Emerald Mining in Colombia
There are a number of independent emerald mines dotting Colombia, but the three main ones where most of the country’’s production comes from are Muzo, Chivor, and Coscuez. The Chivor district is about 75 kilometers northeast of Bogotá, and the Muzo district which is centered about 100 kilometers north of Bogotá. Coscuez is extremely close to Muzo, just to the north-east
E1332 | right | medium | play | “Emerald ID: E1332 , Origin: Colombia ,Weight: 1.60 Carats” Emeralds make up more than half of Colombia’s entire exports by value. As a result the country’s government owns most of the land where the mining is done, and leases out patches of land to the mining teams.
However, some of the mines in Chivor are privately owned, and are the only mines with private ownership in Colombia. They are also located in difficult terrain with thick forests and vegetation, not to mention high enough humidity to be called cloud forests (think 60-80% humidity at any given time). Chivor is also known for producing particularly clear, bluish green emeralds, though this is a generalization, not a rule.
Note: If you spot pyrite crystals in a Colombian emerald, it is probably from Chivor. However, this is not a guarantee of origin.
Muzo is the oldest mining site, being mined on and off for centuries before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 14th century. As mentioned above, the mines of Muzo are government property and are leased out to individual mining companies. Like Chivor, the Muzo mines are located in hot, humid, rainforest terrain that is difficult to mine in. Emeralds from this area are typically darker and more green, and often contain dark spots in comparison to Chivor emeralds.
Coscuez mines are also owned by the Colombian government, with mines leased out to mining teams. Emeralds from Coscuez tend to be a mixed colors, ranging from yellowish green to bluish green. They are noted for being brighter with a nickname of “green fire”, and are often attributed with a more yellowish color.
While there are other mining locations beyond Chivor, Muzo, and Coscuez, all emeralds are compared to the material typically produced by each of these sources. For example, crystals from the La Pita mine which first had significant production in 1998-1999, were described as being not as yellow as Coscuez, not as blue as Chivor.
The Colombian natives mined and traded emeralds throughout South and Central America well before the Spaniards arrived. After 1537 when Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada conquered Colombia, the conquistadores learned that the source of the emeralds was located at Somondoco, meaning “god of the green stones.” Today the area is known as the Chivor mine.
In the 1560s, the Spaniards began mining in the Muzo area as well, with natives forced into slave labor. These inhumane treatments were well known at the time.
By the mid-17th century, production in both mines declined due to a lack of available labor and mismanagement of the mines by the Spanish. In 1675, the Chivor mine was abandoned and its location became a mystery that endured for over 200 years. In 1888, a Colombian mining engineer named Don Francisco Restrepo located a 17th century manuscript indicating that the legendary Chivor mine was located in the Andes at a spot where it was possible to see the plains of the Orinoco through a pass in the mountains.
It was not until 1896 that Restrepo located the mine after scouring the countryside for almost a decade. In the course of Restrepo’s long fight with the Colombian government for rights to the mine, he joined forces with a German mining Engineer named Fritz Klein. After World War I began, Restrepo died and Klein lost all rights to the mine to a U.S. company.
Muzo was different. In 1871, when the mines came under government control, production dropped and chaos descended on the area. Only very recently has some organization and lawfulness returned to the district.
Today, Muzo is considered to be the most important emerald mine in the world.
Government control of the Colombian mines has been a mixed blessing. Mining conditions are very harsh, and illegal mining is widespread. There have been estimates that only about ten percent of the country’s emeralds are sold legally. In the 1980s there was widespread conflict between the government, emerald mining families, and the drug cartels known as the Green Wars.
Since emeralds make up the vast majority of exports in Colombia, competition to control the mines in any fashion possible was deadly. Millions of civilians have been displaced due to these conflicts, and thousands outside it have been killed in the crossfire.
One miner, Victor Carranza, emerged as the tsar of the Colombian emerald industry, and partnered with the Catholic Church in the 1990s to attempt a restructuring of peace and prosperity for the country and the mining industry. While he carried on with exerting political pressures and ruling productivity with an iron fist, he brought some peace to the conflict.
After Carranza’s death in 2013, Colombia has seen greater foreign investment and multinational companies exploring the industry, efforts at formalization of the process to achieve greater transparency, traceability, and less violence. There is still conflict over emeralds, though not as fierce as it was in the 1980s.