A tour to Bogota’s emerald museum in the heart of downtown Bogota is an interesting way to familiarise yourself with the gemstone and learn a little about where the precious stones come from in Colombia.
The departments in Colombia where most of the emerald mining takes place are in the regions of Boyacá and Cundinamarca, both found on the eastern ridge of the Andes that runs north-south spanning the entire country. Colombia is the leading producer of high quality emeralds worldwide with the highest yield of quality stones coming from mines located in Cosquez, Muzo and Chivor. The terms Muzo and Chivor do not always refer to the individual mines that carry the same name. Instead, the terms originate from the local indigenous language, often describing the quality and colour of emeralds. Muzo refers to a warm, grassy-green emerald, with hints of yellow. Chivor, on the other hand, defines a deeper green colour.
Located up on the 23rd floor of the Avianca Building close to Bogota’s Gold museum is the International Emerald Museum. If you decide to visit the museum you will need to take some identification so the guards at the ground floor reception can give you a visitor’s pass. After taking the lift up to the 23rd floor you will arrive at the reception where there is an entrance fee of $5000 pesos. Then you will be met by a guide (English and Spanish explanations available) and enter a tunnel in a dark Colombian emerald mine displaying the rich veins where emerald stones form. Once the geological formation and mining process has been explained you are led into a showroom with hundreds of emeralds in exhibition. Of course the emeralds are all very impressive with display cases filled with uncut emerald crystals, the stunning trapiche emerald stones and even a Coca Cola bottle fashioned from emeralds. There is also a workshop inside the museum where you can watch technicians cut and polish the green gemstone. The tour is just about the right length of time, about 45 minutes; long enough for everyone to grasp a good basic knowledge on the gemstone and for the guide to answer any questions you may have. At the end of the tour there is an emerald store for you to make a luxurious purchase. At first, I was a little reluctant to enter the store as I was wary of a hard sell but I found there was absolutely no pressure to buy and the assistants were more than happy to show off and explain about the most expensive pieces, including at the time a very large sparkling emerald surrounded by diamonds that had a US$250,000 price tag! One of the best things about the museum being located so high up is the spectacular view across Bogota, especially the view towards Bolivar Square along 7th Avenue. Ask nicely and they may let you take a photo. Photos of the exhibits and emeralds are not permitted inside the museum. I was given special permission to take some photos for this blog.
For more than 4,000 years, emeralds have been among the most valuable of all jewels on earth. Emeralds are among the most coveted stones on the planet, fetching more per carat than white diamonds. It is estimated that Colombia accounts for nearly 70-90% of the world’s emerald market. The value of a Colombian emerald largely depends on four main factors: colour, clarity, shape and weight. The most desirable colour is bluish green with vivid colour saturation. Unlike some other precious stones, it is not uncommon for valuable emeralds to have inclusions. In fact, just about all emeralds have inclusions – a characteristic that has come to make up part of their charm. There are also different cuts that maximise the colour and brightness. This lends the emerald its unearthly glow and allows each stone a distinct personality to come to the fore. The price rises as the size and quality of the emerald increases.
If you would like to lay eyes on perhaps the most treasured jewel in all of Colombia then head for the Art Museum of the Banco de La Republica located just behind the Botero Museum. Commissioned by the Church of San Ignacio de Bogotá, the work of goldsmith Jose Galaz took seven years to complete from 1700-1707. Not only is “La Custodia” considered one of the richest and most beautiful religious jewels in Latin America but is testimony of what occurred during the Baroque period in the land of goldsmiths, and how this artistic style found new dimensions in a territory in which gold and emeralds abounded. Affectionately known as ‘La Lechuga’ (The Lettuce) for its intense green colour, this exquisite piece is adorned by 1,485 emeralds, one sapphire, 13 rubies, 28 diamonds, 62 baroque pearls and 168 amethysts – all set in over 8 kilos of finely worked gold.
There are plenty of other places in Bogota’s centre to go window-shopping for emeralds. There is even an interesting wholesale centre close to the gold museum called the Palacio de la Esmeralda where you can browse while sipping a cup of Colombian coffee.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the places to visit if you are interested in emeralds is Bogota’s famous and unmissable street corner on 7th Avenue and 14th Street. Here emerald dealers come direct from the mines each morning to negotiate and sell emeralds right out in the open on the street corner. It is an impressive sight to see the negotiations in progress and if you stand on this corner you are sure to be offered a whole host of beautiful emeralds! However, whether you want to purchase an emerald or not – unless you really know what you are doing then I would advise you to be cautious about buying a stone on the street! Your best bet is to enjoy browsing around the dozens of emerald shops and comparing prices before deciding to make a purchase.
Whether you are in the market for a Colombian emerald or just curious about them, we think you will enjoy learning about this remarkable green gemstone on your next trip to Colombia!
By Mark Boultwood
About the author:
Mark Boultwood is an Englishman currently living in Bogota, Colombia. Mark first ventured to South America in the late 1990s, years later found himself volunteering at an animal refuge for a year, caring for a Jaguar in the depths of the Bolivian jungle. His passion for travel and new experiences landed him a decade-long role specialised in leading small group tours from Mexico right down to the tip of Argentina and almost every country in between. His interests include wildlife photography, hiking and collecting treasures from the places he travels. He is a freelance correspondent for Uncover Colombia. Follow him on Twitter @markboultwood