Emerald Hunting in Colombia

The part of Colombia that tilts toward the tropical Caribbean Sea has no seasons. It is hot and humid all year round. The exception is an area around the capital Bogota which sits at an elevation of 2,600 meters and boasts a consistent temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius. The land is verdant and hilly. But ironically, as with many lands generously endowed with the world’s finest gemstones, it also offers geographic challenges and political dangers.

I arrived in Colombia for 12 days to spend time with my good friends and business partners who own four of the most important emerald mining concessions in the world, including mines in the Muzo and Chivor regions. Indeed, my friend was the sole emerald exhibitor at Colombia’s Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai. His team met me at the airport and I got into perhaps the heaviest personal vehicle I’ve ever ridden in: an armored SUV – equipped to survive both rugged roads – and bullets. We were definitely going into rough territory.

We first headed to Chivor mining area. Chivor is only about 160 kilometers from Bogota but it took 4 hours to get to the village and another 3 hours to get to the mining area; Muzo is about 200 kilometers away. We measured travel in time not kilometers when the paved roads end and rocky dirty roads become our only route. Roads were steep and winding in the Muzo region, made more fraught with tension as the mountainous, tree-covered landscape hid bandits, guerrillas, and the paramilitary units tasked with ousting them from the region. Was an armed SUV protective enough?

The view is spectacular from my friend’s “mirador”, from the Spanish meaning a place from which to see.

The rough and dangerous terrain contrasted with the warmth and generosity of my hosts. They opened their hearts and gave me their time to patiently show me their mines and explain all their extraction techniques.

When entering the mines, I was careful to wear a poncho, as the hot and very humid mine ceiling drips sulfur-infused water which in concentrated amounts can burn through clothing. This igneous rocky area is a good place in which to possibly find emeralds. When miners find a white calcite deposit called “veta’, they KNOW there will be emeralds: they just have to follow the “veta” and dig for the precious treasure.

From this old mine, we went to another mine which was in full operation. These men work in unsafe conditions, hauling trolleys down long and narrow tunnels.

Outside the mine, a miner shows me a handful of his finds!

We descended from the mountains and mines, and headed to the plains where we relaxed at my friend’s rancho. His rancho was home to 6,000 cows plus horses, coffee fields, and a beautiful private riverside beach. We rode horses to see the property.

Right from these mines, I set out to handpick the best for my jewelry designs. I looked at two types of emeralds. First, I chose emerald crystals, seeking the cleanest and most intact of through hexagonal crystals with solid color. I also love choosing compacted, organic rough emeralds which offer a crush of the most intense found in nature.

You can clearly see the variety in quality of crystals and more gravel-shaped emeralds.

This trip was a wonderful adventure and I’m excited to return home to start designing some pieces with the emeralds I bought in Colombia.