History and Lore
Since the time of ancient legends, the more recent history begins in South America in 1568 when the Spanish Conquistadors formally began mining emeralds at the Muzo mine, still the world's largest known deposit. It took many years for the Conquistadors to try and force the subjagated Incas to reveal the location of the hidden tunnels of which even the paths had been overgrown by the jungle. Finally the Spanish, almost by accident, found them on their own and began mining and producing for the Spanish crown, who claimed one-fifth. The rarity of emeralds has been evidenced by the struggle to find them, which has been the main factor in its high value over the centuries.
From the 1940's, the Government of Colombia took over the emerald mines due to high incidences of violence. Then in 1970, the government privatized Muzo and Coscuez to be operated by Joint Ventures between its own agency, Mineralco, and private companies such as Esmeracol in Coscuez, Tecminas Lrda in Quipma, and Coexminas Ltda in Muzo.
From 1986 to 1990, Mineralco attempted to initiate a policy to "explore and produce emerald deposits in a more traditional manner." (Mineralco) During this time, other smaller deposits were found in and among the triangle formed by the other three big deposits. Mining contracts for exploration and production were granted for 25 years.
As in diamonds, the few famous large emeralds, scattered around the world, are often known by their names. The two most famous are the Devonshire Emerald and the Patricia Emerald. The Devonshire Emerald was given to the sixth Duke of Devonshire by Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil in 1831. Uncut, it weighs 1,385.95 carats. The Patricia Emerald, located in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, weighs 630 carats. Five unnamed large emerald crystals from Muzo are located in the vault of the Bank of the Republic of Colombia and they weigh between 1,100 carats to 1,796 carats, as well as one weighing 220 carats. A Russian emerald in the Los Angelos Museum of Natural History weighs 1,965 carats. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington has some notable, fine quality emeralds, one of them an 858 carat crystal considered to be the finest quality in existence. There are also some notable emeralds in the Smithsonian from discoveries in North Carolina in the 1960's and 1970's. (GIA)
The largest collection of emeralds is said to be the crown jewels of Iran with pieces mounted in a belt, the Pahlabi Crown, necklaces and even the Nadir Throne itself with between 1500-2000 carats of emeralds. The Crown of the Andes is probably the most famous single piece of emerald jewelry with 453 stones (1,521 cts.) including the Atahualpa Emerald (45 cts.) named after one of the last Inca emperors. The Crown, Fashioned from a solid block of pure gold, was made in 1593 for the Madonna statue in Popayan, Colombia. Briefly captured by English pirates in 1650 it was recovered and became a prize of revolutionary war for independence from Spain waged by Simon Bolivar in 1812. Its present location is unknown.
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