Indian "Old Mine" origin.

This deposit is probably fable rather than fact. More likely, the term "Old Mine" refers to stones from Indian workings that the Spanish Conquistadors claimed for their country starting in 1537 at Chivor and then 21 years later at Muzo--plus, of course, stones expropriated from locals as well as those traded to tribes in Mexico, Peru and elsewhere. Today, of course, the fact that Muzo stones were used for such a con only adds to their prestige. Time has a way of sanctifying scandal--especially when it is connected with gems.

But let's forget the fact that Muzo was worked at least as far back as 1000 AD. Instead, let's imagine the reputation of its stones if it had been discovered in 1819, the year Colombia won independence from Spain and put Muzo under its control (even today the mine is leased from the government). There are many, this writer among them, who feel its stones would still have polevaulted to premier status among emeralds--the same way that Kashmir's sapphires, discovered late in the 19th century, became the world's most cherished. After all, the onus of origin rests on beauty. And beauty is something at which Muzo excels.

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Muzo Emerald