A Brief History of Emeralds and Emerald Mining
A big part of the problem with these dates is that there were a number of different terms for Emerald in ancient times. Further complicating the issue is that many times any green stone with a bright luster would be referred to as an emerald. It is widely recognized though, that the most extensive workings in these mines was during the period 330 B.C. until about the year 1237 A.D.
Most historical evidence points to the fact that the
quality of the rough material from these Egyptian mines was
poor and small in size. Most of this material was best
suited for beads and other non-faceted uses such as being
crushed for use in "medicinal" procedures. Finally, many of
ancient pieces of emerald jewelry when tested,
turn out to contain green beryl or some other green mineral
such as feldspar.
It wasn't until the 16th century (with the conquest of
South America by Spain) that the emerald deposits in
Colombia became widely known. However it is believed that
these mines had been worked for at least 500 years prior to
the Spanish conquest by the indigenous population. In fact
Sinkankas cites an article by Sydney Ball, in which he
Colombian emerald was so common in Peru that for
at least two centuries after the Conquest it was still
known as Peruvian emerald.Thus, these emeralds had
already travelled via trade from Colombia to Peru prior to
the Spanish invasion because there are no emerald deposits
The Spanish conquistador's love for gold and precious
stones is well known. Prior to the discovery of the
Colombian emerald deposits, there was little fine quality
emerald available in Europe and prices were justly quite
steep. Fred Ward cites the same report by Sydney Ball in
1935 that basically says that Spaniards exported so much
fine material from the
New World in the 16th century
that prices actually became depressed.
It is interesting to note that despite the large amounts of fine emeralds exported by the conquistadors to Spain, there are no grand examples of emerald jewelry among the Spanish crown jewels. It seems the Spanish were content to sell/trade these emeralds for gold to other empires and royalty in places such as Egypt, India and Persia. In fact the Crown Jewels of Persia (Iran) probably contain the single most exquisite collection of fine emerald jewelry in the world.
Emerald and Other Berylsthere is an incredible five page chronology of Colombian Emerald mining. In comparison, most other localities have a half page or less in terms of history.
Today in terms of quantity, Brazil leads the world in emerald export but the quality of Brazilian emeralds generally don't compare to those from Colombia or even Africa. Most Brazilian material is exported to India where a large portion is made into beads. Other known localities of Emerald are: (as previously mentioned) Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia (Ural Mountains) Australia,Norway, and the United States (North Carolina). The Zambian emeralds probably come the closet to rivaling the Colombian emeralds in terms of quality, although most experts would agree that Colombia still produces the finest quality. We will discuss this further in our sources section.