The Mythical and Geological Origin of Colombian Emeralds

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The Myth

Colombian native indigenous groups have had a mystical relation with emeralds for hundreds of year. For the Muiscas, considered in the conquest period as one of the four most advanced civilizations of the Americas (along with the Aztec, Mayas and Incas), the magnificent green color of the region’s emeralds represented water, fertility, and the strength of life. On the other hand, the Muzos believed that the area known today as the “Emerald Belt” was formed from the bodies and/or tears of Fura and Tena, the first woman and man, respectively.

According to the legend, these two beings were created with a handful of earth by God. They were then thrown to the Guaquimay River, where they found purity within the foam and water. The deity gave them all the necessary knowledge to survive, as well as the sun, the moon and the stars, and granted them with eternal youth, but only if they kept faithful to each other. As the centuries passed by and the Muzo indigenous group started to grow, Fura and Tena remained young.

But one day, Fura broke the rule of fidelity imposed by the diety with Zarbi, a man who was seeking a miraculous flower that was said to have the power to heal all the diseases and relieve all sorrows. In his searches Zarbi turned for help from the wise woman, Fura, who transformed her feelings of compassion towards this man into love. When Tena found out, he knew that an end to their eternal youth had finally come. He used a dagger to stab himself and laid on Fura’s knees until he bled to death. His wife, deep in sorrow and repent, cried for centuries with the body of her beloved husband over her knees. Her tears are said to have been transformed into the emerald mountains, which today are go by the names Fura (500 meters of height) and Tena (840 meters of height). The two mountains form the heart of the area of exploitation of emeralds in Colombia.

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The land where these civilizations reigned, the Altiplano Cundiboyacense, houses the most important deposit of emeralds in Colombia. The myths, legends and spiritual beliefs of ages gone by are encapsulated magnificently in the bluish-green, shiny and rare gemstones that remain within the womb of the rich soil of this region, waiting patiently to be discovered.

Although, for the Muzos and Muiscas the emeralds had a more spiritual and religious meaning, for the Spanish conquerors who discovered the deposits, the emeralds represented a more mercantile and monetary value. It aided them immensely in financing their expeditions and so the mining of the emeralds was greatly expanded during that period. It wasn’t long before beauty and uniqueness of Colombian emeralds extracted from the Altiplano Cundiboyacense became known around the world.

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Fura, deep in sorrow and repent, still with the body of her beloved husband over her knees, cried over the centuries, and her tears were transformed into emerald mountains, which today are known with the names of Fura and Tena, in the area of exploitation of emeralds in Colombia.

Soil, Elements and Water, the Secret Recipe

How exactly did Colombian emeralds attain the unique characteristics that make them so desirable, such as the bluish-green color, the exceptional clarity or the perfect saturation? The secret resides in the millenary recipe of elements underground, including aluminium, silicate oxide, chromium, iron and vanadium. These elements initiated the eons-long formation process of the emeralds starting 30-38 million years ago, during the formation of the Andean mountains.

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Emerald in bedrock found in Muzo, Colombia

First the conditions of the earth must be adequate for the process to commence. The Nazca plate forged part of the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, in South America. The geological activity of this tectonic event resulted in the rise of the Eastern Ranges and the initiation of the mineralization of emeralds within host rocks of black shale, and through the incorporation of the chemical elements that confers them the known characteristics.

If every emerald in the world requires the same elements to be created, why do Colombian emeralds have such notable attributes? It is said that these gemstones were formed during the quaternary period, when Boyaca and part of the Eastern Ranges belonged to the ocean. This means the emeralds were actually formed within an aquatic environment and is the leading theory for why they have been granted such a natural clarity.

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Emerald in bedrock found in Muzo, Colombia

But the process also depends on how intensively the elements act in the during formation. In the case of Colombian emeralds, the shining chromium, combined with the leveled vanadium and iron in lower quantities give the unique tone to the beryl before it is turned into an emerald. If the gemstone had a higher level of iron, its green color would be opaque. If the vanadium were the distinct element, the stone would obtain a yellowish hue.

Many forces of nature thus combined to produce the perfect recipe, not only providing the necessary ingredients, but also the right measure and suitable soil to bake the most beautiful emeralds of the world.

The secret resides in the millenary recipe of elements underground, which initiated the cooking of emeralds 30-38 million years ago, during the formation of the Andean mountains, when those gemstones were just beryls, the element they derived from.

Author: Danny Arteaga, CCO