Rarest of Rare: The Legendary Story of Muzo Emerald Colombia

We’ve all heard of Colombian emeralds being the finest in the world, but if we dig a little deeper, it’s clear that the Muzo mine in the northeast of the country deserves all the credit. This source of saturated green gems has been through something of a renaissance in the last decade, with modern techniques and reinvigorated mine-to-market businesses creating a bridge between Colombia’s top mineral and the rest of the world. One such example is Muzo Emerald Colombia, which produces exceptional, fully traceable emeralds that shine in the high jewels of Anna Hu, Tiffany & Co., and Boucheron, among others. Let’s start with the history of these amazing beryls and watch the story of Muzo Emerald Colombia unfold…

When the Conquistadors landed in the New World, in their quest for El Dorado at the end of the 15th century, they searched incessantly for emerald mines. It would take another hundred years until the first emeralds were extracted from Muzo at the heart of Boyacá, 60 miles northwest of Colombia’s capital, Bogota. From the 16th century onwards, Muzo emeralds have held a lofty position in the mineral world thanks to their rich green colours, wonderful clarity and distinctive crystal formation. First, they were prized by the Spanish and European royal courts, followed by the Mughal rulers of India, and then by contemporary waves of celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor.

An assortment of emerald-cut Muzo emeralds

“In terms of historical significance, Muzo emeralds have played a role in shaping the economies and cultures of the regions where they are found,” explains a company representative, “The Colombian natives mined and traded emeralds throughout South and Central America well before the Spaniards arrived. As time passes, their historical significance will only grow, and they will be remembered as one of the most iconic gemstones of their era.”

A rough Muzo emerald specimen

Muzo Emerald Chemistry 

Two factors set Muzo emeralds apart from other deposits: The quality of their crystallization with often near-perfect highly transparent large size hexagonal crystals and their intense green colour. This lends itself to larger carat weights, brighter gems, and covetable clarity. The recipe for these gems started some 65 million years ago, when beryllium from a source of magma interacted with chromium from marine sediments. Emeralds formed because of this rare alchemy and are now being recovered, inch-by-inch, from around half a dozen state-of-the-art underground mining galleries ranging from 100 to 400 meters deep.

“The unparalleled colour of Muzo emeralds is attributed to the presence of chromium and vanadium with a small amount of iron, which gives the emeralds that pure green colour,” said a company representative.

So, when put into context, rest assured that Muzo emeralds are a big deal in the mineral world! They undoubtedly deserve a place alongside other reputable gemstone origins, such as Golconda diamonds, Kashmir sapphires, and Mogok rubies. However, what sets it apart even from these mineral majesties is that the Muzo mine is still active – all the others hail from ‘exhausted’ mines that no longer produce gems to inject into the market. This is where fully integrated companies like Muzo Emerald Colombia come into play. It has ownership of mining, cutting, finishing and producing high jewellery, allowing it to oversee the entire process of sharing Colombia’s treasure with international emerald seekers. 

The Art of Cutting

Specialising in one very specific mineral is no bad thing, especially when it can be as tricksy as Muzo emerald. Cutting this raw material into a faceted gemstone is not easy, largely because of emerald’s inherent brittleness and softness compared to corundum and diamonds. “This necessitates a delicate and precise approach to cutting to minimize the risk of damage,” notes the company representative. The goal is always to maintain the carat weight, intensify colour and showcase the purest clarity, which requires careful planning. The company says that Muzo Emerald Colombia gem-cutters must analyse each piece of natural rough, map out its characteristics and identify its “optimal shape, orientation, and cutting style to minimise the waste and maximise its beauty.” 

A selection of square-cut emeralds

It is also important to note that this cutting process happens in-house so that the company can monitor rough from the Muzo mines right through to the production stages. All this matters in Muzo Emerald Colombia’s traceability story, although I will share more on that below. And, as another point of difference, each Muzo emerald is accompanied by an in-house gemstone report, created when the emerald is processed and ready to be sold. This means that each gem can be traced back to the date it was mined and the location from which it was extracted, thereby pinpointing the moment of its ‘birth.’

