Colombian emerald is not an unfamiliar gemstone to many, as it is considered the benchmark for the green beryl’s beauty. The opportunity to see the best-polished stones is always there – you just need to visit a flagship boutique of any eminent jewellery brand to see fine emeralds in different sizes and shapes. However, when it comes to the process of mining and production of Colombian emeralds, the subject may come across as a “murky mystery.”
Until recently, my knowledge of emerald mining was converged at the theory obtained at the gemmology course and information available on the Internet. Perhaps, you are in the same shoes. However, after meeting George Smith – a partner of the Colombian emeralds trading company International Emerald Exchange, it turned out that everything was not quite the same as I had imagined.
George did not only give me a detailed explanation of the Muzo mining and selling process, but also gave me a chance to visualise it through the images taken by the talented photographer Juan Cristóbal Cobo Sanz. And I feel honoured to be able to share my knowledge with you.
The photos from this article can only be used with the consent of IEEX and Juan Cristóbal Cobo San.
For more information about emeralds go to http://ieex.com.co/
The Fura and Tena Crags are the heart of the region. They are named after a mythical and immortal man Tena and woman Fura who according to the ancient Colombian legend were created by the god Ares to populate the earth. The only stipulation by Ares was that the two had to remain faithful to each other so as to retain their eternal youth. However, Fura broke this rule which resulted in hers and Tena’s immortality being taken away. After their death, Ares took pity on them and turned the once immortals into two crags in whose depths Fura’s tears turned into emeralds.
On the right, you see the miners’ working roster next to a religious statuette, which shows how important religion is for the people of this region.
Along the mine trails, you can spot signs that denote how far you are from 0 in the mine, in other words how many meters you are away from the starting point (in this case, 500 meters).
The approximate height of a tunnel in a mine is about 6ft 2 as the average height of a worker equals 5 ft 6. During the mining process, once at the end of a tunnel, the dynamite is placed and connected to the switch, which is then triggered once everyone has left the mine. After the explosion, miners wait for about 45 minutes for the dust to settle down and then go back in with the carts. Each cart can hold up to 500 kg of minerals.
Mineral beryl is rarely found near the earth’s surface. Beryllium tends to be concentrated in the base rock of the continents -granites. It is also found in large granitic veins called pegmatites and a clay-rich sedimentary rock known as black shale, which is rich in organic matter. In this photo, you can see a white vein that miners follow as it shows that emeralds have very likely formed somewhere close to the white vein.
Gorge and some local people scrutinise freshly – mined emeralds.
George demonstrating rough emeralds that have been mined.
A small shop outside the mine where snacks and beverages can be bought.
Worker leaving the mine at the end of his shift.
‘River Minero’ is the centre point of the Colombian emerald business. It runs between two mountains Fura and Tena and through the entire mining region. It so happens that all the mines tend to be situated close to the river because the richest emeralds are the ones nearby.
It is customary for the mine owners to share the excavated rubble with the local town by leaving it on the riverside. It is a ritual that normally takes place once a week with a ladies’ and a men’s day to avoid any scrambling. They sieve through the stones and every now and then, someone finds an emerald worth a lot of money.
Copper dish that people use for sieving through the leftovers from the mines.
Precious find – a rough emerald. In fact, rubble from the mine is perceived as gift from the mine owners to the local people because it often bears emeralds. Keeping local people happy instead of just exploiting them is very important in order to maintain the balance between the rich and the poor. For this reason, IEEX arranges free meals a few times a week to citizens aged over 60.
Avenida Jiménez street where all emerald trading is done. The building is called Edificio Henry Faux and this is where IEEX office is located.
Inside the IEEX trading office.
Emerald cutting and polishing room.
In this photo you see IEEX emerald cutter Ricardo, who has been faceting gems for 44 years. He dips the brush (in the photo) in water and applies it to the diamond wheel as a coolant and dust control.
Faceted emerald ready to be sold.
Emerald traders in Avenida Jiménez check and sell gemstones in the daylight without special security as it is a very safe trading area where everyone knows everyone.
Emerald parcel shown by one trader to another.
Local currency, which has been in regular use, is covered in dirt from the mines. In other parts of Colombia, notes are normally cleaner.KP