According to Andean Indian mythology, emeralds were the tears that an ancient princess shed upon the death of her prince. The Inca and Aztec peoples used emeralds for both ornamental and religious purposes, and many emeralds from pre-Colombian times have been found in burial mounds. The conquistadores chroniclers tell of troves of emeralds found in present day Peru and Mexico respectively, indicating that the emeralds were used in trade, as there are no known sources in these regions. The Muzo mines, located deep in the Andes of present-day Colombia, were in use for at least five hundred years before the Spaniards arrived in the New World. Muzo is named for the tribe that inhabited this area during the Spanish conquests of the early sixteenth century.
Spanish Colonial History
The Spanish occupation of the Americas began with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Soon after, the Spanish sent other emissaries to claim territory and accumulate riches to be returned to the court. Though initially seeking gold, the Spaniards soon became enamored with the emeralds that they found in possession of the native tribes, which were far superior to any available in Europe. As they explored the central region of what is now Colombia, the Spanish found gold jewelry set with emerald beads. They soon sought the source of these fine gemstones, and in 1538 Don Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, founder of Bogotá, discovered mines in the Muzo area. Though a series of preliminary attempts to establish mining were unsuccessful due to both resistance from local tribes and inhospitable climate and terrain, by the 1560’s a consistent flow of newly mined emeralds were making their way from the jungles of Colombia to Spain. One fifth of the best emeralds mined were reserved for the Spanish royals, with the Mina Real, or “Royal Mine” located in Muzo, along with a royal mint, and other government offices. Mining by the Spanish continued in this fashion until 1810, when the Colombian War of Independence commenced.
After Colombia achieved independence in 1819, management of the Muzo mines alternated between public and private interests. At times the mines were leased to private parties, both Colombian and European. For the first time, emeralds were being sent directly to the jewel houses of Paris and London. At other times, in 1847 and 1866 for example, Colombian law decreed the mines and their output property of the nation.
The Green Wars
It may be difficult for outsiders to believe what the emerald industry has gone through in the previous decade in Colombia. Before 2009, it was known for outbursts of violence and dubious working conditions in the mines. During the infamous reign of the commonly called Green Wars, hundreds of people died and frequent violent encounters occurred among the old owners of the mines. These conflicts lasted almost 20 years, and resulted in the emerald becoming a sort of cursed stone in the minds of Colombians.
A New Era
Since 2009, The Muzo Companies committed to fully modernize the mines and incorporate international standards and practices in accordance with governmental regulations and laws, ushering in a new era for the emerald industry in Colombia. TMC has invested considerable amounts of money to make the mines a secure place for its employees and their families through the Muzo Foundation and more.
Today, the Muzo mine is enjoying a dynamic renaissance and revitalization and is also creating an integrated ‘Mine to Maison’ modern emerald house.