An emerald-cut Muzo emerald sits on an emerald rough specimen, image courtesy of Thomas Levy

High Jewellery Dreams

As a company, Muzo Emerald Colombia knows it has a special ingredient to offer high jewellery designers. As well as producing its own jewels (both one-off masterpieces and collections), the business supplies emeralds to the exact specifications of other global brands and designers, such as Coomi, Pamela Love, Marina B, Stephen Webster, Silvia Furmanovich, Venyx, and many more. In 2023, it presented a 10.51-carat emerald-cut Muzo emerald to Tiffany & Co., for example, which would later prominently feature in its Blue Book High Jewellery collection of the same year. I’d be thrilled to see the company’s vast collection of cut emeralds in different sizes, colours and weights in person. The goal is to provide endless inspiration, demonstrating how stones can be paired together and built into spectacular suites. Examples include a duo of emeralds weighing 40.41 and 42.25 carats, which would make a spectacular pair of earrings. 

The Colombian forest

Another collection that has long been on my radar is the Green Jewel Collection, which fuses Muzo emeralds with pink diamonds from the now-closed Argyle Pink Diamond mine in Western Australia. The first iteration of the collection launched in 2017 with The Green Jewel ring – a masterpiece set with a 13.20-carat Muzo emerald with a halo of pink diamonds, which secured US $1.2 million at auction by Christie's. Since then, it has grown to incorporate more singular pieces, including toi et moi rings, cluster earrings, pendants and bracelets.

Private Treasures

Muzo Emerald Colombia also has its own Private Collection of jewels and artefacts that are under its own lock and key. Think of these as museum-worthy creations that exemplify the best of Colombia’s emeralds and tell the long history of Muzo through art objects. Examples include the Atocha collection of original artefacts (a cross, ring and orb) from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha ship that sank off the coast of Florida in 1622. These 22k yellow gold items – studded with cabochons and pear-shaped Muzo emeralds - were recovered in the mid-1980s after more than 15 years of searching and are estimated to be worth US$ 400 million! Elsewhere, the Private Collection also includes contemporary jewels with rare, unheated and untreated emeralds set into platinum and accented with diamonds.

A Transparent Approach 

Aside from all this beauty, there’s a lot more to Muzo Emerald Colombia happening closer to home among the communities that mine its emeralds. Transparency, traceability, and environmental protection are principles that the company holds dear, and they can bring peace of mind to anyone wishing to own a Muzo emerald. For example, there’s the Certificate of Traceability document that accompanies each gemstone from mine to market, the assurances that Muzo emeralds are not exposed to explosives and aggressive chemicals during the extraction process, and the considerations given to erosion control, conservation, reforestation and hydroseeding programs. 

People in the Boyacá region have benefitted from the modernisation of mining in the region too, notably through improved living conditions, medical facilities, and a social support system. This has all led to The Muzo Foundation – a platform for the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. “The Foundation’s mission is to give back to the local community and support the Boyacá region in a symbiotic relationship that has helped preserve the legendary Muzo mine,” says the company representative. “Through our philanthropic and environmental programming, we have helped build a new Western Boyacá, sustainable and innovative, with a focus on shared responsibility. Our vision is to transform Boyacá and create social unity while inspiring change.”

Oval-cut Muzo emeralds

The phrase ‘multi-faceted Muzo’ springs to mind when I think of Muzo Emerald Colombia and its integrated approach to extracting vibrant green gems, faceting and polishing them, fashioning them into high jewels and making a positive contribution to local communities. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to delve more into the fascinating world of emeralds, especially as we are still celebrating this month’s birthstone. All hail the emerald, especially if it comes from Muzo!

Banner image: Courtesy of Thomas Levy

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