The Private Treasure, the only one of its scope in existence, tells the story of the emerald through jewelry and objets d’art. Past, present, and future are woven together by this selection of heirloom pieces that transects the stylistic trends and events to which the emerald has borne witness. The sophisticated technique of 17th century jewelers is illustrated by a sumptuous orb of gold surmounted by a cross, an emblem of power, embellished with 37 emeralds set in gold thread. Other treasures of the collection include the legendary Atocha cross and ring that went down with the Spanish galleon of the same name when it was shipwrecked off the coast of Florida in 1622, and were recovered in 1985 as part of a haul valued at $500 million dollars.
In the late 15th century came the Conquistadors in search of Eldorado. They were fascinated by the green gemstone that was used as currency and in religious offerings. Desperate to learn the location of the mines, they mounted one expedition after another and waged war on the indigenous population for years. Legend has it that a Spanish cavalier riding across the square in Muzo came upon a scrap of emerald caught in his horse's hoof. Spain lost no time in setting out to conquer the emerald mines.
After Colombia won independence in 1819 the mines of Muzo were requisitioned by the state. They spent the centuries that followed at the whim of Spanish, English, French and Colombian mining companies, while violent conflicts would sometimes rage for their control. Since its founding in 2009, Muzo works towards a peaceful chapter in the region. From the outset Muzo has pledged to transform mining practices through investments in modern technology and genuine commitments to corporate social responsibility.
The Muzo mines lie some 60 miles north-west of Bogotá in a far-flung corner of Boyacá state in the high Andes mountains, accessible only by a day-long drive in a 4x4 along a mountain road. The path weaves its way from high cold altitudes among sheer cliffs in the clouds, finally dropping down through the semitropical jungle to humid warm valleys where the gems are hidden. As though Mother Nature wanted to dissuade us from venturing into this green triangle, it seems the emeralds of Muzo – coveted the world over – need to be earned. At present the mines comprise five galleries that plunge as deep as 1,300 feet into the bowels of the Earth. Local populations traditionally lacked the tools to dig into the rock. Early miners would chip away at the surface with an adze or wait for the rains to wash over the mountain and expose the calcite veins that held the emeralds.