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Colombia: Chivor, Coscuez, Muzo & Trapiché Emeralds

Colombian Emerald - The Gemstones of 'El Dorado'

Article Copyright © 2012 AllAboutGemstones.com

Dating back as far as 10,000 BC, tribes of hunter-gatherers traded with one another along the Magdalena River Valley, in what is now northern Colombia. The Chibchas, Cañaris and Muisca peoples of the Boyacá and Cundinamarca highlands were one of the first pre-Columbian civilizations to settle along the tropical Magdalena Valley, ruled by the two kings, Zipa (of the sourth, near Bogotá) and Zaque (of Hunza in the north).

Tales of riches from the mythical kingdom of El Dorado, meaning the "golden one" or "gilded man" (aka: el indio dorado or "the golden Indian," el rey dorado or "the golden king") drove Spanish Conquistadors like Hernando Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, and Sebastian de Belalcazar to explore, and ultimately conquer this region in the early 1500s.

Map of Colombian Emerald Mines

Map of Boyacá Mines


Laguna de Guatavita (c. 1860)

Belalcazar's legendary tales of Cañaris and Muisca kings being coated with "sticky earth," then painted with gold dust and emeralds; or of emeralds and gold being thrown into Laguna de Guatavita (above and below, right) as a sacrafice to the gods, were enough motivation to find the source for such wealth.

Although Laguna de Guatavita is located in the modern-day municipality of Sesquilé, Colombia, the "golden city" of El Dorado is believed to have been either the Incan city of Coricancha (meaning "Golden Courtyard") in modern-day Cusco, Peru, or at the location of the Incan city of Tomipamba, which later became the Colonial city of Cuenca ( Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca), in Azuay Province, Ecuador.

Werever the actual location of El Dorado may have been, the quest for its ultimate riches, and the source location for the Guilded Man's emeralds would elude the Spaniards for decades. The native Muisca Indians had carefully concealed the openings to their underground resting place, allowing the jungle to obliterate any remaining evidence of their whereabouts. Even torture was employed, but to no avail [5]. In 1555 however, the emerald mines of Muzo were finally uncovered.

El Dorado's Gilded Man

El Dorado's 'Gilded Man'


Guatavita Today (Photo: Public Domain)

In 1580, Conquistador Antonio de Sepulvada even attempted to drain Guatavita (located in Sesquilé, Cundinamarca) by cutting a channel in one side of the crater-lake's rim, in order to salvage the imagined treasures that lay at its bottom. During this period, offerings of gold, and an emerald the size of a "hen's egg," were recovered from the shallower edges of the lake.

The Spanish spent the next 200 hundred years plundering the wealth of the Boyacá highlands, undeterred until the early 1800s. The Spanish colonial territories of Viceroyalty and New Granada became the independent nation of Colombia in 1810, under the leadership of Simón Bolívar.

Emerald Mining in Colombia's 'Emerald Belt'

Colombian emeralds are located in an area known as the 'Emerald Belt' (Cinturon Esmeraldífero). This area is in the sedimentary basin of the Cordillera Oriental mountain range in the Gobernación de Boyacá and Cundinamarca districts, at the base of the Andes mountains.

Spanish Inquisition Necklace

The Spanish Inquisition Necklace

   Muzo Emerald Necklace

Muzo Emerald Necklace

Cordillera Oriental emeralds were created by hydro-thermal activity generated from the forces that created the Andes mountain range. Columbian emeralds tend to have more inclusions which are fairly light (jardin). The color tends to be darker than emeralds from other locartions. The principle mining areas in Colombia are the Somondoco and Muzo mining regions northeast of the capital of Bogota. The richest emerald mines in the Muzo region are the Muzo Mine, Cosquez Mine, and Pena Blanca Mine.

Mackay Emerald

The Muzo Mackay Emerald Necklace

   Gachala Emerald

The Gachala Emerald from Muzo, Colombia

The 858 carat "Gachala Emerald" (above, right), from the Vega de San Juan mine in Gachalá (municipio de Cundinamarca), is one of the largest emeralds found to date. It was unearthed in 1967, and donated to the Smithsonian Institution by Harry Winston.

Muzo, Coscuez & Chivor Colombian Emeralds

At the north-western end of the Colombian emerald-belt, mining is conducted in three districts: Coscuez, Muzo, and Quipama. Emerald from the Muzo region is mined under the control of the 'Sociedad de Mineros Boyancences,' with many of the mines (Cortes) being worked by unauthorized miners (guaqueros). Muzo emeralds are known for their characteristically leaf-green color called "Muzo Green." Notable mines in the Muzo/Coscuez region are the Yacopi mines and Peña Blanca (Peñas Blanca) deposits.

At the south-eastern end of the emerald-belt, the Gachalá and Chivor region is mined mostly by private companies, and the Chivor stones have a bluish-green color similar to those mined in Zambia. Notable mines in the Chivor region are the Chivor, Matacana, Vega de San Juan, and Gachalá Mines.

Trapiche Emerald from Colombia

Trapiché Emeralds

A very rare variety of emerald known as "Trapiche" (above), found at the Muzo, Chivor, Cosquez and Peña Blanca mines, has distinct carbonaceous shale inclusions that radiate from a hexagonal center point in a six-spoked star pattern. The name "Trapiché" (tra-pee-chee) comes from a type of wheel that is used to grind sugarcane in Colombia.

Characteristics of Muzo Emeralds

Typically, the transparency of Muzo emeralds is higher than emeralds from other regions, primarily due to due the lower volume of inclusions. Muzo emeralds tend to have a deeper, "herbaceous" green color. Muzo emeralds tend to have three-phase inclusions which contain fluid, gas vapor, as well as included crystals of calcite, halide, and yellow-brown rutile needles of parisite.

History of Jewelry
Tribal Ethnic Jewelry Books

Bibliography on Colombian Emeralds

1. Edna B. Anthony, Colombian Emeralds . www.attawaygems.com

2. AGTA, Trapiché Emeralds . www.agta-gtc.org

3. Biblioteca de Joyeria, Tratamientos para esmeraldas Colombianas . www.raulybarra.com

4. Walter Schumann, Gemstones of the World . NAG Press; 2Rev Ed edition

5. F. Rogers, A. Beard, 5000 Years of Gems & Jewelry. FA Stokes Co., N.Y.

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